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Live Albums

Five Live Albums You Must Own

With the development of greater audio and visual equipment in peoples’ homes there has been a move away from traditional live albums, replaced by live DVDs armed with additional features. Over the years there have been a number of truly great live recordings; however this form of release seems to be in decline, especially from newer artists.

The following is a list of my personal favourite live audio albums:

R.E.M. – Live at the Olympia

More of a live rehearsal than a typical live album, this was recorded as part of a five night stint at the Olympia in Dublin prior to the release of 2008’s “Accelerate.” R.E.M. are a great band, possibly the greatest but it’s fair to say that “Reveal” and “Around the Sun,” whilst containing some good material, failed to capture the mystery and excitement of earlier work. The Olympia sessions, open to hardcore fans, was a method of recapturing the magic by drawing from the past.

In total there are 39 songs as advertised on the bootleg style cover. The songs span across the band’s 30 year career but are heavily weighted towards “Chronic Town,” “Reckoning” and “Fables of the Reconstruction” from the early to mid 80’s. They sound as great, if not better, than they did when these songs were originally constructed. Close your eyes and Michael Stipe could easily be the shy, wavy haired, 21 year old singer with incomprehensible lyrics in “Wolves, Lower” or with short bleached hair twisting and turning to the eerie Peter Buck guitar in “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.” Later works are also represented such as “Circus Envy” from “Monster” and many from “Accelerate” itself.

I could pick out highlights but there are too many, the whole thing is a highlight. Chatter from Stipe between songs is also entertaining, giving slight glimpses of his frame of mind during certain periods or simply being humorous.

For long time R.E.M. fans this is essential, if you don’t own it then be ashamed, for everyone else this is a great starting point that gives you a key to an R.E.M. world you probably didn’t know existed.

Daft Punk – Alive 2007

This recording from Bercy in Paris of electronic superstars Daft Punk (Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo) captures the band at their thrilling, take no prisoners, best.

The songs from “Homework,” “Discovery,” and “Human After All” have been masterfully reworked and intertwined into an extended live set that encapsulates moments of intense electronica.

As a fan of the first and last albums I found that “Discovery” lacked a little punch; however that has been addressed here with non-stop energy and urgency throughout. Opening with a call and response cry of human/robot, thus highlighting the alternate forces at work in their music.

All of their greatest tunes are here, albeit mixed with something else, “Robot Rock / Oh Yeah,” “Da Funk / Daftendirect” and “Prime Time of Your Life / Brainwasher / Rollin’ and Scratchin’ / Alive” are all wonderful examples.

The title of the album is a nod to the famous Kiss “Alive” album of the 70’s, again showing two sides of the music, one clinical the other glam and trashy.

Similar to Kraftwerk’s “Minimum-Maximum” this is essentially a greatest hits but one that has been deconstructed and then reconstructed with thrilling results.

The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out

Recorded in November 1969 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the set mainly consists of songs from “Beggars Banquet” and “Let it Bleed.” Listening to it over 40 years on, there is still a sense of great excitement when the band are introduced on stage and launch into heavy and raw version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. From the very start no one could possibly question the announcer stating that the Stones are “the greatest rock n’ roll band in the world.”

The set captures the band in the richest vein of form of their career, midway between the albums mentioned above, “Sticky Fingers” and their seminal work – “Exile on Main Street.” The high points include the bitchy struts of “Stray Cat Blues” and “Live with Me,” the slow delta blues of “You Got to Move,” and, of course, the centrepiece “Midnight Rambler.” Listening to these songs and the four fantastic studio albums it’s a real shame that Mick Taylor’s time in the band was so short. The Stones were great before “Beggars Banquet” and, at times, after “Exile on Main Street” but nothing comes close to this period.

To fully build a picture of the bands greatness it is essential to watch the film “Gimme Shelter,” which includes many of the songs featured here. It also documents the infamous Altamont Speedway free show in San Francisco, where over 300,000 people attended. There were four deaths including a stabbing in front of the stage caught on film, four births and heavy handed security provided by the Hell’s Angels. The film marks the end of the 60’s optimism and opens the door to the heavy drudge the 70’s would bring.

Bruce Springsteen – ‘Hammersmith London ’75’

There are many misconceptions about Bruce Springsteen, most of which are a result of “Born in the U.S.A.” He’s often seen as a flag waving American, however if cynics took the time to listen to that song they would hear the message is of Vietnam veterans being discarded by their country after returning home from war.

Whilst still a legend it is fair to say that later work has not captured the brilliance of his first six albums. Songs from “Greetings From Asbury Park N.J,” “The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle” and, of course, “Born to Run” feature on this recording, one of two all conquering performances in London in 1975.

Springsteen’s shows were famous for lasting up to four hours, with pre-rehearsed stories between songs, spiritual experiences delivered to ordinary people. His wardrobe at the time reflected that of a street urchin, battered leather jacket, Hi-Tops, floppy woollen hat and scruffy beard – he was cool.

The songs tell the stories of regular people and their regular lives but in a cinematic way. There are tales of last chances, desperation, loss and small victories. They are entwined with hard labour for insufficient rewards.

It is difficult to describe the beauty in which the show starts with the delicate piano of “Thunder Road,” the song builds telling the story of a couple escaping from the dead end of a small town; it’s full of hope and sadness in equal measures dispelling the myth of fairytale lifestyles and the American dream. Springsteen is on fire and the band is tight throughout the set, “Spirit in the Night” and “Lost in the Flood” with their snappy lyrics from “Asbury Park” roll into “She’s the One” and “Born to Run,” four of the greatest Springsteen songs one after the other in 22 minutes of exhilaration. Epics, “Backstreets” and “Jungleland” come later.

This recording documents an important period of rock history. Springsteen’s style - part Elvis, part Orbison, part totally original, on a mission to be the greatest, and it’s all captured here. There is no doubt that he’s refusing to take second best, for me, this is the true spirit of Springsteen so don’t let bandanas and muscle shirts put you off!

Kraftwerk – ‘Minimum-Maximum’

Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider founders of Kraftwerk have, since the 70’s, reshaped the musical landscape. They’ve created their own instruments, pioneered electronic music and laid down the foundations for modern dance music.

This live compilation from 2005 captures their world tour with songs performed in Western and Eastern Europe and in America. It’s essentially a Greatest Hits far superior than “The Mix,” which unfortunately sounds dated.

Starting with “The Man-Machine” the music sounds refreshed and current even though the original is now over 30 years old. Songs from “Tour de France,” a soundtrack in homage to the famous race follow, suitably beefed up and seamlessly flowing into each other. The first half ends with three classic songs; first there is a cut down version of “Autobahn,” the song where Kraftwerk’s vision first became reality. The original was over 20 minutes long, the sparse lyrics are simplistic partly borrowing from the Beach Boys with the line “the fun, fun, fun of the autobahn,” replacing the all American T-Bird with a modern European perspective of restricted freedom and practicality. “The Model,” Kraftwerk’s hit single is next, electronica with a hint of Bowie, again unmistakably European sang in a camp German accent. Personal favourite, “Neon Lights” brings the first half to a close; mixing loneliness and melancholy with watching the bright lights of the city come alive. If you like this you may also enjoy the song “Mer Du Japon” by Air from the otherwise dull “Pocket Symphony” album.

The second half is mainly made up of songs from “Radioactivity,” “Trans Europe Express” and “Computer World.” Again, all of these have been updated and have a contemporary sound without losing the feel of the originals. “Radioactivity” sounds as relevant now as when it was first released and “Trans Europe Express” conjures up images of European travel, café culture with a hint of decadence through references to Iggy Pop and David Bowie. “Music Non-Stop,” later sampled by Daft Punk closes.

It would have been difficult for Kraftwerk to piece together a consistent sounding compilation, given the way their music has changed with time and technology. This live offering is a perfect substitute to bring all these great tracks together.

Mike

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