Jul 10, 2012
I just had an email from Caitlynn asking what my favourite live recordings were, especially DVDs.
As I typed my reply, I thought “what a great list” and decided to share it with you. So, here it is !
For me, a great live recording is all about capturing the atmosphere, the excitement and the event, rather than necessarily production perfection – but even so there are some outstanding-sounding recordings here, too.
Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense”
Probably The Best Live Concert Film In The World Ever. (Clip above)
Not only a great performance, but a great piece of film-making, too. Buy the DVD, watch it with the volume cranked up, then watch it again and listen to the fascinating commentary soundtrack !
Prince “Sign ‘o’ The Times Live”
Also Probably The Best Live Concert Film In The World Ever.
I wanted to embed “Housequake”, but no-one had managed to put it on YouTube without horribly distorting the audio. My old VHS copy had a nasty EQ imbalance between the left and right channels – thankfully it’s fixed on the DVD.
I’m sure there are some overdubs in there, and let’s not talk about the crap Paisley Park “concept” footage that’s been added, but having seen the Lovesexy live footage, you know he really was this good…
Peter Gabriel “Growing Up Live”
Incredible music, incredible musicians, incredible performances, incredible stage show, incredible footage, incredible edit, incredible sound… (with tambourines that fly around your head in surround !)
Just listen to this take off at 3’23″.
And you get to wonder which vocal mic you’re really hearing at any given moment !
Gorillaz “Demon Days Live”
This is a superb DVD, although not quite of the epic standards of the first three. I love this song though – partly because of the slightly chaotic kid’s choir contribution, and partly because it demonstrates once again the hugely under-rated power of the simple handclap…
Now this is a gig where the handclaps almost ruin it… I mean come on, clapping in time to “Roads” ? Really ?
The band start out by playing material from their then un-released new album, leaving the audience slightly non-plussed – followed by “the hits”, hence the hand-clapping – all in all a slightly odd event. But one where a great band and live strings add a certain special something nonetheless.
Pink Floyd “Live at Pompeii”
A gig without an audience. A gig without a stage. A gig without irony or a sense of humour. A gig without tunes, a lot of the time. But talk about atmosphere !
A classic. Watch it here.
O Brother Where Art Thou “Down From The Mountain”
There’s a lot wrong with this DVD, sound-wise – but so much right about the performances that it doesn’t matter. Just watch the clip above, and count the mics. Listen tot he vocal harmonies, listen to the balance.
I can forgive the distortion, the rumble, the thumps, all of it, for this performance alone…
Live Aid Box Set
There are so many moments in this collection of footage and it’s hard to separate the music from the memories for me, but personal favourites include U2‘s “Bad“, Ultravox, Dire Straits and Sting – and yes, Status Quo (!) – but the single stand-out had to be Queen. Talk about a performance ! I watched this so many times as a kid that I still know it by heart, split note for split note… truly epic.
They’re not on DVD, but I can’t leave these out…
Jean Michel Jarre “The Concerts In China”
Who knows how much of it was live ? Who cares ? How polite are those chinese audiences ? Jarre played China first, whatever George Michael might claim, and he did it in style, composing special pieces for performance on Chinese instruments into the bargain. And he performed the opening track from “Magnetic Fields” as if it were a 45 slowed down to 33 rpm… pure class.
Johnny Cash “Live at Folsom Prison”
Everyone agrees about this one – pure performance and an utterly unique atmosphere. Listen.
Dire Straits “Alchemy”
I bought this for the cover. No, really !
The cover, and the message on it:
“This is a recording of excerpts of one Dire Straits performance. It contains no re-recordings or overdubs of any kind”
That’s the way to do it ! Like Queen’s “No synths” boast, you only have to listen to the performance of “Private Investigations” to hear what the fuss is about.
Jethro Tull “Breaking Out”
And last but absolutely not least, my favourite live album ever.
It reeks atmosphere, with some of the best introductions and banter ever - “Did you give it a good shake ? Good…”
Tragically unhip, of course, but you made it past Ultravox, Dire Straits and Status Quo, so you don’t care, right ?
And look at that cover ! Look at that hat ! Genius.
So I’m aware that most of these are pretty long in the tooth now, with a couple of exceptions – is that because there are no classic live albums, any more ?
Post your favourites in the comments !