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Debating the Appeal of Live Albums

Tuesday, July 08, 2008 - 01:30 PM

So I’m trying to figure out just what I think of live albums. My initial reaction is: not much. At least, not in rock music. If you like an artist or band enough to go see them live, odds are the recording of that very same event just won’t live up to how it felt when you were there, enveloped by the sound. And that’s the crucial difference: a live concert is more than music; it’s a communal experience and a physical one, even if all you do is sit there and let the sound pin your ears back. King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp once described a live concert as a “hot date” – but a recording of a live concert as merely a love letter.

Having said that… James Brown Live At The Apollo. Nirvana Unplugged. There ARE some tremendous live recordings. (I’m gonna refrain from mentioning Johnny Cash at San Quentin, which, as longtime Soundcheck listeners may recall, was very much a studio creation – especially the iconic roar of the prisoners when Cash sings “well I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die.” That roar was layered on by the engineers later for dramatic effect.) And for jazz and classical music, live concert recordings are absolutely essential, and arguably way more important than the studio creations of either a be-bop combo or a symphony orchestra. (Fans of the classical pianist Glenn Gould will probably disagree. Fans of Keith Jarrett may feel torn.)

For me, though, the live album in the world of pop music usually has a whiff of “let’s fulfill this record contract and get back to the beach.” What do you think? Are there live albums that helped form your musical tastes? Are they still relevant in an age when tonight’s concert is tomorrow’s Youtube clip?


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Comments [4]


The Allman Brothers concerts at the Fillmore are a good live staple, and that live version of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" is simply amazing even though its a spliced up version of two nights. And the "Live Adventures of Kooper & Bloomfield" is also a fantastic live album.

However Bowie's Ziggy Stardust film soundtrack, to me sounds very plain, great tracklist, but the audio is simply unlively.

Jul. 09 2008 12:57 PM
Uncle Freddy

Live albums do have a place, as not everyone can see his/her favorite act due to geographic, financial, or scheduling restrictions. Live albums also allow a moment in time to be captured and appreciated years later.

You mention King Crimson, who released a box set of live recordings with some great improvisations from the mid-70s called "The Great Deceiver." Very few people would have been able to travel with the band to catch all of these live. I was under 10 years old when these were recorded and wasn't yet attending concerts. I'm glad these recordings are available now, though, as it's the closest I will get to experiencing that band live at that time.

Jul. 09 2008 07:43 AM

"Grand Funk Live" is my favorite live album. I especially like "Heartbreaker" and "inside Looking Out".

Jul. 08 2008 02:36 PM

i think Slayer's "Decade Of Aggression" is one of the top five all time live albums.
The songs are faster and preformed slightly differently from the studio versions.
plus, great stage banter.

Jul. 08 2008 02:26 PM

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