5 Awesome Live Albums

I had written this post already just as my browser crashed, thus destroying around an hour and half of typing. Needless to say, I am one angry bastard, but I’m also stubborn, and so am rewriting it, hopefully slightly faster as I have written it before. Not used to this site, I was oblivious to the huge “Save Draft” button on the screen, one which I am clicking with furious repetition.

I had begun by announcing that as a new member to this site, I would calm the over-critical bile that festers within, as a way a introducing myself gently. As you can imagine, that temperament is quickly changing, so I’m going to try to finish this as quickly as possible. The following reviews will be pretty abridged, but I daresay you people reading this will be pleased of that, won’t you, you judgmental pricks?

Ahem.

The live album is a peculiar thing. Some love it, as a way of showcasing an artist’s talent, while others hate it, as an unreasonable representation of a bands’ live ability, or as a grossly overpriced greatest hits album, that misses out on the “greatest hits” (openly opting for filler tracks to appeal to the hardcore fan), while also fulfilling contractual obligations to the record label, concerning the quantity of the artists’ recorded output. They’re both wrong.

Or rather, they are both right. You see the cynics are right (as we usually are), and that pretty much sums up the mass majority of the live albums that are produced. However, the supporters aren’t wrong either. A good live album makes an impact far greater than a greatest hits album. A good live album has tracks that rank highly next to the studio album, and also document the natural changes in a bands evolution. With this in mind, here are 5 of the best.

1: Scorpions ft Berliner Philharmoniker : Moment of Glory : 2000

Being released in the shadow of one of the most successful live albums of all time, Metallica’s S&M, can’t be easy, especially when your album bears a striking resemblance to the premise of it. Yes, Moment of Glory is a rock/symphony collaboration, released only one year after the Metallica offering (although 3 years before Kiss would cash in on similar territory with Kiss Symphony: Alive IV). There is a notable difference in the production of the two albums though. While S&M had world famous Michael Kamen at the helm, Moment had Christian Kolonovits. No I don’t know who he is either. Then there was the set list and length. The Scorpions output is a relatively short 60 minutes long, compared to the two disk 133 minute extravaganza by Metallica.

So why choose Moment of Glory over S&M? Simple. Moment of Glory is ridiculous from the outset, preposterously rebranding their rock anthem hit Rock You Like a Hurricane into a trendier (sic) Hurricane 2000, as an opening track, while at times seemingly allowing the orchestra to run riot. It’s over the top, uncontrollable and wild, and I love it. Stadium rock has always sold itself on being bigger, sillier and more epic than everyone else. This is what you get when you mix such an attitude with a full orchestra, and, considering it toured around the Baltic States and Russia, I’d imagine a fair amount of vodka thrown in to boot.

The album is by no means perfect though. Apart from Hurricane 2000 and Wind of Change there are no real big hitters on this album. If you don’t like the sound of an orchestra, this really isn’t for you, as it takes S&M’s atmospheric sound, and turns its into a full blown symphony, with some guitars stuck on as somewhat of an afterthought. That eccentricity is what the Scorpions are however; a glance at their album covers will confirm it for you. In that respect, this is one of the most honest live albums ever produced.

2: Pink Floyd : Pulse : 1995

A potentially controversial decision here, Pulse was almost universally slammed on release, and the reasons for this weren’t unreasonable. Some considered that the album, which was recorded over 20 different shows, wasn’t a “true” live album; some criticised Pink Floyd for having taken a large crew on tour with them in order to record this album; some criticised the fact that the stage show was so elaborate, it didn’t allow for any improvisation on stage, or any jamming; some criticised the fact that only 7 years and 1 album prior to its release, Pink Floyd had released another live album, one which they claimed would be their last. Some even complained that the crowd track wasn’t equalised properly, and that the crowd are louder in some parts of the album than others. None of these criticisms are wrong.

Regardless, the album reached number one in multiple countries, including the UK albums chart. To be fair, Pink Floyd could have released anything, and it would reach number one. So why this disaster of an album? Because it sounds damn good, that’s why. If an album is a showcase of what a band is like live, this is as constructed and false as Liberal Democrat election manifesto (topical humour, har har), but damn is it an attractive package. Firstly it contains a large amount of the hits, including the Dark Side of the Moon album in its entirety, as well as a rare performance of Astronomy Domine. It also contains the classic Pink Floyd hits that no live album of theirs should be without, including a rendition of Comfortably Numb like no other, surpassing even the studio version of the song. The album is dark, brooding and atmospheric, as you would imagine, and is a perfect album to lie back to and just listen.

I own the original copy of this album, the one with the led light packaging, and it is eccentricities like this that cast doubt over Pink Floyd for some people. Another of these would be that for this tour, Volkswagen released a special edition car.  That’s right, a fucking car. These were the 90’s however, and this is Pink Floyd we are talking about. The album itself remains a tribute to the beauty of their songs, performed beautifully, and is an incredible listen.

(It’s worth noting at this point that yet another computer cock up occurred, and another large section was lost, which may explain the briefness of that last paragraph. I shall persevere)

3:Bad Religion : 30 Years Live : 2010

At time of writing, this album has only been out for about 3 months, and I should also tell you that they sent it to me, for free. Obviously this has biased my view towards the album, but I am sure I would have included it anyway.

Bad Religion are the most famous band you don’t know. As the title of this live album suggests, they’ve been around for 30 years, and have become an incredible driving force and influence behind American punk rock post the 1980’s. Their music, style, or imagery has been used in over 25 films or mainstream television shows, and their music features on over 10 mainstream video game soundtracks. They are cited as influences by nearly every single major punk band that hails from America since 1980, and guitarist Brett Gurewitz owns and manages the Epitaph record label, home to a massive amount of US talent.

Bad Religion themselves have never fared amazingly successfully over here in the UK however. Maybe it’s the angry competition that exists between the UK and US punk scenes being extended, but for such a celebrated band to be so largely ignored is crazy.

Bad Religion have always stuck to their roots, and doing what their best at, which is political, high energy punk, never shying away from using an extended vocabulary, never scared of being perceived as over intelligent, and they are fantastic. Like many other artists of similar genre, Bad Religion use simplistic technique and song construction to convey complicated and sometimes radical ideals, and never suffer because of it. 30 Years Live is different to many live albums, in that a fair few of the bands major hits are missing from it, in place of newer songs, which is odd when you consider the name of the album. This doesn’t affect the quality of the album, as it is still a ferocious and unforgiving experience. Punk doesn’t usually translate well in this way, but 30 Years Live is a great effort, and would easily convert many who are unsure about Bad Religion as a band.

Unlike the previous 2 albums I have discussed, 30 Years Live is not smooth and polished, nor would it sound good that way. 30 Years is raw, proving that those newer tracks are just as powerful as the old ones, and that you don’t need to constantly replay your big guns just to produce something worth listening to. And I got it for free.

4:Iron Maiden : Flight 666 : 2009

Is this cheating? Who knows! I watched the film at the cinema, curious as to how Maiden toured, being one of the most famous touring bands in the world (and a personal favourite). I was blown away by the sound quality of it all, and how perfect the songs were performed. Like any decent cash in, a soundtrack is available, so I think I’m safe including this.

Unlike 30 Years Live, which proves that the band are very much alive and fresh, Flight 666 proves that the classic songs and band themselves are fresh. There isn’t a dud track, and it is set listed to near perfection. It doesn’t pretend that you are at one gig; instead it exploits the fact that it was performed over an entire tour, and as such it is a pleasure to listen to.

The dark side to all of this is of course Maidens history of live albums. I have no internet access at the moment to research just how many of them there actually are, but suffice to say that there are lots, and all are varying degrees of poor, some nothing short of abysmal (and that’s not including bootlegs of tours). Arguably the best before this was their Rock In Rio live album/dvd, but even that had its flaws. Flight 666 makes it on this list by being a shining exception to the rather depressing rule.

5: Various : Radio 1’s Live Lounge Vol.2 : 2007

This one IS cheating, but I couldn’t give less of a shit. Radio 1’s Live Lounge is a distressingly successful series of albums that are compiled of songs that are performed on BBC Radio 1. Being mostly made up of pop and indie artists, there is usually no way to successfully cover your song on air without the necessary backing track and suchlike, so many of these artists opt to perform acoustically, which can (and often does) result in a startlingly different take on a song that you are probably bored to tears of hearing played on the radio. Some of these artists choose to cover a different popular song of a completely different style, which leads to some interesting and fascinating results.

The reason that this album is on my list, is that it’s approach to music helps redefine the qualities of a song, the aspects of the original song which made it popular, and helps you to rediscover parts of a song that made it great or attractive. Collision Course by Linkin Park and Jay Z did exactly the same thing extremely well, although I omitted their album as it isn’t actually live (although the two artists did tour the album).

I have chosen this particular volume of Radio 1’s Live Lounge as, bar from one track (the second one), all of the songs sounds great and are very listenable to. Some of the highlights of it are Corinne Bailey Rae singing Sexyback, Biffy Clyro singing Umbrella, and Avril Lavigne singing The Scientist. The finest moment on it, perhaps, is Robyn’s haunting piano version of her own hit With Every Heartbeat. All of them are peaceful and beautiful. What more could you ask?

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