Best Live Albums as chosen by idioland.
There was always a bunch of suspicions about the live album; in fact a right sack full of suspicions. Was it an excuse for the artiste to sit on their fanny and do nothing for even longer before coming up with some new material? Would it either sound like it was recorded by a shifty sideburns bloke in the crowd with a Dictaphone, or recorded in the studio and applause added like canned laughter in a sitcom? Would it show up the frailties of the singer? Would it include a forty-minute drum solo? Without all the flashy lights and video screens would it just all be terribly dull?
So, there aren’t many live albums that we could say, yep, that was a classic. That caught a firefly in a jam jar, magic in a bottle. So when compiling this list, the over-riding need was for the live album to do something different, something superior. In idiolist stylee, these are not in any particular order…
1. The Name Of This Band Is – Talking Heads
Proves that Talking Heads were one of the greatest bands to ever dance around in oversize suits. No, wait, that was Stop Making Sense. This is a little more complete, a mongrel two sets, two disks, one from the late 70′s, in front of around 12 people, in your face taut and hard and funky as heck, and one from the early 80’s, expanded with a team of backup players, and with a slightly larger audience, okay a bloody great arena, but still eclectically brilliant. Basic fact: Talking Heads live was better than Talking Heads studio.
2. Everything Everything – Underworld
It’s a tricky one, admittedly, if we can even call dance music ‘live’. On one hand, dance music was designed to be listened to with others (it’s always a bit sad to listen to dance music on your own at home, a bit like drinking alone actually, which may actually go hand in hand.) On the other, the music is not exactly being played live. Press play more like. Never mind, this live album does everything you want from a live album – it adds color, drama and pumped up excitement to studio tracks, with exactly the right mix of crowd-going-bonkers noise (even if some of it was at a very soggy Fuji Rocks in Japan). Has a very high hairs on the back of your neck ratio, Rez, Pearl’s Girl, Born Slippy, and the immense opener Juanita/Kiteless.
3. MTV Unplugged in New York – Nirvana
Hard to decide whether this made for TV set is actually a live album, but it is too good to ignore. It would probably annoy Cobain no end, as this is the acceptable, acoustic face of a naturally caustic trio. While the Nirvana songs are fantastic, it’s the covers that stand naked, alone. Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World, and the Appalachian folk standard Where Did You Sleep Last Night, ending on that exhausted roar, are spine-chillingly good. And of course Kurt was dead 4 months later.
4. Weld – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
We know what is going to happen here. They are going to look us in the eye, mutter Live Rust, shake their head and wander off to the other end of the bar, spending the rest of the evening, nudging each other, looking our way, and making strangely threatening gestures as they sup their real ale. Don’t care. With the first Gulf war having just kicked off, Young took another ride on the Crazy Horse, with Sonic Youth in tow, and blew everyone off the map with this hard rockin’ riot of feedback, squall and old favorites Welfare Mothers, Like A Hurricane, Cortez The Killer and the rest. At the age of 46.
5. Songs Of Love Live – Mark Eitzel
Sometimes it is just very, very simple. A heartbroken man, a guitar, a microphone, a back catalog of songs of beauty, a small club in a foreign land. And this is what you get. The frontman of American Music Club, in the early 90’s, in London. Tragically hip.
6. I Might Be Wrong – Radiohead
Included, and here blasphemy will be set down for all to see and damn us all to hell, because it took the songs of Kid A and Amnesiac, once described as having all the impact of electronic mice slapping each other, and gave them proper soul and depth. In short, this is how they should have sounded, rather than tentative and warped. Recorded on their tent tour, worth it for Spinning Plates alone.
7. Minimum Maximum – Kraftwerk
Clean, crisp, note perfect, everything you don’t want from a live album. Yet with the image of four dour Germanic types standing behind four keyboards firmly in our minds, this is a magical journey across all the great Kraftwerk moments, and those muso cheers of appreciation agree with us.
8. Hard Rain – Bob Dylan
From the Rolling Thunder Revue, it may perhaps have been usurped by the Bootleg Tapes version, but it has such a downbeat feel, and such a set list. Maggie’s Farm, Idiot Wind. Just magical. And it was raining too, apparently.
9. Live in Stockholm – Bruce Springsteen*
There are tones of Springsteen live albums out there, just not a huge amount legal. Yes, we know. This isn’t strictly an album, okay, so please replace with Live 1975-1985, or Live in New York City (or even the Hyde Park DVD). We’re sticking with this, a global radio transmission from the Tunnel Of Love tour? Why? Because it was summer in Stockholm, about the only live album I’ve ever heard that makes sense in daylight. I know, its weird, but it really works. You can stream it legally off some sites, 14 songs, from Cover Me to The River to Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom and a great moment when everything goes apart from the piano. Shoot that sound mixer. Just a brilliant summertime soundtrack, even if the future second Mrs. Springsteen’s microphone is way too loud for that kind of wailing.
10. Roseland NYC Live – Portishead