Live albums – a staple of recording industry since, forever. Yet, they gained pop culture permamance in the 70’s thanks to the infamous ‘double live’ album by rock bands, which usually was an cheap way to do a greatest hits record and give the band a few months to recharge. Well, in theory anyway.
Live albums have their charms, and some are really good at showing the artists improvisational skills, their musical diversity, and their charm and exuberance. Then there are other live albums, and I’m plopping them here as a “buyer beware” thing deal bit.
NOTE: I’m only going to put live albums ‘officially’ released during a performers career with their consent, and in their prime and not sets released after the fact, or when they were old and in the way. Those post-career live albums are either fantastic, which I’ll review in full, or awful, which means I am ignoring them. Of course, I may change my mind. I often do.
Beach Boys – Beach Boys Concert, Beach Boys ’69 (Live in London), The Beach Boys in Concert – Three eras of the Beach Boys here. The first is a quickie with gunk from one of Brian’s last shows (the material is gunk and rushed, not Brian). The second set is from the Friends era and sounds pretty good for them attempting some of their songs from the era, though Mike Love can just shaddap. The last set is from the Blondie Champlin era, and the material is the issue, like it was for the Blondie Champlin albums. You really don’t need these, but they’re there for the curious.
David Bowie – David Live, Stage – David Live was recorded during the Diamond Dogs tour, and Bowie said this himself: “David Live was the final death of Ziggy… And that photo on the cover. My God, it looks like I’ve just stepped out of the grave. That’s actually how I felt. That record should have been called ‘David Bowie Is Alive and Well and Living Only in Theory'””. Stage was recorded during the US tour for Low and Heroes, and it’s a mish-mosh of Bowie’s eras. It’s not essential except for you Bowie freaks.
Deep Purple – Made in Europe, Nobody’s Perfect – They have one great live record, with the best grouping they had in their primes. Get that one (Made in Japan) and forget the others.
Duran Duran – Arena – It’s got pretty rote recreations of their big hits (well, some of them – it’s pretty skimpy to be honest), and the infamous ‘new single tacked onto the record’ in “Wild Boys”. Thanks to You Tube showing actual clips from Duran Duran concerts, this really isn’t needed, or wanted.
Bob Dylan – Hard Rain, Bob Dylan at Budokan, Real Live, Dylan and the Dead – Dylan has now released a treasure trove of great live performances, so these records seem superfluous at best, and ill-conceived at worst.
The Fiery Furnaces – Remember – They never did anything the straight-forward way. This is a 51-track (!) monstrosity that chops up their songs into bits and pieces, and taking various performances which is jarring because of the various recording quality. For the true believers and those with utmost patience.
Flipper – Public Flipper Limited – This is superfluous, since Blow’n Chunks came out just two years before this, and was one show, while this is all over the place in terms of dates and venues, not to mention sound quality.
Golden Earring – Live, Second Live, Something Heavy Going Down – By the time Live was released in 1977, Golden Earring had been at it for 12 years and released 12 albums. They weren’t afraid to stretch things out at all (shortest cut is 5:06 and that song could go on for 10 minutes, really). Second Live is tighter with their more radio friendly cuts and was the record released right before their second US breakthrough. Something Heavy Going Down is a cash-grab AFTER that breakthrough.
Grand Funk Railroad – Live Album – This doesn’t tell you anything that you didn’t know about Grand Funk Railroad’s popularity in the early 70’s – it just tells you longer and louder. Their second live one actually has some nuance, and is a great overview of them. Get that one.
Sammy Hagar – All Night Long – Two of the seven (seven?) tracks were from Montrose (three of eight if you count the UK version with “Space Station #5”. At this time in his career, he was a servicable hard rock dude, but nothing so special that you wanted to preserve his stage patter and his band’s wheedle-wheedle-wheeing.
Heart – Greatest Hits / Live – A hybrid record that combined studio tracks and a side of a live show, even though “Tell It Like It Is” is on the live sides, and there’s a couple of throwaway tracks on the studio side that weren’t greatest hits. Anyway, it’s incomplete streaming thanks to record company BS, so just skip it.
John Mayer Trio – Try! – He recruits a couple of great musicians (Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino) and makes a blues rock record with a couple of covers. It was an effort to break out of his Adult Alternative niche, and he makes a good effort, but he’s not quite convincing.
Journey – Caputred – After shedding themselves of their prog-rock pretentions (or selling out, depending on who you ask), Journey did everything by the book, including this double live. All the hits at the time, one new song, one studio cut, a guitar solo segment, a drum solo segment. The editing isn’t so hot, and the sound could be better. But it sold a bunch, so mission accomplished.
Ted Nugent – Double Live Gonzo, Intensities in 10 Cities – Of course, the pinnacle of the double-live was Ted’s Double Live Gonzo. The songs go on way way too long for their own good, but there’s some rougish entertainment value. Intensities is 10 new songs, but with titles like “Jailbait”, “I Am a Predator”, and “My Love Is Like a Tire Iron”, it’s easy to get squicked out by it, especially given that he was in the process of adopting his underage girlfriend.
Elvis Presley – Between 1969 and his passing, Elvis released five live records (not counting his TV special and the album released six weeks after his death when he was in terrible shape). Basically, the earlier, the better, so the live part of his 1969 double (called From Memphis to Vegas or In Person at the International Hotel) and On Stage, released in 1970, are his best. Stick to those, really for Elvis as an entertainer and a ham.
Lou Reed – Take No Prisoners – Reed re-invented himself more often than Bowie. Here, he’s a comedian instead of a musician.
The Rolling Stones – I’ll save you time. The only live album to get by them is Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out. That’s it – that’s the list.
Roxy Music – Viva! – Points up for going back in their catalog, using various shows, and not just rehashing their previously released album (which was Siren) or tour. Minus for being kind of skimpy for a band that has lots of material at the time (five studio albums and just eight cuts).
Scorpions – Live Bites – First live album was the climax of the Uli Jon Roth era. Second live album was hot on the heels of their 80’s successes. This was after they got boring. Pass.
Steppenwolf – Live Steppenwolf – Recorded on the Monster tour, this is the only live record from the band in their prime. The album seems a bit flat though, with only a good take of “Draft Resister” and the non-live “Hew Lawdy Mama” that stand out. Points off for faking the applause at the end of the two studio cuts.
Three Dog Night – Captured Live at the Forum, Around the World with Three Dog Night – The first one is a short set recorded just after two albums with no new songs and some bloat. The second one is a double live recorded at some time in 1970 or 1971 with bloat and new songs, if you count “Organ Solo”, “Jam”, and “Drum Solo” as new songs.
Wings – Wings Over America – A live triple! More value! More bloat! Paul and crew do Beatles songs, and give Denny two tracks and Jimmy McCulloch one. They also did studio overdubs. So this is about as live as a dried sea monkey. They do a crap-ton of tracks from Venus and Mars, BTW.
Yes – Yessongs, Yesshows – Yessongs is a live triple from the ‘peak’ period (up to and including Close to the Edge). Long songs are long. Yesshows is a ‘we just broke up and here’s the contract ender’ from dates in 1976-1979. Sadly, nothing from the Trevor Horn era was included. (That was sarcasm there…)