Clint Wiederholt and Danny R. Phillips wrote columns about their six favorite live albums. Some of the albums on those lists hit the nail right on the head, but just as Mr. Wiederholt said, every list is different. That is how it should be. I will now present a list of my top six favorite live albums of all time. I wouldn’t say it’s the perfect list, but it is.
Alice in Chains – Unplugged
Back when MTV used to have music, the unplugged series was probably one of their finest achievements. A lot of people will reference Nirvana’s “Unplugged in New York” as they should, but the perfect blended harmonies of Jerry Cantrell and Lane Staley on the tracks “Over Now”, “Got Me Wrong”, and “Heaven Beside You” come running up right alongside Nirvana’s “Unplugged”. Hell, even “Rooster” is listenable as astounding as that may seem after years and years of radio over-play.
Nirvana – Complete Reading Festival 1992
Speaking of Nirvana, when I was about twelve years old and had finally gotten around to discovering great music, I fell in love with my cassette of Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. I was hooked, and what ensued was an almost OCD type of obsession with getting every live recording/bootleg available. I would look their bootlegs up on websites, download the songs, and even print out the artwork. All of these CDs which I still have today.
The show begins with Cobain being wheeled onto the stage wearing a wig and a hospital gown. He gets up pretending to be in a weak state to sing the opening lines to “The Rose” by Bette Midler. After he falls to stage, they go right into “Breed”. Was it their best sounding recording? No… Was it Nirvana being Nirvana? Yes… Every song you want to hear is on this double disc live album. “Drain You”, “School”, “Lounge Act”, “On A Plain, “Negative Creep”, and “Blew” are many among the many great songs performed that night. It was Nirvana with their silliness, their edge, and giving it their all. You’ve even got “Spank Thru” and “D-7”. What else could you ask for?
Elliott Smith – 3/26/99- Irving Plaza- NY, NY
Those familiar with who I like to call the sixth Beatle (Brian Epstein was the fifth)- Elliott Smith was an amazing songwriter and musician. Here we catch one of the only good copies of him live with a full band, and it’s an asbolute favorite of mine. Elliott Smith covers just about everything from his catalogue at this show. “Coming Up Roses” from his self titled album, “2:45 AM”, “Baby Britain”, “Son of Sam, “Waltz #2”, “Independence Day”, and “St. Ides Heaven” are among many other amazing songs performed on this night. “Flowers for Charlie”, a song recorded for “From A Basement on a Hill, Smith’s last unfinished work is the closer to this amazing show.
Jackson Browne – Solo Acoustic Vol. 2
“The Night Inside Me”… One listen to that song and you tell me this isn’t a live album to sit around and stew with. Browne’s acoustic guitar playing, his tone, his voice, and his accompanying story telling is what makes this live album so great. “Something Fine” will stop you dead in your tracks. Browne tells stories of staying with Stephen Stills in some grand house, and his giant guitar collection he hauled around. He talks of a girl he met while staying with Stills which inspired the song “Something Fine”. “Casino Nation” has some interesting lines, as Browne tells about the song being a metaphor for our public and private lives. If this CD had gotten stuck inside my car stereo I would have been absolutely fine with that. I didn’t take it out for weeks any way.
Neil Young – Unplugged
What can I say about this album? Here’s something honest- I have not delved enough as I should into Neil Young’s live catalogue, but I heard “Unplugged” when I was fifteen and I love it still. Neil’s voice is strong. My favorite song performed off this album has to be “Helpless”, with its backing vocals that make it absolutely astounding. The interesting acoustic take on “Mr. Soul” is another favorite of mine, and how am I going to leave out the dreamy sound of “Harvest Moon”? My favorite Young record by far. “Unknown Legend” is another beauty.
What makes this such a great live performance is Neil with his backing vocalists. He was on point. “Long May You Run” has a beautiful piano accompanying it alongside the voices of female singers who do a stellar job of blending with Young. Sometimes it’s where you were, the first time, and how it hit you that makes a favorite your favorite. That is definitely the case with this album, for me.
Nine Inch Nails – And All That Could Have Been
Aside from the fact that “The Fragile” album and tour may have been the best thing Trent Reznor has done so far in his career next to his album “The Year Zero”, watching this show almost makes you feel like you are there. The projectors, visualizations, moments of heavy rock n’ roll stomping next to somewhat empty, atmosphere driven songs like “The Great Below” make you wish you had been there. Reznor puts all of his strength into this show. The song “The Mark Has Been Made”, a very cool slow jam with cello, guitar, and bass leading into a wah riff that sets the song ablaze makes me wish time travel were a viable option.
Some of my favorite songs off this album are the transitioning ones. Songs like “Just Like You Imagined” have such a power to them. The build-up to the songs crescendo with Reznor’s whispers swirling all around, pounding all over the keyboard, and wavering in and out of key. Reznor has a knack for pushing the boundaries of what some might consider melodic. Hearing it is an amazing thing. Buying the DVD and watching “the show” is another. Chills I tell ya.
Honorable Mentions: Primus – “hallucino-genetics,” The Grateful Dead – Live at Winterland, Pearl Jam – Unplugged, Tom Waits – VH1 Storytellers, Wilco, “Kicking Television – Live in Chicago’,The Allman Brothers – Live at Fillmore East and The Beatles – Rooftop Concert