Updated Tue, Dec 11, 2012 4:03 pm
As a music shop owner, audio engineer and singer-songwriter, I decided to put my energies into reviewing 10 live albums that have inspired me over the years.
Of course it's really tough to boil it down to just 10, but after careful consideration, I came up with a list.
In chronological order:
Rory Gallagher, Irish Tour '74 (Polydor, 1974): This record was compiled from concert recordings made at Belfast's Ulster Hall, Dublin's Carlton Cinema and Cork's City Hall during January 1974. A tip of the hat goes to Mr. Gallagher, his band and the whole crew for performing during a violent time in Ireland's history, particularly in Belfast, where many acts refused to even step foot. The band's energy and soul brought a moment of hope, peace and joy, as heard in the appreciative response of the audience.
Kingfish, In Concert: King Biscuit Flower Hour (King Buscuit Flower Hour, 1996): A dandy stripped-down recording of Mr. Bob Weir and his comrades. This two-disc set tickles the ears with a beautifully raw, yet tight, band performing for a very receptive crowd at New York City's Beacon Theatre in 1976. You can tell these cats were groovin’ off this smaller, more intimate venue.
The J.Geils Band, Blow Your Face Out (Atlantic, 1976): From beginning to end, this album features the energy that made these brothers (in my humble opinion) the kings of boogie/funk. 'Tis another reason why I personally dig live records, for the fact it would be so hard to duplicate this "get-it-on vibe" within the confines of a studio. If you listen real close, you can hear the sweat rollin’ from their brows as the show continues to build, song after song.
Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus (Warner Bros., 1978): As with many fine live records, the listener gets the opportunity to purchase their own front row seat and become one with the band. Little Feat manages to keep the integrity of their signature riffs and melodies while experimenting with different instrumentation and tone colors, painting the perfect backdrop for their swamp-rock sound.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Live Rust (Reprise, 1979): This album was recorded at several venues during the band's "Rust Never Sleeps" tour in 1978. The end result was genius, with mastering engineer David Gold creating a cohesive sound from the various recordings. I truly dig the acoustic-turned-electric vibe on this record. Crazy Horse lays it down tight, allowing Neil to perfect his cool grungy/sloppy guitar work. This was the first live album that I personally dissected and studied, not only musically, but as an engineer.
Wishbone Ash, Live in Chicago (Permanent Records, 1992): This particular record features the magic chemistry between Andy Powell and Ted Turner and their twin guitar work. The guitars are panned wide left and right in the mix, spotlighting both guitarists equally. The ambient mics that were placed around the venue create a cool slapback-delay.
Gov’t Mule, Live at Roseland Ballroom (Evangeline, 1996):This is the first of several live albums the 'Mule has released over time. This one is close to my heart, as it truly captures the magic between guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody. The way they toss around the groove could never be scripted on paper: It's pure feel. Great tones throughout and the listener has a front row seat. This show was recorded at their 1995 New Years Eve show with Blues Traveler.
ekoostik hookah, Sharp in The Flats (Acoustic Recordings, 1999): This recording was captured at the Cleveland's Odeon Concert Club. It has a beautiful, warm, ambient feel, yet every instrument is precisely placed in the mix, as if to paint a picture of where each member was performing on stage that evening. A powerful, yet delicate record. I am honored to have it in my collection.
Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals, Live from Mars (Virgin, 2001): This two-record set was recorded during the band's 2000 tour. Disc one features high-energy electric material, while disc two has a soulful, acoustic vibe. I personally attended one of the shows (Athens, Ohio) and can testify that the record replicates the sound I heard in Memorial Auditorium. From the loud overdriven tone of Mr. Harper's guitars to the quiet whisper of his vocals, there is a sweet balance throughout.
Wilco, Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (Nonesuch, 2005): This album consists of material recorded during four shows at Chicago's Vic Theatre in spring 2005. Upon researching, I found that frontman Jeff Tweedy wanted to set up live recordings in his hometown of Chicago as a way to catch the band in a "comfort zone." What a fine decision that was. You can tell the guys are just plain havin’ fun. A very appreciative audience contributes to the album's high energy.