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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Live Double Albums

Up early this morning with a headache; took some Excedrin, and couldn't get back to sleep. Went downstairs, and for no good reason, started to look through my cd collection, doing some re-organization. (I'm borderline OCD, okay?) Discovered that I have a lot of live music--especially if you throw the jazz in there--but not that much in the classic, live double-album format. Of course, that format now is most arbitrary, in the age of the cd (which itself, I suppose, is passing; maybe it's all about digital tracks loaded onto your iPod now?). The old school of a live concert recording that just couldn't fit onto a single vinyl record has now been transcended by the innumerable ways in which songs can be packaged. Still, sometimes the old format is preserved, to maintain the integrity of something originally recorded decades ago, and sometimes it's adopted for new stuff today, just because it seems like a good way to the album to sell. So anyway, herewith, a list of all the live double albums I own, good and not-so-good, in reverse alphabetical order (so as to save the best for last). It's mostly a miserably MOR list I know, but I don't care.

The Who, Live at Leeds. Confession: I didn't even know this wasn't originally a double album for years; it was only when I finally obtained a copy of my own (thanks Scott!) and did some research that I found out that for 30 years Who fans were, criminally, restricted to either only 35 minutes or at most about twice that of the Who's 1969 concert at the University of Leeds. As perfect as their performance of "Summertime Blues" on Disc 1 is, I can't imagine listening to this recording now without the complete "Tommy" being part of it.

James Taylor, James Taylor (LIVE). Taylor's first live album, but really just a greatest hits review. Not a bad double-album, but probably not one I'd seek out today; I bought way back when I fancied myself a James Taylor completist. Disc 2 stands out as Taylor's only recording, that I know of anyway, of the Dicky Lee tune "She Thinks I Still Care," and Arnold McCuller's lead on "I Will Follow" is stunning.

Talking Heads, The Name of this Band is Talking Heads. Not as good as their later stuff, to tell the truth: Stop Making Sense is a tighter, stronger live album. Still, it's worth having; Disc 2's "Life in Wartime" is terrific.

Sting, Bring on the Night. The album when Sting truly became "Sting": earnest, self-important intellectual warring constantly with jazzy, ironic goofball. Tremendous stuff; Disc 1's "Driven to Tears" is a small, tight, jazz fusion masterpiece.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Live in New York. The best record which the Boss has ever produced, in my opinion. "American Skin (41 Shots)" is worth the price of the album alone.

Bonnie Raitt, Road Tested. Raitt is a great musician and performer, and the live music recorded on this double-album is first-rate. But really, it's the huge number of guest stars, and the odd, off-beat numbers she performs with them, that makes this live recording--her first after 25 years in the business--such a treat. Her duet with Kim Wilson on Wilson's own "I Believe I'm in Love with You" is a triumph.

The Police, Live!. Pretty good; Disc 1, which contains a 1979 show from Boston, is raucous and fun, while Disc 2 is much more slick and straightforward--it's essentially listening to Synchronicity live, with a couple of old favorites thrown in. Worth it if you're a Police completist.

Alison Krauss and Union Station, Live. A fine recording; nothing special, just Krauss's typically peerless voice and a lot of high-end, note-perfect bluegrass playing. It's Krauss's very best performance of "Baby Now That I've Found You," though.

Joe Jackson, Live 1980/86. Technically, Big World was originally also a double album, but the forth side was blank--just a gag, I guess--and that doesn't work too well in the cd world, obviously. His collection of various live recordings on this double album, however, is no joke: it's one of my favorite cds of all time. Three different versions of "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" and a slow, luxurious, mournful version of "Steppin Out" that is simply one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. An absolute must-have.

Bruce Hornsby, Here Come the Noise Makers: Live 98/99/00. Hornsby continuing his unique journey though the blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass and gospel, subjecting a lot of his more pop-oriented work from The Range to similar treatment. I love what he does with "Th Red Plains" on Disc 1.

Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Sings. Hitchcock's tribute album to Bob Dylan, complete with a recreation of the "Royal Albert Hall" recording, with some drunk guy yelling "Judas!" at appropriate intervals in the background. Hitchcock's cover of "Desolation Row" is, I am convinced, the definitive take on the song. He owns it now; no one, I think, can steal it away from him.

Bob Dylan and The Band, Before the Flood. I actually really like this recording, but I can understand why it doesn't seem to get that much respect: Dylan and The Band don't actually seem to mesh particularly well. But it's worth having because it contains some of Dylan's best, strongest, most polished acoustic performances, especially "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" at the beginning of Disc 2.

Neil Diamond, Hot August Night. I wanted a copy of this for years, finally got one, and now can't take it out of my cd player at work. The awesome encore of "Soolaimon" (my wife's favorite Neil Diamond song) and "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show" (my favorite), with Diamond rapping out a borderline incomprehensible evangelical hallelujah, is an awesome slice of portentous 70s folk-rock.

John Denver, An Evening with John Denver. Shut up, haters. I discovered this double-album in LP form on my mission in South Korea, in 1989, where it was being passed around a congregation I attended like it was some mysterious Holy Grail, a treasured key to understanding that distant land called "America." Seriously, there are far worse introductions they could have received. "Matthew"? "Boy from the Country"? "This Old Guitar"? Pure gold, folks, pure gold.

Allman Brothers Band, At Fillmore East. Some people call it the greatest live double-album of all time. Once you listen to "Whipping Post" all the way through, you'll agree.

Suggestions, anyone?


Anonymous said...

The first live double album ever was Benny Goodman's Live at Carnegie Hall. It remains one of the very best.

Russell Arben Fox said...

I've got it, and I agree: it's great. Getting into live jazz albums is whole different ball of wax.

Unknown said...

A very interesting list, thanks for the Robyn Hitchcock tip.

Here's some more from my collection


John B. said...

I'm coming to this very, very late via Douglas & Main.

You've awakened fond memories of my Texas childhood, discovering the wonders and excesses of the '70s-era double-live album, Russell. (My first ever was Kansas' Two for the Show--funny, that, now that I live in their home state.) I second Fillmore East and found the John Denver album very moving in places. I would also nominate the following:

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Live Rust. The first side (solo acoustic guitar and piano, with a little harmonica) is Neil at his warbly best ("Sugar Mountain" and "After the Gold Rush" are especially good, I think), and the other three sides are thunderous rock and roll with Crazy Horse. "Tonight's the Night" sounds like he's still reliving Bruce Berry's death.

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Live Bullet. Just before he released Night Moves, which made him a true star, so it's a gamble in lots of ways. And he beats the house.

Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus. Not just great music, it's a first-rate example of engineering: it's easy to place the various instruments, and on "Feats Don't Fail Me Now" there's a long a capella stretch where Lowell George is walking around on the stage, singing without a mike in his hand, but you can follow his movement as the various mikes pick up his voice as he moves around.