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The Best Live Albums

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

It used to be, you couldn't be a major act without a live album... nay, a double live album. But the concert-on-record seems to have gone the way of the 8-track. Music critic and blogger Bill Wyman joins us today for a look at some of the classics, like "Frampton Comes Alive" and Cheap Trick's "At Budokan," and to ponder the question, "Whatever happened to the live album?"

Listeners: We want to hear from you! What are your favorite live albums, and why? And, do you think the live album is still...alive and well today?  Weigh in below.

Comments [80]

Dennis Urban from Long Island

Rush - Exit, Stage Left

Dec. 10 2011 07:39 PM
Jim from Live from Asbury Park

Didn't get a chance to comment when I heard the broadcast in the car. I have to say that I believe that not enough research went into this. I'm 53, experienced the Detroit Motown scene as a preteen, survived the drug fueled 70's and 80's in the NY metro area, and now relive all the great music through tube video and my live collection on album, CD, mp3, and DVD. The music is out there... in every genre and format.

A little more research beyond your "faves" is my recently live recorded faves, Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart. And my longtime favorite is Dexter Gordon "Live at the Montmartre Jazhus".

Also, thanks to David Letterman for Drum Week. Live improv is alive and well... just do a little more research beyond the double live album with the seeds still stuck on the crease.

Dec. 07 2011 02:41 PM
John from Southbury

B.B. King Live at The Regal. His best work.

Dec. 06 2011 11:25 PM
Lisa D. from Brooklyn

so far, the best live shows for me were:

Fleetwood Mac at Saratoga 1976.

Simon & Garfunkle: Central Park, 1981

Roger Waters: Dark Side of the Moon Live, MSG 2007

Neil Young: Rust Never Sleeps, 1978 Nassau Coliseum

Various Dead Shows 1978-1995 -- too stoned and/or too numerous to remember

Leonard Cohen: Radio City

The Cure: Radio City

Klaus Nomi: The Mudd Club,1981

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Mojo Live, 2010, Comcast Center, Manchester, Mass.

Here are my unqualified favorites Live Albums:

Edgar Winter's White Trash -- "Roadwork" (Tobacco Road is a masterpiece! )

Nirvanah Unplugged -- raw, haunted, timeless.

Pete Townsend - Benefit for Maryville Academy -- check it out if you missed it.

The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads & Stop Making Sense -- I was at two of the Forest Hill shows... doesn't get better then that.

Grateful Dead: Bear's Choice, Live Dead, Europe 72, Skull & Roses -- esp. Wharf Rat and The Other One... oh hell, any of the 120 live albums/cds they've released.

Neil Young's recently released, "Live at Massey Hall"

Bob Marley & the Wailers: Babylon by Bus

Jefferson Airplane: 30 Seconds Over Winterland

Joni Mitchell -- Miles of Aisles

Erykah Badu - Live

Band of Gypsies - Jimi Hendrix Live at the Fillmore East

Frampton Comes Alive -- ubiquitous for the 70s - yes... but its still a great album!

Jackson Browne: Running On Empty

Dec. 06 2011 11:19 PM

I wasn'r an Eagles fan in the 70s because the radio was so saturated with their tunes. But now I really enjoy their reunion concert videos. After seeing the live music video, I go looking for the CD of the video.

Randi Brooklyn

Dec. 06 2011 10:33 PM
Mona from NYC

I was always impressed by Portishead's live album (Roseland, 1998) and Nirvana's unplugged for MTV. I would love to hear more live albums--especially one from PJ Harvey--for whom live shows are truly an art.

Dec. 06 2011 10:31 PM
Lawrence J. Waites from Detriot Michigan

Tom Waits- Nighthawks At The Diner

very intimate
good use of audience

Any great "performer" should have a great live album

if Lady Ga Ga maid a live album with her and her piano in an intmate setting
it would be great because she is a great performer

Dec. 06 2011 10:31 PM
Shawna from ny

Dave Matthews Band is the best at this and it shows by the number of live albums they sell.

DMB Live at Central Park is one of the best live albums ever made.

Dec. 06 2011 10:28 PM
tom LI

The live album died when Rap took over the music biz (hard to name an actually good Live Rap set, that was listenable after the show) and when rock bands didn't have to be good live, but only in the studio, which was post-Grunge...and the Corporate Star became the norm...

When listeners and fans wanted nothing but what they heard on an album - mid 90's ++ - the whole live thing pretty much died...but it is on the rise, as more actual talented musicians get heard again...I've been to many good live shows the last Album worthy? Maybe, maybe not.

Dec. 06 2011 05:29 PM
tom LI

Little Feat - Waiting For Columbus. (stellar, album, of a long past moment in Rock, still holds up.)

Dec. 06 2011 05:23 PM
richard weaver from jersey city

Pet Shop Boys - Concrete

Dec. 06 2011 03:42 PM
Bill G in NYC from Manhattan

3 NYC recordings:
Jefferson Airplane - Bless Its Pointed Little Head - is remarkable, and you can really hear Jack Casady's great bass playing. (Recorded at both Fillmores, East & West)

Jeff Beck's Rock & Roll Party Honoring Les Paul with incredible Les Paul - Mary Ford numbers with Imelda May, and lots of great guest stars, recorded within the last year at the Iridium Club

An Electrifying Evening with the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet,1960 at the MOMA, is the most downright exciting live jazz album I've ever heard. On piano is Lalo Schifrin, before he became a film composer (you can almost hear the Mission Impossible theme when he solos.)

Dec. 06 2011 03:23 PM

RE: Simon & Garfunkel/Central Park
Having been there (showing my age here), I have to say the album is better than the actual experience was. Oh well...
(How come no one mentioned Leo Kottke's "My Feet Are Smiling"? -- John, you missed some great impromptu lines on that one, and I know you like Kottke!)

Dec. 06 2011 02:42 PM
catbird from Brooklyn

best track from a live album? hands down Machine Gun by Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies recorded live at the Filmore East on New Year's Eve 1970. Jimi's improvisation here really has no peer and is maybe the best single piece of work he ever did, and is maybe the single best argument for the recent designation by Rolling Stone of Jimi as the best rock guitarist ever.

Dec. 06 2011 02:36 PM
Bill the music archivist from Mamaroneck

Our Mamaroneck alternative HS page on Facebook has just been discussing local cover band extraordinaire Rat Race Choir, who, the 1st time I saw them play our school, was being fronted by Bob Mayo, who left to play gtr/kybds on Frampton Comes Alive (that's his Fender Rhodes solo on Baby I Love Your Way). No value judgements, just reporting.

Dec. 06 2011 02:35 PM
Andrea from Philadelphia

A recent live album that is really special is Leonard Cohen's "Live in London"--it's a tour de force retrospective of his entire career, his voice is as good or better than it ever was and it has incredible emotional power.

Dec. 06 2011 02:34 PM
Barbara Lifotn from New York City

The BEST Live audio album and DVD set: "The Last Waltz", of the Band's last concert, 1976! Produced by Robbie Robertson (leader of THE BAND)amd Joni , and directed by Martin Scorcese!
Feauturing Robertson, Rick Danko, Leon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. Guests included Clapton, Muddy Waters, Dylan, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris and Joni Mitchell!
THe Best: "Ophelia!"and "Up on Cripple Creek!"

Dec. 06 2011 02:32 PM

Too bad they never made a live album using the sound track from "Gimme Shelter", the Maysles Brothers' film of the Stones in '69. Great Madison Square Garden music (arguably their best, before Mick Taylor was squelched), and culminating in the Altamont disaster -- a reality they've been trying to hide ever since, just as they had people smash tape recorders at concerts -- but the ultimate reality of a live situation. (Funny how there were never any conflicts at Grateful Dead concerts -- no wonder there.)

Dec. 06 2011 02:32 PM
Tim Schreier from Soho

4 Way Street CSNY
Roy Buchannan Live Stock

Dec. 06 2011 02:30 PM

a related topic: remember the 70's and "in concert" on ABC[TV]. that, was a much more real concert experience,than the glitzy overly produced "midnight special" that followed. i agree, with stevie marriot's voice,being great, and his humbe pie stage presence, was simply amazing!

Dec. 06 2011 02:29 PM
Laura from CT

Absolutely my favorite...

Simon and Garfunkle, 'Concert in Central Park, 1981'.

Dec. 06 2011 02:28 PM
Gary from Port Washington

The best live album maybe the Who Live At Leeds, J. Giels Full House and the Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East. Let's not forget Humble Pie Live at the Fillmore. Everyone seemed to do a live album from the Fillmore. Jimi Hendrix was always better live and Woodstock was the greatest live album. Little Feat was great live and better than their studio stuff. Last Waltz great album and concert for Bangladesh.

Dec. 06 2011 02:28 PM
Sara B

I think one of the possible futures of the "Live Album" is live short shoots that are then posted online. ie:

Dec. 06 2011 02:28 PM
Bill from Lower East Side

Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park as second place to Live at Leeds

Dec. 06 2011 02:27 PM
JhunLup from UWS

The "recent" release of Neil Young's Live at Massy Hall. Great recording of early Neil Young live in an intimate space.

Dec. 06 2011 02:27 PM
Jim B

In my opinion, the "why" of live albums entirely has to do with the value of improvisation to jazz and rock.. Just as live recordings of Charlie Parker, jazz's greatest improviser, are considered as irreplacable records of genius, rock bands such The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service became known for extended jam sessions that offered a deeper musical experience than studio albums. Rhythm, the core of rock and jazz, is spontaneous, but no longer is the innovating dynamic of popular music that it once was.

Dec. 06 2011 02:26 PM
Harley from Queens, NY

The live album isn't dead, it has morphed into the live DVD. The amount of live concert DVDs is staggering.

Dec. 06 2011 02:25 PM
Garry Rindfuss

The live album went the way of the dodo for a couple of reasons: Primarily because of the lack of audience interest in playing ability (chops) in pop and rock music these days, but also because, let's face it, most live albums weren't very good, or in fact, very live. It's been said that about the only live thing on The Stones' "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out" is the audience.

Dec. 06 2011 02:24 PM
Dave Alexander from Ridgewood nj

Kiss Alive! Like them or hate them, everybody wanted to Rock n Roll All Night. The image on that album of the audience was all of us at that time, like it was almost a self portrait of the rock fan of the 70's. A family portrait of sorts. Great Album.

Stage Pass by Michael Stanley band recorded in the Cleveland Agora was also an incredible live album, as was Ian Hunter's live Album.

Dec. 06 2011 02:24 PM
Len Maniace from Jackson Heights

Some gems already mentioned - Rock of Ages by the Band, with horn section arranged by the great Allen Toussaint, a recent Sountcheck guest.

I guess live albums are a victim of disappearing CDs. Agree with observation that DVD music shows, as nice as they are, are a little to staged. Of course live performances were often sweetened in the studio.

Dec. 06 2011 02:24 PM
Chris Wibrew from West Hempstead.

I feel it is because of the release of the DVD that has caused the decrease in Live cd/album releases. plus if you are tech saavy enough, you can rip the audio from a live DVD into high quality audio. Some of my favs: The Cure: Trilogy and Pearl Jam: Live at MSG 2003.

Dec. 06 2011 02:24 PM
Frank DeGregorie from NYC

Judy At Carnegie Hall


Immortal Line:
"I know, I'll sing 'em all and we'll stay all night."


Dec. 06 2011 02:23 PM
Chloe from Manhattan

the one and only DEEP PURPLE MADE IN JAPAN!!!!!!!! The live version of "Child in Time" blows the studio version completely out of the water.

Dec. 06 2011 02:23 PM
Carol from NYC

I'm still a big fan of the live album. And still one of the best rock albums of the '70s is Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band's "Live Bullet" !

And as evidenced by their show last week at the Garden, they are still a killer live band.

Dec. 06 2011 02:23 PM
Bill the music archivist from Mamaroneck

Oh, John.... your killing me over here with this stuff. This is exactly the stuff i was telling you about on Friday night that was the source material for that unforgettable prep shool gig in which i made my first and last appearence as a singer, ending with my voice blown out, handing off the mike in surrender to the audience. "Sometimes I feel like I been tied to the Whipping Post, O Lord I feel like I'm Dyin," indeed.

Dec. 06 2011 02:23 PM
Andrea from Philadelphia

"The Name of this Band is Talking Heads" is probably my all-time favorite.

Dec. 06 2011 02:23 PM

"Queen" at Wimbledon. A truly amazing performance!

Dec. 06 2011 02:23 PM
suzanne from brooklyn

X - Live from the Whiskey A Go Go!

Dec. 06 2011 02:22 PM
Liz from NYC

The 80s did produce a great live album: Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense

Dec. 06 2011 02:22 PM
Susy from Manhattan

Does Nirvana Unplugged count? That is one of my favorites.

Dec. 06 2011 02:22 PM
timotato from Newark, NJ

One word: Youtube. Videos taken at concerts and uploaded to Youtube have replaced the live album. The fidelity may not be superb but the addition of visuals make it more attractive.

Dec. 06 2011 02:22 PM
b from BK

any live Clifton Chenier

Dec. 06 2011 02:22 PM
b from BK

any live Clifton

Dec. 06 2011 02:21 PM
mick from Inwood

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Live at the Filmore East. The great genius of eclectic and comedy rock was at his finest and with the two Turtles on vocals telling the story of the groupie in her AMC Gremlin...

Dec. 06 2011 02:21 PM
Mark from Brooklyn

Why release a live album when your performances are being recorded by smart phones and posted on YouTube? Example- almost every recent performance by the Foo Fighters is available on YouTube if you search.

Dec. 06 2011 02:21 PM
Michael Azerrad from Money-makin' Manhattan

One of the most notable between-song utterances on a live album came not from the stage but from the audience: when Bob Dylan played with his electric band at Manchester in 1966 and someone yelled out, "JUDAS!"

Dec. 06 2011 02:21 PM
Darren in NJ from The Garden State

Two words: "Live Dead" Sublime!

"Skull & Roses" isn't chopped liver either. Also, "Before the Flood" -- Dylan's comeback tour with The Band, that was the first time people used their lighters as expressive torches

Dec. 06 2011 02:20 PM
timotato from Newark, NJ

One word: Youtube. Videos taken at concerts and uploaded to Youtube have replaced the live album. The fidelity may not be superb but the addition of visuals make it more attractive.

Dec. 06 2011 02:20 PM
Rick from nyc

Hasn't Taylor Swift, one of the biggest acts in recent years, just released a live album? Proof that the live album is not dead?

Dec. 06 2011 02:19 PM
mario from brooklyn

Charles Mingus at Carnegie hall. The best

Dec. 06 2011 02:19 PM
Bob from NJ

Poco - "Deliverin'"
Little Feat - "Waiting For Columbus"
CSNY - "Four Way Street"
Neville Brothers - "Live from Planet Earth"

Dec. 06 2011 02:19 PM
Peter Weitzner

How about, "I hope we pass the audition." - John Lennon from Let it Be.

Dec. 06 2011 02:18 PM
Christopher from Bed-Stuy

A live album not only documents that show but also documents what a band is able to do outside of a studio. Live At Leeds is the perfect example of The Who in their element.

Dec. 06 2011 02:16 PM
Chris Hinkle from Brooklyn

I found that some artists would release more live albums than studio albums, sometimes and indication of a deficiency in their song writing ability, e.g. Ted Nugent.

Dec. 06 2011 02:16 PM
Neil from port washington

Joni Mitchell's "Shadows and Light" was unforgettable with her jazz backup band.
Also Frank Zappa's "Live in New York"

Dec. 06 2011 02:16 PM
Frank from Newark

Climax Blues Band, Lou Reed - R&R Animal, Little Feat-Waiting For Columbus.
Any Live Zappa. The Stones-Get Your Ya Ya's Out.

Dec. 06 2011 02:15 PM

too many live albums of years back,had horrible sound quality. the technology for balancing out[mixing] the music, while it was performed live,stunk. so, we got these monstrosities of instrumental drownout. vocals were often horrible. in many ways it was an exercise in onanism,of the cheapest order,of a live experience, that may have had some validity,sentimentally, if not artistically, for someone esle.

Dec. 06 2011 02:13 PM
Christopher from Bed-Stuy

Then: The Who--->Live At Leeds
Now: Wilco - Kicking Television

Dec. 06 2011 02:13 PM
willie wolf from Greenpoint

Notable exception to the minor theory and my favorite live album: Talking Heads Stop Making Sense. Saw the tour, wore out the album

Dec. 06 2011 02:12 PM
Tom C from Detroit, Michigan, USA

It may be an 'outlier' or 'minor theory', but what about 'Kick out the Jams' by the MC5.

TomC - Detroit, Michigan, USA

Dec. 06 2011 02:11 PM
Oscar from Brooklyn

With many live albums you either get a watered down or sloppy version of the record piece or a masterful mimicry of the record piece, that is to say, nothing new to add of the enjoyment of the album.

An example of an excellent live album would be Bonnie Prince Billy's "Is it the sea?" -- a new take on lots of the classics.

Dec. 06 2011 02:11 PM
concertrader3 from white plains, ny

it was the live LP's and those DJ's that played them that made bands such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Airplane, Mountain, Allmans, Marshall Tucker and of course, the Dead (is there any side better than St. Stephen into The Eleven?)

Dec. 06 2011 02:10 PM
stuart from nyc

"Does anyone remember laughter?"
Zep was never close to being my favorite band, but this sentence should be the punchline to the question "What is the most memorable line from a live album?"

Dec. 06 2011 02:07 PM
Antonio from Mexico City

The live album didn't die it simply morphed into live offerings of the concert you attended, to market our unique experience, available for download or a cute USB drive.

Dec. 06 2011 02:03 PM
Frank Grimaldi from East Village

My favorite live album is Bowie's "David Live." I really loved the theatrical R&B arrangements of "All The Young Dudes," "The Jean Genie," "Alladin Sane," and of course his cover of "Knock on Wood." Unfortunately, Bowie tried again later on with the two album set "Stage" Although the songs were great, for me, they didn't translate.

BTW. Nowadays, companies like Tascam have high quality pocket recorders or we can just record an entire show on our cell phones. If we're lazy we can sometimes even download concert audio on-line. So it seems like there is no longer a need for live albums (CDs.)

Dec. 06 2011 01:53 PM
Jim from New Hampshire

Frank Zappa - The Best Band You never Heard in Your Life.

(Penquins in Bondage is one of those "goose bumpers" at the guitar break!)

Dec. 06 2011 01:50 PM
eli from astoria NY

led zeppelin: how the west was won

Dec. 06 2011 12:05 PM
RPI from The Zone

Thank goodness for ripping audio from DVDs.

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii
Leonard Cohen: Live in London (cd release cuts out too much great dialogue and timing)
The Tragically Hip: That Night in Toronto
Radiohead: From the Basement 2011

Of course there are some great live albums out there...

Dylan: Live at "Royal Albert Hall"
Costello: Live at the El Mocambo
Cale: Sabotage/Live, Fragments of a Rainy Season, Rockpalast Live
Neil Young: Rust Never Sleeps (much better than "Live Rust" and mostly recorded live), Year of the Horse, Weld, many of the Live Archives
Talking Heads: The Name of This Band Is

But most real gems are bootlegs:
Shearwater: Live at Saint Malo
Wye Oak: Live in Washington DC 2011 (NPR)
Pink Floyd: BBC sessions, most 1970-1973 shows, Oakland 1977, Montreal 1977
Cale: BFBS 1984
Radiohead: Utrecht 1997, Nijmegen 2000, Berlin 2001, webcasts
Amiina are much better live than on record...
Low do very well live...

Many current indie bands have very open policies about live recordings, and there are lots of semi-authorized shows on the Internet Archive. And then there's Youtube.

So by and large better or more interesting performances are being captured live and disseminated pretty effectively. Live recordings will never go away..

Dec. 06 2011 12:00 PM
mike from long island

Any live Dead Album
Ladies and Gentlemen...The Grateful Dead

Dec. 06 2011 10:57 AM
mark solomon from Ardsley NY

Band of Gypsies, Woodstock soundtrack, Live at Leeds, Humble Pie Live, Allman Bros Fillmore, Get Your Ya Yas Out, Ray Charles Live, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Concert for Bangladesh, Betty Carter Round Midnight, or An Audience With, Bill Evans Trio at Village Vanguard.

Dec. 05 2011 11:23 AM

Genesis: Seconds Out

Dec. 03 2011 07:47 AM
Will From Amityville from 11701

Frank Zappa: You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 2

Dec. 02 2011 05:26 PM
mike thies from BK,NY

I got to get these in there..
-Donny Hathaway - "live" from the bitter end in ny
-Ahmad Jamal - live at the pershing

Dec. 02 2011 04:47 PM
david lada from new york city

Yes: Yessongs

Emerson, Lakes and Palmer: Welcome Back my Friends to the Show that Never Ends.

Lots of great live jazz records, several from Miles Davis like Live at the Plugged Nickel or We Want Miles.

Dec. 02 2011 11:58 AM
Anne Marie Clarke from Bayside NY

2 old faves that have never aged:

Joni Mitchell: Miles of Aisles
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Four Way

Dec. 02 2011 11:51 AM
eb from europe

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live Rust
Thin Lizzy - Live & Dangerous
Whitesnake - "Live... In The Heart of the City"

Dec. 02 2011 11:32 AM
Bob from Ann Arbor

NRBQ's Ludlow Garage 1970 is mindblowingly good, particularly for people who still don't know how amazing Steve Ferguson was at the height of his powers. Even later fans of the Al Anderson & Johnny Spampinato eras don't seem to fully appreciate the original lineup of the band. They were weird, wild and loaded with as much talent & versatility as The Band.

Dec. 02 2011 11:12 AM
Bob from Ann Arbor

NRBQ's Ludlow Garage 1970 is mindblowingly good, particularly for people who still don't know how amazing Steve Ferguson was at the height of his powers. Even later fans of the Al Anderson & Johnny Spampinato eras don't seem to fully appreciate the original lineup of the band. They were weird, wild and loaded with as much talent & versatility as The Band.

Dec. 02 2011 11:11 AM
Eric Tremont

1. Bob Dylan and the Hawks, Live at "Royal Albert Hall" (recorded 1966).

2. The Rolling Stones, "Get Yer Ya Yas Out" (recorded 1969)

Dec. 02 2011 11:11 AM
David Quinn from Sleepy Hollow, NY

3 favs in 3 genres

J. Geils Band: Full House, Cinderella Ballroom, Detroit

Commander Cody, Armadillo World Headquarters, Texas

John Coltrane: One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note

Dec. 02 2011 09:19 AM

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