The live album test

Some years ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend who had just bought a new album and was disappointed because she hadn’t realized it was a “live recording”.  She objected to the sound of the roar of the crowd and the variations on studio perfection that come out on live albums.  My friend said she planned to take the album back to the store because, in her words, “if [she’d] wanted to hear that shit, [she’d] go to a concert.”

Over time, I’ve discovered that I actually like live albums.  In fact, I find that if I love an artist’s live album, I typically become a diehard fan of their music.  If an artist impresses me live, even if it’s just on a live recording, I find that I respect their talents more.  Sometimes I find live renditions of songs incredibly moving.  A couple of years ago, I was watching a DVD of Stevie Wonder in concert and before I knew it, I had tears rolling down my cheeks.  My husband asked me why I was crying and I couldn’t really explain it.  I think it was the sheer joy of listening to an incredible talent playing for an appreciative crowd.  I am myself an occasional performer and there’s nothing quite like performing with other musicians to get the blood pumping.  I think that energy is infectious.

So I’ve sort of come up with a “live album” test.  If I really like an artist’s live album, I figure I’m a true fan.  I’ll want to see them in concert.  I’ll want to buy their studio albums as soon as they come out, listen to them, and review them.  It makes me more likely want to follow them and less likely that I’ll lose interest in their career.  A good live album impresses me.  Here are a few live albums I’ve loved and returned to again and again.

Alison Krauss & Union Station- Live


Alison Krauss & Union Station sing “Oh Atlanta” on Live

I discovered Alison Krauss & Union Station in 2002 or so when I bought a couple of her CDs from the old BMG music service. When my husband bought me a CD as a Christmas present and discovered I already owned it, we exchanged it for a copy of Alison Krauss & Union Station’s 2002 double disc set, Live. I quickly fell in love with it and became a devoted follower of their version of “newgrass” music. From there, I branched out to other bluegrass artists and found a couple more I admired. I eventually managed to see Alison Krauss & Union Station in concert and it was one of the best I’ve ever been to, despite the fact that we were in the nosebleed seats.

AC/DC- Live

AC/DC playing “Thunderstruck” live…

Okay, so I’ve never actually seen AC/DC live, I do have their two disc Live album, which is all kinds of fun. I became particularly enamored of their song “Thunderstruck”, which is a lot fun to drive to in icy weather. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see these guys perform live, but I sure do enjoy their live album. Something tells me their show would kick ass.

The Police- Live

The Police performing “Roxanne” live in 1979…

I’ve never seen The Police live either, but I did buy their 1995 album Live while riding on a train through southern France. I bought the album on cassettes because I had a Walkman and to this day, I can’t listen to their live recordings without being reminded of traveling through France in the mid 1990s. Not a bad memory to associate with a band, eh? I later replaced the cassettes with CDs and I’m always surprised by how that band evolved between the 1979 concert in Boston and the 1983 concert in Atlanta represented on that album. Anyway, it’s safe to say that I love The Police… as long as they’re performing and not breaking down my front door with a search warrant.

Lyle Lovett- Live In Texas

Lyle Lovett sings “That’s Right, (You’re Not From Texas)”.

My husband and I had the great pleasure to see Lyle Lovett perform live in Stuttgart, Germany in March 2009. We had amazing seats and Lyle was up there on stage with a small band. The Germans didn’t seem to get his jokes, especially when he sang “Pantry”, a tongue in cheek song full of double entendres. In 1999, he released Live In Texas, which introduced me to what a great performer he is live. I chose “That’s Right, (You’re Not From Texas)” because pretty soon that will be the story of my life. My husband and I are moving to Texas in 2013.

James Taylor- Live

James Taylor sings “Copperline”, live.

It’s no secret that I am a true JT fan. I’ve only gotten to see him in concert twice; both times were amazing, despite the fact that two drunk women were in front of me the last time and were practically creaming themselves every time James sang one of their favorites. He’s done several live albums and I love them all. I think my favorite two right now are One Man Band and Live At The Troubadour, which he did with Carole King. His most popular live album is probably 1993’s Live I do love “Copperline” too, and it’s probably nearer to my heart now because I live in North Carolina, very close to where James grew up.

Livingston Taylor- Unsolicited Material

Livingston Taylor sings “Railroad Bill” at a concert.

Livingston Taylor is James Taylor’s younger brother. I had the pleasure of seeing him live at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia in October 2003. Again, we were within spitting distance of the stage. Livingston Taylor is amazing live and very approachable. I own two of his live recordings, Unsolicited Material and Snapshot- Live At The Iron Horse. I prefer Unsolicited Material, but it’s pretty hard to find that album these days.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band- Live At The Wetlands

Robert Randolph and the Family Band sing “I Don’t Know What You Come To Do”.

I discovered Robert Randolph and the Family Band at an Eric Clapton concert in Washington, DC. They were the opening band and I’d never heard of them. They were freakin’ awesome. I enjoyed their part of the show much more than I did Clapton’s. When I got home, I immediately bought the two albums they had out at the time. One of them was 2001’s Live At The Wetlands, which was a concert they did at a club that closed shortly after, just days before 9/11. Anyway, they definitely passed the Live Album test with flying colors!

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band sing “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) in 1984… live…

I didn’t specify a live album for Bruce Springsteen because he’s released a couple of them. I’ve never seen The Boss live, but I did have a teacher who went to high school with him in Freehold, New Jersey. In 1986, I got a box set with live recordings done between 1975 and 1985 and just about wore it out. No live album test results would be complete without Bruce Springsteen on it.

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

Stevie Ray Vaughan sings “Pride and Joy” Live at Montreux.

Again, I didn’t specify an album because just about all of the ones I’ve heard by Stevie Ray Vaughan kick ass. It’s so sad that Stevie Ray Vaughan died so young.

Heart- Live in Seattle

Heart performs “Mistral Wind” live in Seattle, 2002.

Back when I was in college, I had a copy of a live album by Heart which featured them covering Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”. Ann Wilson did such an amazing job on that song that when I heard about another live album coming out in 2002, I knew I had to have it. Heart has a long history of putting out solid rock hits, some of which are better than others. They do a fine job with “Mistral Wind” here, though.

There are definitely other artists out there who would easily pass my live album test. I’ll save those for another post. Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!