Got live if you want it…

rollingstonemag.jpg Rolling Stone is at it again.

As if picking out the 500 greatest songs, 500 greatest albums, and 100 greatest artists weren’t argument fodder enough, now the magazine whose masthead motto used to be (cue laugh track) “All the news that fits” and whose motto for the last 25 years has been “All the money we can gets” has created another list to foment bar stool scholarly discussion:

25 Greatest live albums….

I’m not here to argue (hell, I’m not here at S&R nearly enough these days, but that’s another story). What I propose is this: I’m going to offer a sort of Obama solution – my choices for favorite live album that I associate with each generation: Boomers, Xers, Millenials. I don’t ask that you agree. I suggest that you propose your own choices if they differ from mine.

So here are my picks:

Boomer – The Who: Live at Leeds – The Who was the best live act of the British invasion. This album shows why.

Xer – U2: Rattle and Hum – Even when it borders on sentimental, it’s always sincere – and authentic.

Millenial – Nirvana: Unplugged in New York – There’s only one word that always works when you think about Nirvana – compelling. That comes through even with the amps off.

Given all the deep crises the world faces, I think it’s incumbent on us to fritter away at least a modicum of time on something this important….

14 replies »

  1. I can’t rate it by generation.

    The Who: Live at Leeds – one of the best, if not the best. Captures a raw edge that the band never delivered in studio. “My Generation” and the Tommy medley within is worth the price of the album alone. The other 5 tracks, especially “Shakin’ All Over”, are also gems. Curiously, I cared less for the expanded edition. 6 songs would otherwise seem too short for a live album, but here it was perfect.

    Kiss: Alive – yes, they layered the original live recording with extra crowd cheering throughout the album, but that didn’t tarnish the fact that it’s an absolutely electric live recording. Who knew there was actually a good dirty blues band beneath all that make-up and pyrotechnics? “Deuce”, “Parasite”, “watchin’ You”, and “Rock Bottom” bring forth amazing energy that is almost totally absent from their 3 prior studio recordings.

    Missing from the top 25 was Devo’s “Live” EP. Like with “Live at Leeds”, this 6 song gem captured Devo at their commercial height. Rhino later released a limited pressing that expanded this to 17 tracks, I believe. The latter is worth the digging. Unlike with The Who, the extra tracks make this live recording a master work.

    Also strangely absent were Siouxsie & the Banshees’ “Nocturne” and P.I.L.’s “Live in Tokyo”.

  2. Generally, I can’t stand live albums unless it’s classical or blues. 🙂 So I’m not exactly the guy to ask about this. But I have to say that there are two that came out in the last year that were excellent…although they would never make a list like this.

    Fish – Return to Childhood
    The Eels – Live at Town Hall

  3. Rattle & Hum was a great one, no doubt. But when push comes to shove I think I’d take Under a Blood Red Sky instead. Talk about authentic – that was before anybody ever suggested U2 was anything but the purest of the pure.

  4. Agreed with taking Under a Blood Red Sky over Rattle & Hum. As good as the latter was, it seemed a little too conscious of the legend it was trying to create. Some of the forced cliches have me putting it in the same category with Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty. In fact, combine Under a Blood Red Sky with Wide Awake in America and it’s no contest.

    I think one important ingredient that a lot of my favorite live albums tend to have is catching the band at their critical height. I misspoke previously about “commercial” height. Live at Leeds came out before the arena rock bloated caricature that was Who Are You? (though it would have been nice to have heard some cuts from the later Quadrophenia Devo: Live was recorded at the point the band had perfected its brand of punk/electro fusion. Two years prior, they were a tad too raw (though I’d be curious to hear a live record from their Duty Now for the Future tour). After that, they became too synthetic.

    Another odd inclusion on RS’s list was Neil Young’s Live Rust. Sorry, but with Live Rust, you can almost hear the clumsy machinations of the record label churning: “What do you mean the live album Rust Never Sleeps was a concept live album? What the eff is that? What is this heavy side/soft side b.s.? Get another recording out there and this time get some of his hits on there. What kind of a live record doesn’t have the artist’s hits on there?!?!” Rust Never Sleeps was flawless. Live Rust was redundant.

  5. You’re dead on about Blood Red Sky + Wide Awake – jeebus, that would have been the greatest live record in history had it been one CD. Add “A Sort of Homecoming” and that version of “Bad” (one of the greatest live tracks I’ve ever heard anywhere period) to the already stellar Blood Red Sky and you’ve cleared the bar by a foot….

  6. Under a Blood Red Sky is one of the only U2 albums I own, and it was one of the first CDs I ever owned too. I’m not a “live album” fan in general (and so I’m not going to try my hand here), but this one is good stuff.

  7. Hold on with praising U2 to the heavens. I have nothing but respect for Bono (not to mention his voice), especially after reading the interview with him in a recent Rolling Stone.

    But when they first appeared on the scene, all I could think was, “Damn, that guitar player sounds just like Keith Levene.”

    Levene was an original member of Public Image and — little-known fact — the Clash, which he quit before they became famous because he thought they sounded too commercial. He was one of the most original guitar players around, like the Roberts Quine and Fripp.

    I remember reading an interview with him once in which he said something to the effect of “The first time I heard the Edge, I thought it was me playing.”

    All bands copy, and the Edge no longer plays like that, but he had taken an innovative player, who’s never made a lot of money, and parlayed his style into a fortune.

    Twenty-five years later and I still can’t forgive him and enjoy U2.

  8. Russ, you make it sound like Edge mugged the guy in an alley. This isn’t like Pat Boone and the record companies stealing black artists blind in the ’50s and ’60s – I mean, what do you want Edge to do?

  9. Not to mention Mr. Boone stealin’ from the Prince of $#%*ing Darkness. 🙂

  10. Other notable exclusions from the list:

    Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive – Yes, he jumped on Kiss’s double-live album bandwagon, but the live version of “Do You Feel Like We Do?” is the stuff of legend.

    Rush: Exit … Stage Left – If ever there was a band for which “arena rock” was not a perjorative, it was Rush. It was sacrilege when the label deleted “A Passage to Bangkok” from the first issue of the CD version. I’m glad they got it right with the remaster. “Broon’s Bane” is a fantastic intro for the live version of “The Trees”. Plus, you have to love the band’s nerdy symmetry in releasing a new live album after every four studio records.

    Bauhaus: Gotham – I remember seeing this tour and was blown away. The album does their performance justice. Though they’d broken up 14 years prior and have only reunited for live shows, this tour was electric. The creative tension was back, only now, 14 years later, all members were much better performers.

  11. I’m stunned that The Beatles’ “Hollywood Bowl” album gets no mention…pure exhilaration. The fact that they could not hear themselves for the most part makes it even more amazing….

    …and to the guy who hates The Edge for stealing Keith Levene’s sound…listen to “It’s All Too Much” from the Beatles “Yellow Submarine Songtrack” to hear the origins of that guitar sound. I think George Harrison got there first…

  12. I mean, what do you want Edge to do?

    Sam, it’s too late for him to have developed his own style in the first place. Though he has since (sort of — he’s a pretty weak guitar player).

    He may have acknowledged Levene’s influence, but I am certainly not aware of it. (Levene may not be either).

    I know rock ‘n roll is all about ripping off riffs. But personally I’m very sensitive to blatant mimickry.

  13. I’m going to have to hear Levene play before I buy the “blatant mimickry” charge. But even if it’s true I’m going to want to know who you can listen to without being disgusted. You seem to be drawing a line at Edge that’s pretty arbitrary – just about every major artist out there is guilty of the same thing.