Keith Moon was not a man known for restraint. Whether it was on stage or off, as part of a group or flying solo, in on the joke or the butt of it, Moon the Loon was a non-stop tornado of energy and anarchy that couldn’t be stopped by anything, whether they be swimming pools or horse tranquiliser.
But Moon found his calling behind the drums, and was damn good at playing them in his own signature madcap style. Never before had elements like technique and good taste been so gleefully abandoned in favour of flash, volume, and mania. Moon was capable of pared-back performances, but just like everything else, that was eventually tossed out the window.
Keith Moon played Keith Moon type drums, and the list of monster players influenced by his fully-torqued style is long and varied, from the exacting precision of Neil Peart to the punk rock bashing of Dave Grohl.
The live setting was the ideal place to hear Moon at his hair-raising best. During The Who’s initial success, Moon played on smaller, poorly mic’d drum kits that failed to properly preserve his powerful performances. If you listen to tracks like ‘Pictures of Lily’ and ‘The Kids Are Alright’, you can practically hear Moon bashing his way through the mix begging to be heard in all his glory. Unfortunately, those performances are tinny and dynamically flaccid; no one could accurately capture the runaway train that was Keith Moon.
Then came Live at Leeds. The Who had made stage performance into an art form, complete with punishing volumes and destructive climaxes. Up to this point, none of the band’s studio albums, Tommy included, were able to showcase the explosive excitement that came with The Who’s live concerts. Live at Leeds didn’t restrict or confine The Who in any way, shape, or form. If they were loud, so was the album. If they were chaotic, so was the LP. Moon and his bandmates finally had a chance to show the might of their incredible wallop, and they did so with aplomb.
The video down below doesn’t really isolate Moon’s drums: it just makes them louder. ‘Young Man Blues’ doesn’t exactly serve itself well to isolation anyway. It’s a song that plays off the call and response of the instruments with Roger Daltrey’s vocal lines. Removing those would make the song seem bizarrely half-formed. Still, you’ll get no better example of Moon’s frenetic style than on ‘Young Man Blues’, and it deserves to be heard in all its ear-bleeding glory.
Moon often played as fast and loud as he possibly could until getting cut off by Pete Townshend, and in videos, you can see him itching to burst back in at every opportunity. This was another key element to the Keith Moon experience: he was a thrill-seeker and a hurricane of destruction, but it was all in the name of fun. Moon has the time of his life playing ‘Young Man Blues’, and the performance captured on Live at Leeds finally began to establish him as the drumming god he was always meant to be.