Thursday, January 2, 2020

Put the Boot In: The High Numbers/The Who - October 20, 1964 - No Tellin' What We Might Do

Are you a Mod or a Rocker? That is the question posed by the the ‘rock room’ today. Now playing, I have a recording that started to circulate in 2005 on a CD called The High Numbers –Live 1964 by famous Japanese bootleg label ‘Yellow Dog’. The performance featured on this silver disc is by none other than ‘The Who’, at the Railway Hotel and Lounge located in Wealdstone, UK on October 20, 1964. The Railway was run by Pete's college roommate Richard Barnes and was nothing more than a basement pub. Less than a couple of weeks from this evening the band would become the ‘Who’ but for this concert they were still known as the ‘High Numbers’, an exciting Mod cover band. Earlier in the month the band would audition at Abbey Road Studios for EMI but walk away with the knowledge that they required more original numbers in order to stir up interest. In November, ‘The Who’ would record the Pete Townsend original “I Can’t Explain” and in January of 1965, the song about an amphetamine teen trying to properly express his love would start a large career ascent for the newly christened ‘Who’. This recording is a welcome window into the formative days of one of the world’s greatest rock and roll bands.

Back to the recording the ‘rock room’ is focused on, the Railway Hotel featured a number of early Who performances like the one here, as well as some stunning black and white footage which was recently unearthed and shot just a couple of months before the performance on October 20th.The eleven tracks available on the Yellow Dog boot are from a more than adequate soundboard recording (or possibly a close audience document), with what sounds like some brief losses of fidelity and unfortunate cuts and missing music to the original source. But for the most part all of the levels are balanced and the band is audible. Moon and Entwistle are giants. The rhythm section is the focus on this tape as both Ox and Moon slam around triumphantly like a bunch of furniture dropped down a flight of steps. Daltrey has yet to find his voice, and still uses his best blues man aesthetic, eliciting guttural growls and moans that sometimes border on the comedic. Townsend blends in at some points in time, but by the conclusion you can feel the exploration in his fingers and the land mines in his mind. Only a month prior to this show is reportedly when PT first demolished his guitar (on accident) at the Railway, but by the conclusion of this show, I feel that his Rickenbacker was probably lying in a smoldering heap. The band’s eventual world domination is tangible on this recording.
The tape begins with the first of three versions (all cut) of “I Got Dance to Keep from Crying”, a groovy soul number by the “Miracles”. Moon begins things with a rotund drum introduction to which the band falls in behind. A swinging cover, the band grooves triumphantly featuring collaborative vocals and brisk playing. The band’s feels like a dance hall band here, but as the recording escalates the hallmarks of the ‘Who’ begin to surface.
What follows next is an explosive instrumental snippet of the ‘Kinks’, “You Really Got Me” which had been released in the UK as a single in August. While only a short clip, shades of the later ‘Who’ appear in this sludgy cover version. Moon and Entwistle join in giant lock step as the band plays with the syncopation of the famous rock lick. Moon sprays volatile ordnance from his kit in between the riffs which the boys slow down for musical effectiveness.

A major highlight of later Who performances and especially from the Live at Leeds era is the Mose Allison tune, “Young Man Blues”. Here, in its infantile state, Townsend uses a crisp Rickenbacker tone and Moon plays a calypso groove while tapping on the bell of his ride cymbal. While the intent remains the same, later Who readings would soak the song in petrol, whereas here it simmers with a danceable groove. Yet to be cracked open, the song stays true to Allison’s vision.
While listening to this concert, I am reminded of early ‘Levon and the Hawks’ concerts where in spite of their later metamorphosis, in their formative stages they were more or less a dance band, cutting their teeth on the music they loved. All the while leaving their future finger prints on the musical glass. No more is this relevant than the band’s destructive rendition of the famed Booker T and the MG’s single “Green Onions”.  While only another short reading, here the band lay big thick brush stroke of power chords and fuzz. Townsend plays some strangled notes buried in earthy distortion while also lending a formative expression of his famous serrated tremolo. In October of 1964, the power of the early ‘Who’ was definitely an alien thing to the music world.

On the Yellow Dog bootleg there are a few repeats with the next song being another rendition of the opening “I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying”. This one begins with a stage whistle and some dialog.  I will make the assumption that there were multiple sets played on this evening hence the blended tracks and missing music. Again, an additional instrumental of “You Really Got Me” follows, this one has Daltrey blowing some mean harp while the band slams the Davies lick repeatedly and dynamically against the wall. Another unfortunate cut places us in the middle of a third performance of “I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying”. This time Moon does circles around his tom-tom’s while Daltrey groans in bluesy colors. An additional cut places us further in the song and finds Daltrey and Entwistle doing a call and response of, ‘a little bit higher’ while Moon cooks behind them.

A delicious “Long Tall Shorty” follows closely on the tape, another song picked up from the ‘Kinks” who covered the song on their first album. Moon again sets the tempo with a heavy thumping on the ‘High Number’s’ musical chamber door seeing “Who” will answer. Daltrey does his best blues man with a superior gritty and throaty vocal. So much so that you may be hard pressed to believe the singer is Roger! Entwistle holds it all down with a busy bottom end that even at this early stage shifts the foundation of the song. Then you have Townsend aggressively coaxing perfectly timed and over driven licks. The solo break is a house on fire as Townsend’s slashing riffs are picked up by Moon and Entwistle and held up for the small assembled crown to stand in rapt amazement. Pete takes a second solo break that circular saws through the recording leaving the 'rock room' slack jawed at this early display of stringed aggression!

An atmospheric taste of the vibe of the crowd precedes the next cut “Pretty Thing”, which like the aforementioned “Long Tall Shorty” spotlights Daltrey groaning the Willie Dixon classic in between harmonica blasts. Following an introductory wall of sound, Moon lays town a thunderous ‘Bo Diddley” beat to which Townsend and Entwistle join in. Pete lays down a disorienting solo that wraps around Rog's harp who gets the crowd going with off beat, 'Hey's'! Flashing waves of Townsend's guitar downpour over the band as the tribal thump drives the crowd into a high octane trance. As things really start to coagulate, the tape cuts. Pfffffft.


‘Smokestack Lightning’ comes next and is already in progress and features a substantial helping of heavy early ‘Who’ improv. Daltrey weaves in lyrics from ‘Money (That’s What I Want) while they band kicks holes in the song proper. A number of roller coaster ‘rave up’s’ dot the landscape. Entwistle jumps into some slippery chrome neck work, alternating with Moon in keeping a stuttering metallic groove. Roger sings with a whisky and cigarettes throat while alternating harp moans. While keeping it all together Townsend quotes the central ‘Smokestack’ lick. Once Roger quotes lyrics from ‘Money’ the band begins to increase the tension.  Daltrey then dynamically brings the band down and sings, ‘My needle in ya, feels so good’, to which the group gallantly responds and erupts in rapture.

Glass breaks, colorful buttons fall from coats and a thick wave of feedback Washes over the crowd. A specter of a fully mature ‘Who’ silhouettes against the stage curtain ads Townsend begins to shovel large chunks of sound into the musical kiln. Smoke rises as the band deconstructs the scene, this is for real. Townsend scrapes silvery scrubs from his guitar breaking the song apart which only prods Moon and Entwistle into greater chaos. These heavy footed hipsters stomp around the hotel causing everyone to go mad. The final three minutes before ‘Smokestack’s” untimely cut contain the remains of a battlefield.  Sizzling feedback pours from the amps while Moon slams stuttering snare hits. The only connection to an earthly realm are Daltrey’s still puffing harmonica wails. The jams begins to level off before the listener is placed right at the beginning of the concluding song, “Here Tis”. Wow.

“Here Tis”, a Bo Diddley track (actually recorded by the High Numbers when they recorded their first single) concludes the available recording. The beginning is chopped as we enter a version already in progress. The band like is usual for the performance is cooking, Moon’s drums again in the forefront. Townsend and Entwistle share the backing vocals and Daltrey takes over harp duties again. Pete plays clean tone while strumming the chord changes and the band plays a compact tight reading of a Bo Diddley classic.

It’s rare field recordings/bootlegs like this ‘High Numbers’ tape that make rock and roll archaeology such a fantastic way to invest your time. Especially if you are a geek like the ‘rock room’. What’s amazing about this particular document is that it finds the famed ‘Who’ in their formative days. Unfortunately there are a number of cuts and missing music, but we can consider ourselves lucky that what we do have is so amazing and vital. All of the essential elements that would prompt their worldwide popularity exist here and are gaining a thin knife edge by constant musical sharpening. Each bit of their influences can also be discerned by a unique recording like this. Weather the mutual respect and influence shared between the ‘High Numbers’ and the ‘Kinks’, the hearty blues and soul backdrop of their music, or the development of a bombastic and unique stage show are all on display. Throw this one in one and transport yourself to pre-swinging London where pop, art, blues, pills, birds and rock and roll were the ingredients mixed and developed into a primordial rock and roll stew.

Who Live at the Railway Hotel 1964

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