In the days following the tragic and untimely passing of the Who’s John Entwistle, classic rock radio stations aired numerous tributes to the legendary bassman and highlighted his career with the Who. Strangely, virtually no time was dedicated to the music of the Ox’s own group, the John Entwistle Band. As the JEB was Entwistle’s primary creative outlet between sporadic Who reunion tours and all-star celebrity gigs, it seems fitting that the group’s 1999 Left For Live album has been re-released as a new deluxe edition, improving upon the original pressing by including a second disc of JEB concert tracks. The 24 songs were recorded in various venues over the course of 1998 and 1999 and offer an earful of Entwistle at his thunderous best. Amply backed by long time musical collaborator and drummer Steve Luongo, vocalist/guitarist Godfrey Townsend and keyboardist Gordon Cotten, Entwistle treats his audiences to some much loved Who classics and covers, in addition to a variety of outstanding individual/solo compositions.
Clocking in at over an hour, disc one begins with the intro “Bogeyman” segueing quickly into standard JEB set starter “Horror Rock”. The opening blast of these tracks should serve as a harbinger of things to come, as the next 11 songs serve up something for every discerning musical palette. There is the timeless signature song “The Real Me” where Entwistle’s trademark rumble is accented by Townsend’s gritty vocals. Gone is the song’s glossy Quadrophenia studio polish and cavernous stadium sound, replaced instead by a remarkably crisp and powerful version only a small venue with a top flight mixing board could capture. Present also are the songs “My Size” and “Love Is a Heart Attack”, from Entwistle’s earlier solo efforts; JEB penned selections “Sometimes” and “Darker Side of Night;” and several of Entwistle’s familiar Who album tunes, “You”, “Trick of the Light”, and “Success Story” (which will forever be linked to the image of the Ox using gold albums for skeet practice in The Kids Are Alright film).
Song breaks are punctuated by Entwistle’s wry humor, discernable crowd chatter and clinking of glasses. This adds to the disc’s distinctive live setting feel as it brings the listener right into the small clubs that the JEB almost exclusively played in. Disc one’s final three tracks offer listeners an interesting aural surprise. Track 11 is a rare live version of “Cousin Kevin” from the rock opera Tommy followed by a cover of Roger Daltrey’s solo hit “Under a Raging Moon”, which features an extended Luongo drum solo described by Entwistle as being “as long as Winston 100 cigarette”. Track 13 is the first of Entwistle’s two most famous songs, a rollicking “Boris the Spider”, (the second being “My Wife”, which were both surprisingly absent from the original Left for Live release). In addition to confirming the JEB’s prowess as a live act, disc one also makes a noteworthy point. While Enwistle’s bass is obviously the driving force within the band, it does not overshadow the rest of the group. Quite the opposite, it compliments the others’ contributions. Interesting in that Entwistle was constantly battling against Pete Townshend’s guitar and Keith Moon’s drum kit throughout the Who’s heyday.
The second disc opens with “905”, Entwistle’s amusing look at the future, and “Had Enough”, both from the Who’s Who Are You album. The latter is notable for Townsend’s ragged vocal and Cotton’s keyboard incorporating the perfect amount of angst to stay true to the original album version. Following are the somewhat autobiographical “Endless Vacation”, and Entwistle’s first written effort with the Who, “Whiskey Man”. Next comes a brief downshift in momentum, the hauntingly attractive “Too Late the Hero”. While Entwistle’s vocals are a bit strained, (more attributable to his progressive hearing loss than any obvious voice problems), the song demonstrates his versatility as a songwriter, and is a reminder of the distant second place he was often relegated to behind Pete Townshend in the composition department.
The album’s energy level is ratcheted back up once again with two of three covers of Who cover tunes: Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues” and Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over”. The 15-plus-minutes of disc time taken up by the pair is as explosive as any quarter hour of live music ever recorded. Featuring fiery guitar work, sneering vocals, precision drumming and keyboards, all accentuated by Entwistle’s deafening bass roar, these versions are as close to the Who’s Live At Leeds or Isle Of Wight as one will find. Hardcore aficionados will be proud. Equally powerful renditions of “Heaven And Hell” and Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” follow, (the latter being the third cover of the aforementioned three), culminating in “My Wife”, fittingly performed (and noted by Entwistle) on the last night of the JEB tour.
On its own, Left For Live Deluxe is an amazingly strong live recording, and a necessity for every Who fan’s collection. More significantly though, the twin disc set is an enduring tribute to Entwistle’s immense talent as a musician, and the JEB’s formidable live presence. It leaves a fitting legacy for those who loved the Ox, and provides an appropriate soundtrack for the memories cherished by the lucky ones who saw the JEB up close and personal. As the album’s liner notes poignantly instruct listeners, “When it thunders think of John Entwistle.”