Monday, 7 February 2011

In Praise Of The Live Album

I like live albums.

There, it’s out in the open. Admittedly it is not on a par with a fondness for underage hamsters or supporting Heart of Midlothian Football Club, but it is a confession of sorts that some may find a little strange. After all, a studio album is crafted to the artists vision; like a meal, lovingly and painstakingly prepared by a chef using all the ingredients and know how he or she can muster. But a Live album; that’s usually a mishmash of leftovers and cheap ingredients cobbled together for bulk.

But occasionally you get a carbonara made from just fresh eggs, cream and ham. A stripped down delight of the senses which somehow makes the whole better than the parts.

A live album, along with the Greatest Hits, (or in the case of The Motors their Greatest Hit) was often the contractual filler released to cash in on any previous success. Most of the time it was a case of recording a couple of concerts, pulling out the best versions of the band’s most popular songs, adding a few overdubs to overpower the mistakes and voila, a dish that is usually a mess.

But, like a good sauce, there are some that just taste brilliant. This is my list of those albums.

Alive In America - Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The 10 minute version of Mighty Quinn is a tour de force of Prog Rock and Father of Day and Father of Night is a quasi-religious spiritual highlight which was something lacking in the studio version of the same song. The album is let down by some weaker track choices but overall it does show that the band could put out a pounding live performance.

Unleashed In The East – Judas Priest. Studded leather, Harley Davidsons, screaming vocals and pounding guitar riffs. NWOBHM before NWOBHM had even been invented. Priest’s studio albums leave me cold but UitE is like eating a mouthful of fizzy cola bottles in one sitting. Stupid, wasteful and maybe even slightly dangerous.

If You Want Blood, You Got It – AC/DC. der der der der der der der, ANGUS! der der der der der der der, ANGUS!… - “Any virgins in Glasgow?…” Silence. What an album. Never off the turntable in Inverkeithing High School Common Room record player throughout most of ‘79. Bon Scott died young and this album closed off his contribution to rock music. What a legacy.

Yessongs – Yes. THE triple album. I don’t ever recall anyone buying this new from Menzies, everyone I knew who owned a copy had bought it second hand and used it like my granddad used his Sunday suit; selling it back to raise some cash, in our case for a Hawkwind Gig or such. How anyone can listen to the finale of Starship Trooper and not become more than slightly moist is dead to me.

Live In The Heart Of The City – Whitesnake. A real guilty pleasure this one. I saw Whitesnake live a few times and they were rarely less than brilliant. The live album captures them before they got too pomp-rock AOL nonsense. Coverdale could play the crowd beautifully.

Genesis Live, Seconds Out, 3 Sides Live, The Way We Walk, Live Over Europe – Genesis. Five live albums spanning 30 odd years of performing and every one is a masterpiece. If I had to choose it has to be Seconds Out. The live versions of Firth of Fifth and Cinema Show are, to me, the greatest two pieces of prog-rock instrumental pieces (yes I know there are lyrics, but it is solo’s I am referring to)that has ever been captured on vinyl. 3 Sides Live introduced the mash-up version of the old songs. Genesis masterfully mixed into one song their past favourites and only on live albums can you hear these.

Shepherds Bush – Joe Bonamassa (Only available via iTunes). A fantastic blues and rock guitarist who consistently blows me away with his music. Check out “Just Got Paid” from this album. He suddenly breaks into Zep’s Dazed and Confused. Magic.

That’s enough for a wee while. I’ll post some more later.