What I love about live recordings is how intimate they are. Here you get the wonderful opportunity to experience a band or artist’s music in a live setting that can be reproduced anytime you want. It’s like being in front row center every evening without the expensive cover fees, and if it’s a live recording of a high-profile act like the Stones or the Boss you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.
The best live albums, like the best live shows, are the ones that extend a band’s talent in the way they experiment with the delivery of their repertoire and in the way they interact with their audience on both a visual and sonic level. There’s a reason lots of spectacularly popular pop artists seldom put out a live album: heavy on the visual spectacle, light on sonic depth.
These, therefore, are decidedly not of that vein of performance. They’re as good on the ears as no doubt they are in person.
1. John Mayer – Gravity
Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles – Columbia, 2008
If this one sounds familiar, then yes, you got me. I used it on a list from last week. Okay, so no points for originality on my part, but this song deserves to be on a list such as this. The proof is most undeniably in those guitar solos in the way they build and swell with each passing moment, made brighter and carried higher by a fantastic arrangement of backing brass and vocals. Please. Put this one on and forget all else for awhile. Your moment of zen awaits.
2. Theresa Andersson – Oh Mary
Live at Le Petit (DVD) – Basin Street Records, 2010
For every rule there’s always an outlier, in this case it’s a clip that makes the case for the “seeing is believing” crowd. Whatever the case, Andersson’s bluesy cover of the traditional folk song is awesome. Multi-instrumentalist, lover of loops, and fancy footwork to boot.
3. Elvis Costello – Watching the Detectives (w/Vince Mendoza & the Metropole Orkest)
My Flame Burns Blue – Deutsche Grammophon, 2006
Collaborative efforts between pop / rock artists and symphony orchestras are nothing new, but this one is particularly excellent. Costello and company are masterful in their reworking of both well-tread and lesser-known favorites including this jazzy rendition of one of his earliest hits.
4. Josh Ritter – Harrisburg
Josh Ritter & The Royal City Band: Live At The Iveagh Gardens – Pytheas Recordings, 2011
Josh Ritter is one of the best working performers out there today and this track is a wonderful example of why. Can’t you hear the boundless glee and wonder coursing through his being and right into his voice and guitar? It is an expression made even more fantastic and wholly encompassing by his tremendously talented band. He is joy and love of music personified.
5. Ben Folds – Army
Ben Folds Live – Sony, 2002
A more perfect example of leading an audience in song I know not (but am open to any suggestions). The pre-song singing lesson is simple and concise and the rewards are ten fold (pun intended?) ((pre-song singing lesson not included here as it comes at the tail end of the previous track)). Go ahead. Sing along.
BONUS! James Taylor – Shower the People
(Live) – Sony, 1993
Has this man’s voice changed at all since 1970? Just one more reason that this man’s music is so enduring. Even though his more recent work has been hit or miss, this album renewed his popularity with a new generation. As well-known and respected as he is though, the supporting vocals are definitely the star here.
What are some of your favorite live tracks? Who do you always have to see when they come to town?