By Wes Clary
Live albums have always been something I have enjoyed for as long as I have been listening to music. They are special because you can hear what the band sounds like when playing the songs you love in a live setting. Many of my favorite live albums were recorded before i was born and I never had a chance to see the bands live. Most bands back then would perform different or extended versions of their songs. Some bands would take a three minute studio song and transform it into a completely new piece. Live albums today don’t seem to be as popular as much as they used to be, so I am going to shed some light on a few good ones if you were wanting some good live music in your life.
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Album: How The West Was Won
If you only buy one live album in your entire life, this is the one for you. The year is 1972, Led Zeppelin were hot off their major hit Led Zeppelin IV, about to release another soon-to-be classic, Houses of the Holy and were on top of the world. How the West was Won is a compilation of live recordings from two shows at the L.A. Forum and Long Beach Arena while on their tour of North America.
It is a triple LP and packs the punches. On the first disc, “Immigrant Song” kicks you directly in the face and the rush doesn’t stop. Led Zeppelin were known for an incredible live show and this record backs that up. They rock through hits that include “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “Stairway to Heaven” but also treat the crowd to some deep cuts and songs off their yet-to-be released Houses of the Holy.
The sound is amazing. On the track “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” Jimmy Page’s guitar tone is bright and colorful. You can hear each pluck of his strings as his solos burst like a finale of fireworks. The extended version of “Whole Lotta Love” contains a medley of blues covers which include songs by Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker and is one of the highlights on the entire record. The band as a whole sounds tight and on point. Robert Plant’s vocals are the best they have ever have been and John Bonham shines on the 20-minutes drum solo “Moby Dick.” Led Zeppelin would slow it down in the middle of their set to perform acoustic tracks as well. The foot-stomping “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” and the classic “Going to California” sound fantastic and can be considered by some to stand alone when compared to their studio recordings.
Album: Unplugged in New York
Back in the 90’s, it was common for bands to perform on MTV’s Unplugged live concert series. Groups ranging from Alice in Chains to Eric Clapton dropped their usual “electric” routine and performed acoustic versions of their songs. None were as monumental or important as Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York.
Going against the norm and not performing their biggest hits, including “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Heart Shaped Box,” Nirvana took the moment to dive into covers including David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” and calling up friends from grunge outfit The Meat Puppets to perform a number of their tracks. Dressed in an old cardigan sweater, lead singer Kurt Cobain sings with a voice that sounds depressed, worn and raspy but nails every single song with perfection. Cobain warns the crowd before starting into “The Man Who Sold the World” that he is going to screw it up. Of course in the end, he does not. Other highlights of the performance includes bass player Krist Novoselic putting down his guitar and rocking the accordion and animal-like drummer, Dave Grohl, tamed down to only using drum brushes and providing soft background singing.
The performance had a very intimate and haunting funeral-like setting including hundreds of lit candles that surrounded the stage at the request by Cobain. With the death of Cobain just a mere five months following the performance, the performance has been tagged as Cobain’s final goodbye.
Artist: The Allman Brothers Band
Title: At Fillmore East
Recorded live in New York City over a two night period and just seven months before the tragic death of slide guitar virtuoso Duane Allman, At Fillmore East is the ultimate southern rock live album. It is an epic double LP stuffed with brain melting solos and spot of performances by every member.
At Fillmore East is the Allman Brothers third release and highlighted many of the tracks covering their first two records in addition to a couple of cover songs. The opener, “Statesboro Blues,” sets the tone immediately. You can feel as if you are there front row amongst the sweat and smell the cigarette smoke as lead singer Gregg Allman sings from his soul and brother Duane just tears down the house with his Gibson electric. The percussion is outstanding as well. Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson provide the drums and percussion. Together they stand out on long jams including “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and the 23-minute epic “Whipping Post.” Guitarist Dickey Betts compliments Duane’s solos by keeping the rhythm and showcasing many solos as well while Gregg holds down the keyboards when not on the mic.
Not only are the songs all killer, but the production is incredible for the time it came out. If you listen to other live albums that came out around the same time albums like The Rolling Stones’ Get Yer YaYa’s Out!, you feel a little more distant from the music, almost as if you are far back in the crowd. With At Fillmore East, you feel like you are front row and center.