3 Dec 2010

My Top 10 Live Albums

In my mind a lot can be said about a band and how they perform live. Well, it’s a huge part of being a good band in my opinion. Now I’ve heard some great live albums and I’ve heard some awful ones, but here is a list of my ten favourites. In a very particular order.

10. My Morning Jacket – Okonokos
Jim James crafts wonderful country infused atmospheres and his talent, and vocal ability is proudly on display for the duration of Okonokos. This may not be everyone’s taste, but my respect for the man grew after hearing this, that alone makes it worthy of a spot on this list.

9. The Clash – Live at Shea Stadium
I waited a very long time for a live album that encapsulates the magic that was The Clash when they were on stage. Finally it was released and from the first chords of the, rather predictably, opener, London Calling, you will be hooked. Joe Strummer was a special guy and this performance is a wonderful documentation of The Clash’s ability to grab a set by the bollocks and tear it to shreds.

8. Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same
Musicians and a vocalist doing what they do best for an hour and forty minutes is the easiest way I can summarise this album. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham were simply showing off on “The Song Remains the Same”. And I’m forever grateful that they did.

7. Jeff Buckley – Live at Sin-é
Sorely missed, he was gone too soon, luckily we have this epic live show to remember him by. It starts with an acapella, foot stomping hand clapping song called “Be Your Husband” and all the way through Buckley displays a comfort and confidence on stage that translates into one of the truly great live albums. R.I.P Mr Buckley.

6. Mondo Cane - Live at Salsomaggiore (bootleg)
This is the only non-official release on the list, and for good reason. This is Mike Patton at his zaniest, a vocalist capable of basically anything and a man with more ideas than the people who think up interesting flavours for ice cream. This is his interpretation of 1950s and 1960s Italian pop music, but as all things Patton, it’s not as straightforward as that. Find this.

5. Joy Division - Les Bains Douches
Joy Division are one of the most important bands to ever exist. Few can claim to be as influential after releasing only two albums and this live album, recorded in 1979 personified Ian Curtis’ on stage presence and the band could not have been tighter. They were a band that only existed in the format we know them for three years. When you think of how many bands use them as a watermark for their sound, it's truly amazing how these guys did what they did. Add the fact that their lead singer was an epileptic and I personally think that this is their highlight. This is essential listening.

4. Stop Making sense – Talking Heads
Simply put, this is the best live show I have ever seen. It’s not a music show, it’s an art piece. Find the dvd, sit back, turn it up and marvel at David Byrne’s genius. Oversized suits, a lounge on stage and a cassette player providing rhythm are but a few things that make this a wonderful record.

3. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison
The man in black was the man. This is the show that establishes that. His banter is as golden as his flawless performance. And it’s in an actual prison. If that’s not bad ass, then bad ass does not exist. This setlist is hit after hit and I guarantee you that listening to this album only once is not possible.

2. Evan Dando – Live at the Brattle Theatre
Evan Dando was born with an acoustic guitar in his hands. Or that is what legend says, whether true or not, this is a great, if very short at 22 minutes, recording of Dando with an acoustic guitar and an audience. I’ve butchered this album and will continue to do so. Forever.

1. White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights
The number one slot on my list is, when you look at my listening habits, rather predictable. It’s not only the newest of the releases on the list, but it’s also hands down my favourite. I will tell you why. Jack White is a visionary, a retrospective visionary, but a visionary none the less. Meg White isn’t the best drummer in the world, but when you put these two on a stage together to play a show, and you record it, fuck, it’s mind bending. From his shriek in “Let’s Shake Hands” (which I posted here), to his heartbreaking vocals in Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, Jack White is everything a front man should be, an incredible vocalist, a sublime musician and a master conductor. Under Great White Northern Lights is not only an amazing documentary, but a fantastic live album and I think fully deserving of my top spot.

So what are your favourite live albums?



  1. In No Order:

    The Allman Brothers - Live At Filmore East

    The Eagles - Live (1980 album, not the recent reunion although it's also good.)

    The Band - The Last Waltz

    R.L. Burnside - A Ass Pocket of Whiskey

    The Waifs - A Brief History ('Bridal Train' is outstanding.

    U2 - Under A Blood Red Sky

    Tom Waits - Nighthawks at the Diner

    Nirvana - Unplugged.

    Pink Floyd - Pulse

    The Killers - Live from the Royal Albert Hall

    Little Richard - My brother had a Little Richard album, on vinyl, which is still one of the best live performances I've ever heard.Don't know it's name and haven't heard it since I lost all my tapes.

    Anything live by Nina Hagen.

  2. Oh ja, ditto on Stop Making Sense, better than any of their studio albums (which are also excellent.)

    Jack White is unequaled for his sheer range of styles. Sylvan is a big fan, I showed him the original Jolene just so he can see where it originated.