The role of a live album in an artist’s catalog can serve two purposes. The first, and obviously most desirable purpose, is to showcase the distinctive sound that an artist puts forward in a live setting. As live music is one of the greatest powers known to humanity, all true artists should be judged by their real life performances. Shitty acts never stray from their studio sound, and that’s why all of humanity instinctually hates Hootie & The Blowfish. And that’s also why I got bored to death the last time I saw Tom Petty – you could have just played his Greatest Hits album through the p.a. and it would have sounded exactly the same. This is also why nobody outside of hardcore Petty-heads knows that he put out several live albums in the past few years – they’re essentially re-packaged hits compilations with crowd noise thrown in for good measure. Which leads us to the second reason artists release live records – to make money. It’s a cheap process, and depending on how dedicated your fan-base is, they could be willing to purchase everything you ever release.
Fortunately, 2015 is blessing us with a handful of live albums from artists that are releasing them as a showcase of their sound rather than as money makers. And besides, nobody makes money off of albums anymore anyway, so you only put them out these days if your heart is truly behind it. I’ve already raved about Dr. Dog‘s Live At a Flamingo Hotel this year, (seriously, it’s amazing,) but here’s three more records you should dig into immediately if you’re feeling the live tip.
Parquet Courts – Live At Third Man Records
If you read ISM regularly, then you know I’m constantly blowing my load to the sound of Parquet Courts, and I cried out of overwhelming joy when I saw them here in Portland last year. Live, the band is a throbbing force of electric magic – sometimes feeling like the greatest punk band in three decades, sometimes feeling like the greatest post-punk band in two decades, sometimes feeling like the greatest indie-rock in a decade and a half, and always feeling like pure legend. Chalk it up to Jack White for having a regular array of amazing acts come in to play his Blue Room, and for capturing Parquet Courts in prime form. While the record is comprised almost entirely of tracks off last year’s Sunbathing Animal, there’s a primal ferocity in the live takes that the studio can’t come close to harnessing. And I don’t want to say they ‘jam’, but shit is definitely stretched out in several instances. Before this record came out, I used to play the studio version of “Instant Disassembly” on constant repeat – now it’s the live version that has become a steady fixture of my daily existence.
Karen O – Live From Crush Palace
If you still haven’t gotten into last year’s Crush Songs, then you’re missing out on one of the greatest tender records of all time. In fact, I highly recommend giving it a couple go-rounds before digging into the live version. Like Parquet Courts, this record is comprised mainly of songs from that one album, but it also includes “Hideaway” from the Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack, and the ultimate crusher – “Moon Song” from Her. I was really hoping she’d include a version of that amazing song from the Adidas commercial ten years ago, but no such luck. And while the format of these songs in the live setting isn’t that different than her raw studio cuts, the stage reverb alone makes it essential. Plus, you get to hear her laughing at herself, and that fresh dose of humanity manages to weave these tracks even deeper into your soul.
Delicate Steve – Live In Las Vegas
Steve Marion is one of the greatest unknown guitarists living on the planet right now – technically profound, but more importantly he embraces a tinny tone and makes it sound both enormous and all his own. He’s essentially reinvented how to play slide. They guy is also everywhere these days – be it touring with Delicate Steve, or his other awesome band, Saint Rich, or just sitting in with Dr. Dog or any of the other amazing bands that freely welcome him to the stage. Live In Vegas is taken from a tour the band did last year opening for Tame Impala, and sounds like a set Jeff Beck would put together if he were currently in his early 30’s. While there are occasionally vocals on some songs, this is essentially instrumental rock fusion that beautifully embraces the odd side of things. I saw this band five years ago and they felt really gimmicky at the time. But they have evolved into a massive attack force over these past few years, and deserve mountains of more attention than they’re currently getting. This Vegas album is just the thing to turn the whole world on.