Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Hello Cleaveland! HELLO CLEAVELAND!!!"*

*Incorrect spelling courtesy of the fine folks at Spinal Tap, Inc.
The “Live” album is a curious thing, no? Some bands have made their reputation on them (The Grateful Dead springs to mind), others have had their career given a much needed boost by ‘em (At Budokan, anyone?), and others have become a bit of a joke (Frampton Comes Alive).
I know some people that absolutely hate the live album, but this comes from a person who cherishes studio trickery and production values over the emotional punch a live document can offer. Of course it helps if you have seen the band in concert because it will transport you back to that time almost instantly, conjuring up memories of standing shoulder to shoulder with your friends when the lights dim and the overwhelming smell of a thousand joints being lit at the same time. Magical.
For me the tracks on a live album should sound little like the studio versions or really, what’s the point? The Cars were infamous for putting on one hell of an awful show. Technically speaking they were superb, their live renditions an exact replica of the albums…boring boring boring.
A live rock show should be dangerously unpredictable, or unpredictably dangerous, depending on your point of view. I remember seeing the Clash at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto for the Combat Rock tour I believe. The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police for all you Yanks out there) were out front in riot gear and the air was foul with the possibility danger.
Inside, about 4 or 5 songs in, the Clash started pounding out a hardcore version of London Calling and we all went wild slamming our Doc Martins into the plastic stadium seats, eventually dislodging them from their hinges and tossing them into the rows of punks below. My friend even hit a cop with his.
This is not to say that a live show must be dangerous to be enjoyable. Seeing The Kinks was a life changing experience and I never once thought that I was in any danger. It just depends.
I enjoy live albums, but I don’t listen to them as much as I should. Maybe it’s because a live album needs to be taken as a whole and I don’t have a long enough commute or the time at home to just sit…and absorb.

So what’re your views on live albums? What are some of your favorites? I’m partial to Kicking Television by Wilco, The Name Of This Band Is…by Talking Heads, OKONOKOS by My Morning Jacket, James Browns Live At The Apollo and (insert laughter here) Exit Stage Left by RUSH and LIVE KILLERS by Queen. So sue me.


Harry Ames, Jr. said...

I believe live albums can be unique snapshots of an artist and their work. Personally, I don't much trust music that can only be replicated in a studio. I'm not saying it isn't valid, but the visceral immediacy of music should translate into a live performance and provide a different, more intimate, translation of the songs.
Now, a live album doesn't always capture the "magic" of a particular concert and by no means do all live recordings stand as a listenable album. Sometimes, however, they become central signposts in an artists' career and in some cases become signature releases. Here are some of my favorite "live" albums that I believe stand as great records:

My Funny Valentine-Miles Davis
Muddy Waters Live At Newport
Live At The Appollo-James Brown
Live In Europe-Otis Redding
Got Live If You Want It-Rolling Stones
Live 1964 (Carnegie Hall)-Bob Dylan
Live 1966-Bob Dylan (with The Hawks)
Before The Flood-Bob Dylan & The Band
Live 1976-Bob Dylan (Rolling Thunder Review)
Live Dead (1968)-Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses) 1970
Bear's Choice (1969) - Grateful Dead
Europe '72 - Grateful Dead
Cheap Thrills - Big Brother & The Holding Company
Waiting For Columbus-Little Feat
The Roxy And Elsewhere-Frank Zappa
Live At Leeds-The Who
Concert For Bangla Desh-George Harrison
Live Songs-Leonard Cohen
An Immaculately Hip Aristocrat-Lord Buckley
Bless Its Pointed Little Head-Jefferson Airplane
Live At The Regal-B.B. King
Rock Of Ages-The Band
The Last Waltz-The Band
Woodstock-Various Artists
Band Of Gypsys-Jimi Hendrix
Get Your Ya-Ya's Out-Rolling Stones
Running On Empty-Jackson Browne
4-Way Street-Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Live At Winterland-Jimi Hendrix
Live At The Fillmore East-The Allman Brothers Band
Live At Massey Hall/Fillmore East-Neil Young (with Crazy Horse)
Randy Newman Live
Carnegie Hall-Lenny Bruce
On The Road-The Kinks
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band 1975-85
Jerry Garcia Band (Acoustic & Electric)
Old & In The Way
20th Century Blues-Marianne Faithfull
Live Peace In Toronto-Plastic Ono Band
Cheap Trick at Budokan
1968 Special-Elvis Presley

I bet I can think of some more later

Any major dude with half a heart said...

There are some bands I will always prefer to listen to in their live album incarnation. Maze is one such act, Counting Crows is another.

Mark said...

I would agree with Harry that live albums can be a key part of an artist's work. Or they can simply be a shoddy product thrown together to make some easy money. (See all of the Rolling Stones' many live albums since 1982.) Johnny Cash's live albums at Folsom Prison and San Quentin stand out as two all-time highlights. Here are some of my favorites:

The Band-Rock of Ages
The Band-The Last Waltz
David Bowie-Santa Monica, 1972
Miles Davis-live at the Blackhawk, 1961
Bill Evans-live at the Village Vanguard, 1961
The Kinks-One For the Road
Robyn Hitchcock-Storefront Hitchcock
Dave Brubeck-Buried Treasures
Dave Brubeck-Jazz Goes to College
Phil Ochs-In concert
Phil Ochs-There and Now
The Police-Live (2 concerts, the one from 1979 is terrific, the one from 1983, not so great)
Bobby Darin-Live at the Copa
Bobby Darin-Live at the Desert Inn
Bobby Darin-The Curtain Falls
Frank Sinatra-Live in Australia, 1959
Frank Sinatra-Live in Paris, 1962
Wes Montgomery-Smokin' at the Half Note
Rolling Stones-Get Your Ya Ya's Out