If you’re not able to attend a concert, live albums are the next best way of immersing yourself in a more intimate matter with a performer. It’s more than simply the music. They audibly capture the atmosphere. The energy of the performer(s). The yelps of excitement that greet fan favourites. The chatter, the odd fault and the ticklish laughter that often follows. Triumphant solos, guest appearances, live-only cover songs and affecting finales that sweep you up with the crowd.
No wonder live albums – and live music in general – has become a cure for those lonely nights or times when overtime is unavoidable.
Because of this, live tracks can also be highly desirable. Depending on who the artists is, live versions can be hard to come by, which makes those one-off iTunes EPs, mono recordings from the 1960s or bootleg rips all the more precious.
Here are five of my favourite live albums so far.
Tame Impala – Live Versions (2014)
Record Store Day has become an annual fixture for collectable live albums (LCD Soundsystem, Foals, Mystery Jets, The Civil Wars) and countless represses of classic live albums (Donny Hathaway, Jimi Hendrix). This compilation of live tracks by Australian psych-rock band Tame Impala is a reminder of how different live sets can be from studio albums. Some albums were never intended to be performed live (Zero 7’s Simple Things) and undergo painstakingly adaptations, sometimes transforming the songs into entirely new entities. This record bottles the blurry hypnosis that’s become a signature of Tame Impala while adding to the wonderment and mystery of their sound.
Aretha Franklin – Live at Fillmore West (1971)
No matter how many live albums you may have on your list, Aretha Franklin’s arresting performance at Fillmore West, San Francisco, 1971, is one you should make time for. With respect to Hozier, with their performance of ‘Spirit in the Dark’, Ms Franklin and Ray Charles don’t just take you to church, they ushered you to a seat, makes sure you’re comfortable and then proceed to call forth the Holy Ghost with such passion that you may feel your body temperature rise. It’s that or getting up out of your seat just as you may be driven to at a congregation. If it doesn’t make you a believer, it may well change your opinion of gospel music.
Damon Albarn and the Heavy Seas – Live at the De De De Der (2014)
There have been some fantastic live bootlegs over the years for Blur, Gorillaz and some of Damon Albarn’s other projects for those who know how to find them. But the live recordings from his two sold-out shows with the Heavy Seas at London’s Royal Albert Hall last November capture some the most intimate, soul-searching moments from across his repertoire. In addition to gorgeous acoustic versions of tracks from Everyday Robots, some of my favourites from it include Gorillaz’ B-side ‘Spitting Out the Demons’, tracks from Mali Music and a dub twist to the Good, the Bad & the Queen’s rhythmic reflection on British life, ‘Three Changes’.
Florence and the Machine – Live at the Wiltern (2010)
This one live album that I actually don’t yet own. I do however have over 30 minutes of live songs by Florence and the Machine, a band whose debut record, Lungs, continual casts me back the golden summer of 2009 and my time at university. If I had to choose one band that represents the arty, youthful idealism of the modern music festival (as seen on TV in the BBC’s expressive highlights reels), I’d have to say FATM. Gallivanting about the stage barefoot in some remarkable meadow child costumes, Florence Welch and her bellowing voice bring out the festival sunshine whatever the forecast.
Various Artists – This is BBC 6 Music Live (2012)
The BBC has long been a tremendous source for live music. It’s coverage of Glastonbury and other UK music festivals are second to none and Later with Jools Holland is widely respected for the variety of musicians it has exposed audiences to. But when it comes to radio, 6 Music is its finest example, in my view.
Weekly, late-night regulars, such as the 6 Music Classic Concert and Live Hour, give listeners the chance to hear full-length performances from the BBC archives. The station has held a week-long series of live performance from Maida Vale Studios for several years, along with a one-off special at London’s Southbank Centre to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Last February, the first ever 6 Music Festival was held in Manchester with performances from Damon Albarn, Kelis and the National. This year it’s taking place in Tyneside with Mogwai, Hot Chip, Interpol, Jungle, Sleater-Kinney and the Charlatans on the bill.
Of course, in between all of this, the station and its presenters also host live sessions from bands week in, week out. Thirty-two of their favourites were compiled on a two-disc compilation CD in 2012, This is BBC 6 Music Live. Well worth it if you’re after something to reacquaint yourself to the purity of live music.
For now, I’ll leave you with Corrine Bailey Rae’s scintillating rendition of ‘Que Sera Sera’, recorded in Washington DC, and later released as part of her 2011 Love EP.
What are some of your favourite examples of live music?
Image: Peter Lee/Flickr