No Fiddlesticks (Shout To The Top STTP 193/194)
Champs Elysees Theater, Paris, France – January 16th, 1970
Disc 1 (70:31): Heaven And Hell, I Can’t Explain, Fortune Teller, Tattoo, Young Man Blues, A Quick One While He’s Away, Overture, 1921, Amazing Journey, Sparks, Eyesight To The Blind, Christmas, The Acid Queen, Pinball Wizard, Do You Think It’s Alright, Fiddle About, Tommy Can You Hear Me, There’s A Doctor, Go To The Mirror, Smash The Mirror
Disc 2 (41:02): Miracle Cure, Sally Simpson, I’m Free, Tommy’s Holiday Camp, We’re Not Gonna Take It, Summertime Blues, Shakin’ All Over, My Generation
The Who began the new decade with two shows at the Champs Elysees Theater in Paris, France on January 16th and January 17th, 1970. Still touring with Tommy fresh on the charts, the concerts at this time presented a generous selection from the work in the middle of their set, with other songs from their earlier albums and various cover tunes.
1969 to 1973 were a liminal time for The Who. They were transcending their roots as a mod mouthpiece and exploring the outer limits of the pop-form rock and produced some of their greatest work including “A Quick One While He’s Away,” Tommy, Who’s Next, and Quadrophenia.
Important traits for the liminal period, as Susan Broadhurst points out in her book Liminal Acts, are “the centrality of non-linguistsic modes of signification. In much of the liminal, significatory modes are visual, kinetic, gravitational, proximic, aural and so on. … Other traits that are central to the liminal are indeterminancy, fragmentation, a loss of the auratic and the collapse of the hierarchical distinction between high and mass/popular culture.”
Tommy was such piece for the band. Although not the first concept album or even the first work to be called a “rock opera,” it did define the genre and use of rock music in presenting very esoteric ideas. Hearing the finished recording is itself fantastic, but hearing them bringing the piece to the stage is quite another for it places the music into the proper context of performance. All of the tapes during this time such as the Concertgebouw, London Coliseum (found on the Live At Kilburn DVD), Live At Leeds and Isle Of Wright tapes are all valuable.
The Paris tape is the rarest of the lot. No Fiddlesticks is the only silver pressed release of the show and, given the sound quality, probably will never see official release. It is a good and clear but thin mono recording from a Europe 1 radio broadcast on the day after the show. There are slight hints of radio static in some quiet parts and small cuts throughout (probably to remove DJ comments).
The performance itself is spectacular throughout. It’s much tighter than the Amsterdam show in September and is on par with Leeds and the Isle Of Wight. They still had much enthusiasm for the piece at this point and give a nuanced but gutsy performance.
The tape opens up with Pete Townshend tuning his guitar to “Mary Had A Little Lamb” before the explosive “Heaven And Hell” and “I Can’t Explain.” Pete Townshend speaks about “Fortune Hunter” as a song which the Rolling Stones also covered in their live set in the past, and it segues into “Tattoo.”
Townshend gives a long explanation about Mose Allison, the jazz pianist whom he calls a “typical playboy” and of whom “a lot of negros who buy jazz records think he’s white even though he’s walking around all white – they don’t think it’s really him” before they play a cover of Allison’s “Young Man Blues.”
But the more serious portion of the show starts with “A Quick One While He’s Away.” Townshend calls it a “mini-opera” and was the first step in creating a sustained narrative in rock. He’s funny listing the cast and in speaking about the end, which is about forgiveness which back then was hard to get “unlike today when you forgive anyone for anything.”
Paris would be one of the final times it would be played live (it was played in Leeds and Hull in February and several times in 1993).
It serves as a prelude to the event of the night, the performance of Tommy. Townshend warns the audience that the program is not exactly correct since they will omit some songs like “Cousin Kevin.” The suite follows the same arrangement as in Amsterdam in September but much tighter and devoid of the hesitations and playing errors. It is one of the best recorded versions of the suite available and could be definitive if the recording were better.
The rest of the show after contains their early hits including their “hymn” “My Generation.” The band include a nod to Joe Cocker by playing that arrangement of “With A Little Help From My Friends” as an instrumental.
No Fiddlesticks is a very good release by Shout To The Top. They didn’t try to bolster the tape’s sound but left it warts and all. They could have handled the gaps a bit better, but it’s not distracting by any means. The artwork is stately with appropriate photographs from the era and until a better generation tape were to surface, this is an excellent title to have.