Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Best Live Rock Concerts

Although the name "DJ Bolivia" probably makes most people think of dance music, I've got a much broader musical background than just electronic beats. I probably listen to more classic rock and indie rock than dance tracks, and I also listen to classical and jazz music fairly often. Anyway, I was asked a few weeks ago what my favourite live album would be, and that was a really tough question that got me thinking. So I came up with a list of my top seven picks for live rock albums.

I also have to comment on one thing that's always bothered me. Quite often, the soundtracks to live albums have very little resemblance to videos produced from the same shows. Bands have frequently remastered the soundtracks, adding overdubs, combining parts from multiple performances, and even adding studio tracks into the middle of the albums. And almost without exception, I've preferred the soundtracks to the videos. I know that they are usually less "true" to the original show, but the sound quality and content is usually a lot better, in my mind.

Top Pick:

01. Genesis, "Seconds Out" – Genesis released several live albums, but this one has got to be my favourite. This album was recorded after Peter Gabriel left the band and Phil Collins took over as lead singer, but still contains many older tracks that were originally sung by Gabriel. "Three Sides Live" is another great Genesis live album, but I prefer "Seconds Out" because it focuses more on the band's more complex older material, before they started writing shorter mainstream tracks. Strangely enough, of the top seven live albums that I'm listing here, I think this is the one that most people would enjoy the least. But personally, I like it a lot, so there you go. Sorry, there is no film version available.

Other Favorites:

02. Dire Straits, "Alchemy Live" – I listened to this album hundreds and hundreds of times before I ever knew that it was also available on film. You don’t need to see the film. Put the album on, close your eyes, and enjoy. Now you’d know where "Romeo & Juliet" (The Killers) originally came from. Incidentally, I just noticed a couple days ago that the film version is going to be re-mastered and re-released next spring.

03. Pink Floyd, "Delicate Sound of Thunder" – This album, more than any other, turned me into a Pink Floyd fan, and this is one of the rare picks where I prefer the film version rather than the album. This was recorded in 1988, and was not received as well as their 1994 live album/film, "Pulse." I’ll admit that the production and film quality of "Pulse" is a lot better. However, there’s something about "Delicate Sound Of Thunder" that just stands out for me, even though it’s quite a bit shorter than "Pulse." I think it might be because of the recording for "That Great Gig In The Sky." The version on "Delicate Sound Of Thunder" is far better than the "Pulse" version, and the video shot of the girl in the crowd fluffing her hair always blew me away (this was maybe at a live show at Versailles Palace, if I recognize the background correctly). I think that for a long time I was in love with Rachel Fury, the first of the three singers in the "Delicate Sound Of Thunder" version, although admittedly the next two singers gave better vocal performances during this track. Unforgettable. Watch the movie, don’t just listen to the soundtrack.

04. Talking Heads, "Stop Making Sense" – If you don’t know this one, you’re missing out on some classic Rock 'n' Roll history. But first of all, let me admit something embarrassing. I have listened to this soundtrack for twenty years, and I only saw the film for the first time ever this week. And that's crazy, because I've known about the film for twenty years. The premise is simple – the show starts out with just the lead singer (David Bryne) performing "Psycho Killer" on an acoustic guitar with a synthesized drum track. As the concert progresses, more and more band members and equipment are slowly added to the stage. Anyway, the soundtrack only contains nine songs, whereas the film contains almost twice as many. And the soundtrack was heavily re-edited, so when I saw the film last week I thought it must have been from a completely different concert, but it wasn't. My recommendation is that you stick with the soundtrack here, although you need to watch the film at least once to understand it better.

05. Tom Petty, "Pack Up The Plantation" – This is classic summer cottage rock at its best. Apparently, a video exists to accompany this album, but you don't need to watch it. This is all older Tom Petty material which some people might not recognize, but it is great stuff. Do you remember the "American Girl" sequence in the movie "Silence Of The Lambs"? This soundtrack has, in my opinion, the best recording that I've ever heard of "American Girl."

06. Neil Young, "Rust Never Sleeps" – It's hard to get excited about such a short cross-section of Neil Young's career, as he is probably my favourite singer/songwriter, with hundreds of great songs to his credit over about five decades. But this album is great, especially the acoustic hits like "Thrasher" and "Pocohontas." Don’t worry about seeing the film – the album is good enough as a standalone product.

07. Allman Brothers, "Live at Fillmore East" – Classic, classic blues rock. From the opening licks of "Statesboro Blues," to the epic 23 minute long "Whipping Post," you can't go wrong. Grab a case of beer, head to the cottage, and start the party right by throwing this onto the stereo. I don't think there are film versions of this.

There you have it. A great selection of live shows, and almost without exception, you can focus on the albums rather than on the video recordings. Track some of these down and give them a listen today.

Now it's your turn. List some of your favorite classic (or indie) rock concerts in the comments below ...