Top 10 Live Albums (Continued)
6. The Clash: Live At Shea Stadium
London Calling has long been one of my top 3 albums, if not my absolute favorite; yet despite the Clash's unique ability to derive stunning levels of excitement from the studio environment, they're still able to take it up a notch on stage. This is the band's lone official full-length concert release, and it's pretty great, with a solid collection of hits from across their career. It's not perfect -- it's from a 1982 show, late in their career, lacking some of the frenetic joy of earlier performances; it's also from a gig opening for the Who, so not as long a performance as if they were headlining. But it's still an essential look at the band as a live monster. It's also worth checking out their other official live release, From Here To Eternity, which operates as more of a live greatest hits collection, but suffers a bit by organizing the songs in chronological order, drawn from various performances over the years, which gives it a disorienting herky-jerky feel.
That said, fans of the band are best served by tracking down earlier bootlegs. My personal fave is a superb soundboard recording from June 13, 1981, part of a 17-night stint at Bond's Casino in NYC which showed the band at the absolute peak of their power.
I've always been just a moderate Bruce fan; love his 70s stuff but less attentive to everything since. I've never actually been to one of his legendary epic concerts (I finally had tickets a few years ago, but an injury kept me away). But I can play his live recordings on an endless loop. Yet for all the love slathered on his stage presence, his catalog until recently included only one official live release, a box set drawn from across his career. But a few years ago, Springsteen started offering live downloads of shows from current tours; these were soon joined by a few dozen archive releases, a few new ones per year. And man, these are just fucking outstanding -- you can totally understand the legend. I'm personally partial to his 1978 appearances, dominated by work from his two best albums (Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town). I've written about one of the shows before; but I'm gonna suggest checking out his July Los Angeles show. I'm a sucker for "Growin' Up," just about my favorite Bruce song (alongside "Thunder Road"), and on stage he invariably interjects a long narrative, always climaxing in a cathartic pronouncement of his love for rock & roll before diving into the song's final verse. So if you haven't dug into the archives yet, I'd start here; but really, most of the releases sound great and will make a convert out of you.
Here's the 1975-1985 collection, which draws heavily from that Roxy show (including that epic "Growin' Up":
I've talked about this show previously. And if you're not a Phish fan, I'm not going to try to convert you here. But if you're curious and open to the experience, this show -- from the band's large archive of live recordings available for downloading -- is a particularly interesting introduction to the band. You've got one standard set of songs from the band's repertoire (with a few fan and personal faves, like a nice "Roggae" and an always-rousing "Mike's Song"). Then there's a second set in which the band dons its Halloween "costume" -- on this occasion, playing the Velvet Underground's Loaded album in its entirety, re-making the often-underappreciated final entry in the Velvets' discography into the jam band classic it ached to be. And then a final set which includes a lengthy "ambient" discursion, a 30-minute instrumental jam out of "Wolfman's Brother" ideal for either chemically-aided explorations or just trying to conquer insomnia. It's a terrific gig that lays out the varied elements of the band's inimitable live sound.
While middle age may have curtailed my concert-going, My Morning Jacket remain on the shortlist of bands I will still see any time they're in town, one of the truly great live acts still around. Their big, boomy, anthemic albums are even bigger an boomier on stage. The official Okonokos from 2006 is a solid, somewhat standard double-live affair, a greatest hits package played live; it's a great intro to the band, and most of the live takes beat the studio versions; crank the volume knob, and you can feel the majestic spaciousness they manage to conjure. The live venue gives them the space to stretch out, with some astounding jams (particularly on personal fave "Off The Record," which starts as a compelling riff-based rocker before jumping into Pink Floyd-like space journey; and even more so on the extended exploratory vehicle "Dondante"). Start here by all means. However, some of the band's finest albums came in the years that followed, so real fans are better served by the official nugs.net download releases, where you can hear a broader array of songs, from even more elongated takes on "Dondante" to intrepid covers of everyone from Floyd to Bowie to Prince.
Yeah, this one's a bit out of left field, but it's been a fave since I first acquired an old bootleg version. In 1969, while Floyd was still evolving from the psychedelic art-pop of the early Syd Barrett days to the classic rock/prog monolith they'd become with 1972's Dark Side of the Moon, the band was in a particularly experimental mood, trying out everything from epic space jams to pithier, folk-rock soundtrack music. On the 1969 Man & The Journey tour, the band reconfigured new and existing work into a thematic narrative of sorts, the band going through the segments of the day on stage (having breakfast, brewing tea) before setting off on some trippy deep-space explorations. It's weirdly fascinating; some of the instrumental segments (as see on the Ummagumma studio LP) don't necessarily work, but plenty of it is spectacular. The recording of the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam show was broadcast on the radio and circulated for years on various bootlegs, finally cleaned up and officially released as part of a massive Floyd box set a few years back (as disc two of the Dramatis/ation discs). Don't be put off by the unrecognizable tracklist, as plenty of early post-Barrett classics are renamed ("Afternoon" for "Biding My Time"; "Nightmare" for "Cymbaline"; "The Beginning" for "Green is the Colour"; "Beset by Creatures of the Deep" for "Careful With That Axe, Eugene").