There’s also a new Big Brother-era recording released barely a few weeks ago which hasn’t quite made it to the shops in Britain yet – hopefully I can update this page when and if I do get to hear it! – and Janis’ Woodtsock set (2008) which is largely awful like many of Janis’ last gigs before her death but comes alive on a stunning ‘Work Me Lord’.
Friday, 24 September 2010
Live recordings sit in an interesting place in a music lover’s collection. Some gigs on record are legendary – such as the Monterey, Woodstock and Isle of Wight Festival performances by various AAA members en masse. Some gigs only became big with hindsight – such as Neil Young’s first ever solo low-key acoustic performance or the Beatles’ Star Club Germany performances caught for posterity without their permission. Some gigs, alas only came out on video or DVD with no soundtrack mementoes to cherish (as yet!), such as Nils Lofgren’s storming set on Germany’s Rockapalast TV show or Pink Floyd’s electrifying set in the eerie ruins of Pompeii. Some gigs are deliberately throwaway and yet are strangely compelling – cue the throwaway Crosby-Nash gig recorded as ‘Another Stony Evening’ which tells us more about the duo than any CSNY release or Pete Townshend’s most revealing gig yet, a low key poor-selling charity gig for the Maryland Academy. Other releases are, sadly money making schemes and nothing more – such as the Beach Boys concert that legendarily came out so early in the band’s career they’d barely released a dozen original songs or record company MCA’s panicked response to The Who’s break-up with the half-asleep ‘Who’s Last’. Yep, not every album out there is a work of genius, even if the artists working on it often are in their heyday and, after all, it’s pretty hard to get your every note right gig after gig just in case comesbody in the audience happens to be taping your show. So that’s where this third instalment of our special editions come in – to help you pick and choose the recordings where our favourite AAA stars sound at their most alive – or half asleep. The choice is yours! Oh and notice that practically every artists we cover on our main site has released a live album some place some time – that’s courage that is and, thank goodness, something the Spice Girls seem to have spared us from so far!
Interesting choices here: a ridiculously early 1964 album, a 1969 concert only issued retrospectively outside Europe, a storming 1972 double album set and a posthumous last-time-they’re-all-together gig from Knebworth, 1981.
‘Beach Boys Concert’ (recorded 8th January 1964, release 19th October 1964) is, as discussed, one of life’s little curiosities, the earliest record on this whole list but, not necessarily, the template that others looked to follow. By January 1964 the band were at the peak of their first era, all striped shirts, hundreds of screaming teenagers (probably not yet ‘thousands’ in one sitting, though, as it says on the sleeve) and a real buzz and excitement from their raw performance. But many of the song selections here might give you a shock: the band have already thrown out early hits ‘Surfin’, ‘Surfin’ Safari’ and even ‘Surfin’ USA’ out of their repertoire, leaving them with just ‘Fun Fun Fun’ ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ and ‘I Get Around’ plus album favourite ‘In My Room’ at this stage in their development. Many of these performances are nicely raw - as the Boys never are again – Mike Love is at the peak of his powers (his quips get quite irritating by the later records but he’s genuinely funny here) and there’s a great deal of new material for collectors. Alas the reason most of these ‘new’ songs never made it to proper Beach Boys LPs - even when the band were short of material making five records a year for label Capitol – is because they are, quite simply, terrible. Hearing Mike Love goon around during Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers’ contemporary novelty song ‘Monster Mash’ is a strong candidate for the most jaw-dropping two minutes of your life, matched in Beach Boys terms only by Brian Wilson and Mike ruining their vocal chords with the screechy nonsense of ‘Papa Oom Mow Mow’. Only Dennis’ raw but confident cover of Dion’s hit ‘The Wanderer’ and the sparkling harmonies on the hard-to-find Four Freshman cover ‘Graduation Day’ really catch the ear. The songs you know and love, meanwhile, sound much like they do on the records, only worse. It’s also woefully short at barely half-an-hour, although that’s all concert shows used to last at the time. The CD issue adds a bonus track, ‘Don’t Worry Baby’, recorded at this show and left off the album – that’s a shame for 1960s collectors as it’s about the best thing here! 3/10.
‘Live In London’ (also released erroneously as ‘The Beach Boys ’69) (recorded August 12th and December 1st 1968, released in the UK mid-1969 and the rest of the world on 11th December 1976): The band reportedly hated this album, which sneaked out in Britain to cash in on their post-Pet Sounds adulation (though three years is a bit late on that score if you ask me), without anybody from Capitol’s British Division actually contacting the band to see if they’d mind. It’s actually a pretty fair appraisal of the band in their post-Brian Wilson days when the band were fighting hard to go back to being the heroes, rather than the zeroes, of the counterculture. And for the most part they succeed – this is a fun concert which doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite featuring some of the deepest and most impressive material of their post-Smile 60s run. The only problem is that, unlike, ‘Concert’, Mike Love is already past the point of no return as a frontman (if he says ‘excuse me, I lost my head again’ after another bad excuse for a pun I swear the CD’s going out the window..., although to be fair his gag about ‘a capella’ meaning ‘in the nude’ is harmonically spot-on for the band’s breathtaking take on ‘Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring’) and again the versions of songs we know and love here aren’t actually that different to the way they sound on record. The material is also much more ‘normal’ than on the last show – although some surprises like ‘Wake The World’ and ‘Aren’t You Glad?’ from ‘Friends’ and ‘Wild Honey’ respectively are the highlights of the set. The band also veer from being fairly ropey to quite competent in the space of a track or so, depending on how long the track has been in their setlist at this point. Still, not half bad for a band supposedly floundering without Brian Wilson to take the reins. The CD release added a not-quite-contemporary rehearsal take of ‘Heroes and Villains’ from August 1967 with Brian back guesting with the band, which is nice but not really essential if you want to stick to the vinyl copy. 6/10.
‘In Concert’ (recorded ‘Winter 1972’ and ‘Summer 1973’; released November 1973): The early 70s ‘Flame’ line-up of the Beach Boys often gets short shrift from reviewers and fans, mainly because they don’t always sound like the band we’d known and loved in the 60s. But the presence of future Rutle Ricki Fataar and future Rolling Stone back-up Blondie Chaplin really enhances the mood of this album, ratcheting the professionalism of these performances up greatly. The band were rather too guilty of leaning on past successes on this album – and there does seem to be one heck of a lot of surf and car-era songs in the set list – but for the most part this is one of the better live albums around, with every track receiving energetic but thoughtful treatments, with the stand-outs being Chaplin and Fataar’s severely under-appreciated ‘Leaving This Town’ (almost as good as it sounds on ‘Holland’, though some fans think it’s even better!), a far trippier and rawer take of Brian Wilson’s majestic ‘Marcella’ and a moving ‘Let The Wind Blow’ with younger Wilson Carl on good form. My only complaints are the lack of Mike Love vocals (although at least he’s not cracking jokes every two minutes this time around) and middle brother Dennis Wilson (who broke his arm just before the tour and was left as a harmony singer on this tour- he could have at least been allowed to do his showstopper ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’ at these gigs! And how typical of Capitol – Dennis is the only member you see in profile on the front cover, with the other band members on the back sleeve, no wonder Dennis got so annoyed at his ‘eye candy’ image in the 70s at times!) Still, for the most part this double album doesn’t drag at all and there’s even the presence of one exclusive track, Chaplin and Fataar’s ‘We Got Love’ (which was booted off ‘Holland’ at the last minute when tie-in single ‘Sail On Sailor’ came along, although it’s probably the weakest of all four of the duo’s compositions). 7/10.
‘Live At Knebworth’ (recorded May 1980, released 2002): What you think about this record depends on how passionately you love the Beach Boys. I’ve been playing this album quite happily when other people come into the room, demand to know what that awful noise is and are amazed when they finally recognise the Beach Boys in there somewhere. On the other hand, lifelong Beach Boys fans have been known to cry during playback of this concert. You see, it’s the last time all five Wilson brothers are all together before Dennis died in an awful freak drowning accident in 1983 (which many say was self-induced), although bizarrely here Dennis sounds more together than he had in years and it’s elder brother Brian who sounds all but inaudible throughout the show. Back in 1980 when this was recorded, fans probably never gave it another thought – this was just the latest in a run of declining concert listings, with more and more contemporary material squashed out to make way for yet more old hits, which everyone up to and including Mike Love sound positively sick of at times. But in retrospect it’s quite amazing – Dennis’ rasping vocal on his crowd-pleasing ‘You’re So Beautiful’, a song exclusive to this album, is powerful stuff and the presence of one of Carl’s best ever rockers, the under-rated ‘Keepin’ The Summer Alive’ might well be the best thing here. The audience singing ‘happy birthday’ to an inaudible Brian Wilson is probably less thrilling, however. The show is also out on a variety of DVDs, some professional and well thought through not to mention official (albeit rather expensive) or a series of cheap and nasty heavily edited DVDs. 5/10.
‘Live At The Roxy’ (2000) was the first big comeback by Brian, backed by the group The Wondermints who’ll come into their own by the3 time of ‘Smile’ (2004). This concert is far less ambitious than the ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Smile’ gigs and has a far wider range of material from all eras of Brain’s work, all sensitively handled and bringing out the best in both the songs and the lead singer. While some of the track selection is a little bit odd – and the supposedly funny Barenaked Ladies tribute with the line ‘Lying in bed like Brian Wilson did’ is an untypically tasteless gag – the vast majority is spot-on, mixing the better Brian Wilson songs both known and unknown. The best of all might well be the mid-70s unreleased song ‘The First Time’, a classic long lost song about overcoming depression that might well be the best Brian Wilson song since the 1970 ‘Sunflower’ LP. The other exclusive song – ‘This Isn’t Love’, written for the second Flintstones live action movie ‘Rock Vegas’ – isn’t quite as essential but sounds one hell of a lot better here than it does in the film! 7/10.
‘Pet Sounds Live’ (2002) is rather less essential, a typically sensitive and well handled tour of all the Pet Sounds songs (with ‘Good Vibrations’ as an encore), which worked well in concert but makes rather less sense as an album when you can just play the original for a cheaper price. Brian is also still uncomfortable leading the concert, as heard on his rather worried asides to the audience throughout the gig and to be honest, unlike 99% of fans, I’ve never rated ‘Pet Sounds’ that highly in the Beach Boys canon anyway (the live ‘Smile’ set – alas only available on the 2004 DVD ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ – is vastly superior I think). A big stepping stone for Brian returning to full live performance – but not, alas, an important purchase for fans. 3/10.
Surprisingly, not that many – just the one unofficial and the one official recording, although there are bits and pieces sprinkled across the first double CD Anthology set (the best of which comes from the TV special ‘Around The Beatles’ – why the heck isn’t that out on DVD, even if Dave Clark still owns the copyrights?! Let’s start a petition now! – which also features a unique medley of the Beatles’ first five singles and all four Beatles singing on a cover of ‘Shout’) Oh and it’s not usually our place to talk about bootlegs – and we’ll point people in the right direction the minute it comes out – but for my money the best live recording of the Beatles comes right at the end during a show in Tokyo in July 1966, which has yet to appear on an official CD. There are, though, oodles of live solo releases to choose from...
‘Live At The Star Club’ (recorded New Year’s Eve 1962, released May 1977): Considering the people who really were there at the time claim how disappointed they were that this recording found the band on an off night and how close the fed-up Beatles were to going home, this gig is pretty encouraging. Sure, it’ll never stop the people who saw The Who live laughing at The Beatles’ stage antics but, hey, if even the great Who had started out playing dingy German clubs with no original songs in their material they wouldn’t have sounded better than this. What’s most impressive is how wide-ranging the band’s set list is: even back in 1962 The Beatles chose to play obscure B-sides rather than the better known songs that might have got them bigger rounds of applause (and more beer) from the pretty disinterested-sounding audience and already their arranging skills are making old classics sounds like Beatle tunes already. I can see why the band hated this album and tried to squash it a whole host of times down the years, but all the many semi-official releases of it actually show them in a fairly good light I think, with the only awful tracks tgh4e one on which a passing waiter gets his turn to sing as the ‘sixth Beatle’ (!) We live in hope that one day somebody taped The Beatles in a German club in their Hamburg heyday – after all, we didn’t see these tapes coming at the time – but alas it’s looking ever more likely that the fab four’s peak performing years have been lost forever. 5/10.
‘Live At The Hollywood Bowl’ (1977): George Martin was asked in an interview 1974 whether there were any decent live recordings in the vaults. ‘Ooh no’, he’s meant to have replied, ‘there is one tape reel but it’s so horribly recorded and the Beatles play so badly we couldn’t possibly release it’. Three years later he was doing just that, at EMI’s request, although actually this record is a combination of four shows the band did at the venue during their 1964 and 1965 tours. For my money, they should have just released the latter recordings, which are genuinely thrilling with The Beatles still stretching their palette with complex and fairly rare (in as much as any released Beatles track is rare) material such as ‘She’s A Woman’ and ‘I’m Down’. The 1964 set-list just can’t compete, being a series of rather rushed and poor quality recordings of singles we’ve heard hundreds of times over and over, although as this is still to date the only official Beatles live recording it’s still pretty interesting for the passionate collector. Alas, like pretty much every Beatles re-issue/new release of the 1970s the artwork and packaging is dire – the sleeve-notes get some of the dates wrong and the distorted coloured tickets are far too tacky for a release of this importance. This album had a mixed reception on its release, although it still sold surprisingly well during punk’s ‘year zero’ when the Beatles’ reputation was at its lowest ebb. To date ‘Hollywood Bowl’ has yet to secure a CD release, which is odd given that it’s Lennon and Harrison who resented its release the most at the time and sadly aren’t around any more to block it, whilst McCartney and Starr were fairly positive. An interesting release that won’t change your idea about the Beatles’ playing abilities – they are playing through a gale-force tornado of audience screams after all – but deserves to be wider known than it is. 6/10.
‘Live Peace In Toronto’ (recorded September 13th 1969, released December 12th 1969) is one of those albums that continue to divide fans and critics then and now. At the time it was seen as yet another errant Lennon solo release in the ‘Two Virgins’ and ‘Life With The Lyons’ mould, although in retrospect it actually sounds like Lennon staking his claim in the live arena as a solo act when The Beatles had all but broken up and just hadn’t released the news to people yet. This recording, made during a rock and roll benefit show which also featured Lennon’s heroes like Chuck Berry and Little Richard - both of whom all but blow him off the stage – features the fab four’s old friend from the Hamburg days Klaus Voormann (who also drew the inventive cover for ‘Revolver’), Alan White (the guy who replaced Ringo on the album version of ‘Love Me Do’, offering an amazing insight into how the Beatles’ sound could have developed) and Eric Clapton, caught during his post-Cream and pre-Blind Faith days. Like many a Lennon project done in the immediate post-Yoko years, it’s a rush job that saw the ad hoc ‘Plastic Ono Band’ meeting and rehearsing for the first time on the plane to the gig and is equal parts inspiring and inane, often at the same time. Like many a Lennon solo spin-off project in this era, half you wants to dismiss the whole enterprise as a lot of self-indulgent rubbish and half of you is left pleading for more. The highlights are a scratchy take on Larry Williams’ ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzie’ (which will cheer my friend up, as I haven’t been able to mention her name on this site for a while!) and a raw and howling version of Barrett Strong’s ‘Money’ which is, unbelievably, even more intense than the Beatles’ cover on ‘With The Beatles’ that was heralded at the time as a breakthrough in raw emotion! Still heavy going in places, though, with the band clearly looking to Lennon for the lead of what to do – and Lennon for the most part too drug-ridden and scared out of his skull to lead them that well. Impressive at times but all too often just noise! 4/10.
‘Live In New York City’ (recorded August 1972, released February 1986) is much more typical of what you’d expect and yet, even as early as 1972, Lennon seems to have diluted his fiery spirit and his setlist somewhat. On the plus side, the songs from the Lennon-Ono’s recent album ‘Sometime In New York City’ sound much better live – for the most part – and Lennon’s squealed version of ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’ is one of the best things here. It’s also the only place you’ll get to hear Lennon’s solo version of ‘Come Together’ (even though he does sadly forget the words!) and is in fact the only time you get to hear Lennon revisiting the Beatles apart from the hard-to-find live EP when Lennon guested at an Elton John concert in 1974. On the negative side, Lennon’s retreads of his solo material don’t just pale in comparison to his records, they’re so poor in places they all but put you off listening to them again (‘Imagine’ is hardly my favourite Lennon song but it at least deserves a better performance than it gets here). ‘Cold Turkey’, that half-loved, half-loathed scream of power, is by far the best performance here, though, with Lennon nearly eclipsing the ragged exhilaration of the original. The show is also available on video – and rumour has it a DVD release is in the works (some of the footage is included in the ‘Lennon Legend’ DVD anyway). 4/10.
‘Wings Over America (released December 1976) is much knocked by modern collectors who hate Macca’s dalliance with Wings but the band were a huge draw at the time – even to kids who only knew of The Beatles vaguely from their parents - and, trust me, there aren’t many better live sets than this one. Wings mark II – the best version as far as I’m concerned, with Jimmy McCullough on guitar and Joe English on drums as well as Paul, Linda and Denny Laine – are on full flight here, with a strong set-list that does include a few too many of the weaker hit singles (‘Let ‘Em In’ for instance) but for the most part is well structured to show off all sides of this band’s many faceted talents. The best things here are at the beginning and the end of the album, first with the one-two-three punch of ‘Venus and Mars/Rock Show/Jet!’ medley which passes by in rock ecstasy without a break and the final encores of the rocking ‘Beware My Love’ and the exclusive-to-this-album ‘Soilly’ (a track originally intended for ‘Band On The Run’ and one of Macca’s best rockers of all, bringing the show up to ridiculous heights by Paul’s final passioned Lennonish screams).Even the band ‘guest spots’ are well handled, with Jimmy’s ‘Medicine Jar’ and especially Denny’s superb ‘Time To Hide’ fitting in far better than the pair’s songs do on Wings solo albums. Sure, as scathing reviewers reported at the time, much of this album is redubbed and isn’t a true representation of what you could hear from the auditorium each night but Macca’s overdubs are spot-on as far as I’m concerned, tightening up the sound compared to gigs from the same tour I’ve heard without diluting the atmosphere. The whole band should feel very pleased with this masterpiece, which never outstays it’s welcome even as a triple LP! A gig from the ‘America’ tour was filmed under the name ‘Rock Show’, a film that suffered several delays before coming out finally in 1979 – like this record it’s pretty awe-inspiring, which makes it all the more annoying that this recording came out on DVD, ever so briefly, in America and never did quite make it to European shores. A travesty considering how many poor 90s and 00s Macca shows are available to buy! A big fat 9/10.
‘Tripping The Live Fantastic’ (November 1990): Alas, it was too good to last. This double-CD live album is truly awful, recorded at the very beginning of a more or less constant four year tour. McCartney should have waited because the two gigs I saw in this era were pretty darn good but here, recorded barely a month into the tour for the most part, the band haven’t yet got things together and the presence of copious rehearsal tapes is not a healthy sign for any live recording. Not everything is bad – the setlist is a good mix of the best of the ‘Over America’ show plus several good choices from the Beatles catalogue and pretty much all the best songs from then-current album ‘Flowers In The Dirt’. But none of the arrangements add anything to any of the songs, even though the new arrangements for songs like ‘Fool On The Hill’ and ‘Live And Let Die’ try really hard and still don’t work , and you have to sit through so many limp rock and roll covers to get to them it hardly seems worth your while. Unbelievably, there was even a single CD ‘highlights’ show released from this show, adding ‘C Moon’ as a bonus to collectors. Trust me, you really don’t want to fork out £15+ just to hear Macca’s uninspired reggae remake of his old 1972 B-side. The best thing from these sessions is Paul’s from-the-heart if hardly original take on the old Mersey standard ‘All My Trials’, released in protest against the Thatcher government, best known from a Searchers cover. 2/10.
‘Paul Is Live’ (November 1993) is, amazingly, even worse. On the plus side this is the same line-up, give or take the drummer, and you can hear that although this recording doesn’t exactly catch them on an inspired night they nevertheless have gelled together nicely as a band. On the negative side, all the good well-known songs from Paul’s catalogue have been used up already and instead of going for some rarities that might have sounded amazing (like, say, ‘Little Lamb Dragonfly’ or ‘Through Our Love’) we get the B-list of Beatles, Wings and solo hits. The only good thing about this album is the cover, a hilarious spoof of the ‘Paul Is Dead’ conspiracy from the 1960s, with Paul re-creating the Abbey Road cover with his now elderly sheep dog Martha (well known to Beatles fans of the late 60s and an early talking point in Paul and Linda’ courtship) and a ‘beetle’ Volkswagen parked at the side of the road just as in the olden days, only instead of ’28 IF’ it sports the tag ’51 IS’ (Macca’s age at the time). There’s also a video which is actually slightly more enjoyable than the album – Paul still knows how to put on a spectacle what with his ‘magical Mystery Tour’ piano and lots of video screens – although it’s his and Linda’s painful video of all the bad things humans have done to animals throughout time, hidden away at the end of the show, that has the biggest emotional impact. 1/10.
‘Unplugged’ (May 1991) is a so-so look at McCartney’s acoustic catalogue and was the first in the series of MTV ‘Unplugged’ specials to get its own spin-off album, setting a trend that was quite popular for a time (see Neil Young below). Macca’s is one of the better unplugged shows around, with the fab one on relaxed form, joking with the audience in a way you never quite can at arena shows (most memorable is his story that the cleaner for the show came up to him and asked him if he was doing that lovely song ‘Blackboard’!) The set list is dominated by yet more rock and roll oldies with some country songs in the mix this time (a bad move for the most part, although Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ sounds surprisingly good in Hamish Stuart’s capable hands) and lots from Paul’s own ‘unplugged’ album ‘McCartney’ (a good move, especially the lovely ‘Every Night’). Most of the other songs are more what you’d expect, although there is the rarity of Paul’s very first song, written aged 14, ‘I Lost My Little Girl’ to savour, plus two surprisingly good Beatles covers ‘She’s A Woman’ and ‘We Can Work It Out’ (even if the cavalier attitude of the performers mean that Paul forgets the words to the song and has to start again!) Overall a fun success, even if it sold embarrassingly poorly for a Beatles related release – this apparently limited edition set was still on sale a good two years after release, even if it’s a pig to try and get hold of now. A scant handful of performances from the show made it into the excellent ‘McCartney Years’ DVD retrospective. 6/10.
‘Back In The US’ (November 2002) is quite a revelation for a man who turned 58 during the tour. Macca’s latest band are all fiery young stars in their own right (barring old friend Wix Wickens, whose an old fiery star in his own right) and are still gigging with Paul successfully across the globe to date. Paul sounds 30 years younger than he did on his 1989-90 tour, with a heard-hitting show that packs in so many classic rockers to keep the crowds on their feet it’s almost a shame when the ballads come along. The track listing is still a tad too ordinary for my liking, with too many Beatles and not enough Wings and solo songs, but with such a large track record to choose from its inevitable some songs are going to be missed out. It’s still a mixed bunch though – for every thrilling re-make like the synth-led ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and solo piano version of the rare ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ there’s yet another really dull version of a song we’ve heard a million times over, like ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘Yesterday’. Best of all are two ‘tribute’ songs to two former old friends, a lovely mandolin-version of George Harrison’s ‘Something’ in the George Formby-style the younger Beatle loved and a spooky reading of Paul’s 1982-written but never heard live song for John Lennon ‘Here Today’, where you can tell that both performer and crowd are only just keeping things together. The other highlight is, against the odds, a new song – a gorgeous version of the Heather Mills love song ‘Your Loving Flame’ which knocks spots off the version on ‘Driving Rain’. Overall, and despite the niggles, a big success and a lot better than anyone’s 5th live recording has a right to be. 8/10.
‘Good Evening New York City’ (2009) is a 2 CD set that stretches Macca’s back catalogue even further. The performance – recorded mostly in an intimate club venue for once – is a good one but the track selection is almost identical to ‘Back In The US’. Rare revivals of Beatles tracks ‘I’m Down’ and ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ set the pulses racing, but the Lennon tribute of ‘A Day In The Life/Give Peace A Chance’ is no substitute for the moving ‘Here Today’ from the above CD. The shows come as part of a DVD/CD set and are actually a lot more entertaining when seen rather than listened to, with the band putting on a good show that sadly doesn’t always translate that well into sound. 4/10.
NOTE: There are also to date three McCartney concerts exclusive to Video/DVD. ‘Put It There’(1990) fills in the few gaps ‘Fantastic’ and ‘Live’ didn’t fill and is a surprisingly good set (especially as I bought my updated copy for £1 from poundland!) with the cover versions for once the best of the lot (‘Summertime’ especially), along with a cracking version of ‘Things We said Today’. There’s also the hard-to-find only-appeared-on-a-promo-track ‘Party Party’, although it’s a bit of inconsequential fun rather than some long lost relic of great significant import. ‘Live From Red Square’ (2005) is a landmark gig in Russia – the first time any of the Beatles played behind the iron curtain – and is a fascinating more for watching the crowd have hysterics than the music on stage, which is alas quite similar to ‘Back In The US’ but not quite as consistently good. Interesting for the inclusion of two versions of Paul’s 1968 song of solidarity ‘Back In The USSR’ and the rare inclusion of I’ve Got A Feeling’, the most obscure Beatles song here. ‘The Space Within US’ (2007) is another straight-to-DVD set which centres around a link-up Paul made to a rocket in space – great for historians in years to come but not actually all that interesting for anyone whose seen Paul play these songs dozens of times already. There’s also a newspaper-exclusive recording (‘Live In Los Angeles’, 2007) not available in shops, which is interesting to the collector only for another reading of ‘Here Today’ and a live reading of one of Macca’s better modern tracks ‘That Was Me’. There’s also a hard-to-find, never-released-on-CD benefit concert for Kampuchea, featuring 20 minutes by four artists including The Who and Wings. The Wings show is particularly good, with an edgy version of ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ that’s so animated and alive it’s hardly to believe it’s the same song mangled on ‘Fantastic’. The show is also worth seeking out because it’s Wings’ last hurrah – Macca’s eight-day Tokyo imprisonment for drug smuggling took place just a fortnight after this show, effectively breaking up the band, which is a double shame because they sound on pretty fine form here.
‘The Concert For BanglaDesh’ (1971) is a deservedly famous concert, the first real success for the long line of benefit concerts to come (though Monterey technically got there first, with some of the money going to poor school pupils in the region). George ropes in all of the big names of the day and Leon Russell, who isn’t anything like the household name today he was at the time which makes his three song choice rather strange nowadays (even if it represents the only time a Beatle ever played on a cover of a Rolling Stones track!) Ringo forgets the words to ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, Billy Preston knocks his microphone while leaping away from his keyboard to do a quick dance across the stage and Bob Dylan is as painful to follow as he ever was. Yet we don’t mind, not even Ravi Shankar’s side-long epic, because we get a whole hour of George Harrison spread across the three vinyl discs and its all in a good cause anyway. George’s set list is notably heavy on Beatles songs over his ‘All Things Must Pass’ material, but the thrill of hearing Eric Clapton replicate his solo on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and George’s classic but fairly obscure song ‘Beware Of Darkness’ makes up for any of these things. The only parts that leave a bad taste in the mouth are the song ‘Bangla Desh’ itself with that curious and decidedly stupid sentiment ‘though I couldn’t feel the pain I knew had to try...’ (everyone in that auditorium seems to be feeling the pain of the Bangla Desh poor) and the way Badfinger are so poorly represented, slugging themselves out on three barely-heard acoustic guitars and no time in the spotlight themselves (while Leon Russell gets three songs?!) Still an incredible concert not to be missed by any Harrison fan. Also out on DVD with a handful of extra songs cut from the finished product, mainly starring Bob Dylan and, umm, Leon Russell! 8/10.
‘Live In Japan’ (1992) sold a pittance at the time, being one of the rarest of all Beatle solo albums before being re-released after George’s death. It’s actually the last official album Harrison finished before he died, giving the set some extra poignancy on songs like ‘I Want To Tell You’ and ‘Old Brown Shoe’ that we’d given up hope of ever hearing live. The reason the release was so low key was because George had been so badly bitten by his only ‘big’ touring show in 1974, which critics hated and saw George losing his voice early on and he only agreed to tour again with Eric Clapton’s band to back him up in a part of the world he knew wouldn’t pester him quite so much as in the West. Alas, this album looks amazing on paper – especially the set list which takes in Beatles and solo but sadly not Travelling Wilburys songs – but the slick playing doesn’t suit these songs of honesty and fragility and Harrison sounds woefully out on his depth like never before. Still, treat it as a bootleg and you won’t be too disappointed. 3/10.
NOTE: There is also the Eric Clapton-directed ‘Concert For George’ (2003) which technically doesn’t feature George but does feature a terrific lot of songs from all eras of his back catalogue. The best way anyone could have celebrated the 1st anniversary of George’s death, showcasing every side of the complex Piscean split personality from Ravi Shankar’s new song for George to the Monty Python team If I ever die having made a lot of music genius friends like this I hope they do exactly the same for me – this is a truly beautiful and moving concert featuring pretty much everyone who ever worked with George (including Ringo and Paul, who he movingly introduces as ‘an old friend’ rather than musician or colleague, Billy Preston in one of his last gigs before his sad untimely death, George’s son Dhani in his proper place on stage at last and two of the Travelling Wilburys, although sadly not Dylan this time around) doing most of the songs you’d ever want to hear, famous or not. Only the ever-present Jools Holland lets the side down along with Joe Brown’s caterwauling daughter Sam, but both their hearts are at least in the right places so you have to let them off. The highlight is as ever a truly spooky version of ‘Beware Of Darkness’, a complex song that Clapton nails so well it even beats George’s original and a moving version of ‘Something’ which switches from Macca on the ukulele to Eric on the electric guitar. And thankfully no Leon Russell this time around! 8/10.
‘So Far – The All-Star Band Anthology’ (2001): I’ll be honest, I don’t own all of Ringo’s live records – there are, after all, five All-Starr sets out there, all more or less the same, so I plumped for the best-of instead which as a bonus features Who bassist John Entwistle running through ‘Boris The Spider’, a breathtaking version of Nils Lofgren’s ‘Shine Silently’ with the guitarist adding an extra verse not heard on record and Nils’ Ringo-collaboration, the spiky teenage angst song ‘Walkin’ Nerve’. Ringo’s songs dominate the set, though, naturally and vary in tone from some pretty mind-numbingly takes of the old Beatles covers he used to do (‘Act Naturally’ ‘Honey Don’t) and the Lennon-McCartney originals you’d expect (‘Yellow Submarine’ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’) along with some actually pretty impressive versions of solo songs (‘It Don’t Come Easy’ ‘Photograph’ and a particularly spry ‘No No Song’). Whether three CDs is too much depends on how many of the guest stars you want to hear and how much you love Ringo in the first place, although it has to be said when Ringo and band are on it (particularly on the second line-up of the band) they do present a pretty good show. 4/10.
‘VH1 Storytellers’ (1998) is, however, probably a record too far, with Ringo stretching the old MTV Unplugged format to offer the ‘stories behind the songs’. Most fans know the stories behind the songs already of course and after a few plays the chat just becomes irritating like on most releases of this type, leaving with just the songs to savour. I’ll probably surprise new listeners to the site by saying that I’ll take his 1990s-era songs over his Beatles period songs any day, with the better pieces from ‘Time Takes Time’ and ‘Vertical Man’ pretty much all here. To be honest, though, unless you’re a passionate Beatles collector with a soft spot for the drummer, you don’t really need this record. 2/10.
To date, there hasn’t been a liver album as such but the second disc of the limited edition 2CD version of ‘The BBC Sessions’ (2008) sort of counts. For the most part you can see why B and S have never released any other recordings apart from this, as their already pretty loose recordings often sound a complete mess here (although their Glastonbury set of 2004 – the only other gig of theirs I know - was pretty darn good I thought). The best songs here are the cover versions and rarities, such as a lovely Stevie-Jackson-led version of ‘Here Comes The Sun’, where you don’t spend most of your time going ‘ooh, that must be a wrong note, that wasn’t on the album version...’ The BBC sessions themselves, by the way, are a much better bet with the rare ‘Magic Of A Kind Word’ standing out, although again this first CD is a pretty hit-and-miss affair. 3/10.
Why oh why didn’t somebody somewhere think of recording this great band? Whilst all five members expressed dissatisfaction with their three albums, practically all of them agreed how amazing their concerts were. Fans who were lucky enough to see the quintet are nearly all still loyal to them now, so yet again I curse the fact that I was born in completely the wrong time stream so I never got the chance to enjoy them (although, then again, I’d’ve had to wait for the internet and it would have been mighty boring typing this site out for 30-odd years on the off-chance someone would invent it). The only footage that exists is of the band at the Monterey Pop Festival, unavailable officially except on the Monterey multi-DVD box set (although four songs were heard on Radio 1’s 21st anniversary of the concert in 1988). That gig was pretty infamous in it’s day: the band had already seen bassist Bruce Palmer deported to Canada after a drugs bust and then guitarist Neil Young quit at the 11th hour, with an under-rehearsed David Crosby stepping in to fill his shoes (and causing the other Byrds to all but kick him out of the band for helping out his new friend Stephen Stills). The situation couldn’t have been worse – and yet take this into account and what we know of the performance takes off nicely, if a little raggedly, with the unexpected and unrehearsed medley of ‘Rock and Roll Woman’ and ‘Bluebird’ (announced by drummer Dewey Martin mid-song, much to the others’ surprise!) the highlight.
There are currently three Byrds live albums out there, plus a handful more on either of the two Byrds box-sets. Unusually, though, all, but one of these releases came out posthumously and alas none of them feature the original line-up. There are currently three Byrds live albums out there, plus a handful more on either of the two Byrds box-sets. Unusually, though, all, but one of these releases came out posthumously and alas none of them feature the original line-up.
‘Untitled’ (Disc 2) (1970) has already been covered as part of our main site (It’s review 38). Ironically, the studio half of the ‘Untitled’ album is probably the only post-Crosby LP that can sit quite happily on it’s own as a work in its own right, although taken on it’s own it’s a short but enjoyable little concert. The recording hits its peak early with the opening track, McGuinn’s barnstorming ‘Lover Of The Bayou’, a song that was then new to the Byrds canon and is vastly superior to the originally unreleased studio recording of it (included as a bonus on the ‘Untitled’ CD). The other highlights include an otherwise-unreleased acerbic Dylan cover ‘Positively Fourth Street’, which is probably the cover best suited to the Byrds ideal of halfway between the Bobmeister and the Beatles and a mind-blowing 16 minute version of ‘Eight Miles High’, which dispenses the original song in two minutes somewhere in the middle and then improvises wildly around the main theme. The rest of the concert isn’t up to as much – ‘Mr Spaceman’, especially, sounds pretty ropey here. Still, as a souvenir of a band on strong form, ‘Untitled’ is hard to beat, although it probably isn’t what you’re looking for if you’re just a casual Byrds fan. The CD re-issue adds a further eight live tracks from a contemporary show in Los Angeles on March 1st 1970 (Byrd historians differ on when the gig for ‘Untitled’ was recorded), although these don’t really catch fire as well as on the album proper, with only a brave but ragged attempt at ‘Wheel’s On Fire’ and a sweet cover of Little Feat’s ‘Willin’ standing out. 8/10.
‘Live At The Fillmore’ (recorded February 1969, released 1999) is more what you’d expect from a Byrds concert, with all the usual suspects (‘Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘Turn Turn Turn’ ‘Eight Miles High’ et al) thrown in as a lengthy medley. The latter two especially are among the highlights here, more ragged than before and yet somehow even more fitting to each song’s sentiments. Elsewhere there are some real curios thrown in, mainly the odd country covers of ‘Buckeroo’ and ‘Sing Me Back Home’ that never came out on record in the 60s and are clearly remnants from the band’s ‘Sweethearts Of The Rodeo’ style set-list from the year before (they sound rather better than most of that awful record, too). The highlights are two forgotten tracks from the then-contemporary ‘Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde’ LP: a particularly angry attack on ‘King Apathy III’ and a surprisingly post-modern attempt at McGuinn’s song about a bad concert ‘Bad Night At The Whiskey’ which inspires both the lead Byrd and guitarist Clarence White to yet greater heights throughout the song. The rest of the set can’t match these heights and the whole thing will seem unusually ragged and raw if you only know the band from their pristine-sounding records, but there should be enough here of interest to the general Byrds collector. 7/10.
I haven’t as yet bought the 2008 release of the 1971 Byrds concert ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ and this page will be updated if I do, although the band are on their last legs in this period and the album didn’t get terribly good reviews when it came out. As for the two Byrds box sets, they each feature a slightly different selection of songs from the ‘Untitled’ tour which are interesting but not up to the released recordings. The first Byrds box set ‘The Byrds’ also features two extremely ropey reunion concerts the Byrds did with their mentor Dylan on which the six protagonists never once attempt to reach the same key as the others, in all meanings of the word.
‘Four Way Street’ (recorded June and July 1970, released 1971): This was a famous concert in its day, the last gasp release by the quartet who had taken the world in a blaze of glory in the early 70s and split up after barely a year together. This is another of those ragged but powerful live albums that can’t compete with the professionalism and perfection of the records but are just as enjoyable in their way (well, for most of us – Stills often claimed he was ‘embarrassed’ by the loose playing on this album). All four members take turns in the spotlight with a couple of songs each and two of them were exclusive to this set until studio recordings came out in the 90s and 00s: Crosby’s nautical but nice ‘The Lee Shore’, a big missing link from his CSN days with delightful harmonies from Nash and Graham Nash’s own ‘Right Between The Eyes’, yet another of his songs rejected by The Hollies and adored by the CSN crowd with – would you believe it? – delightful harmonies from Crosby. Stephen Stills doesn’t have any new songs on the record but he does re-invent some old friends quite magnificently, with a spirited anti-Nixon rap tacked onto the end of a solo performance of ’49 Bye Byes’ which segues into his Buffalo Springfield song ‘For What It’s Worth’. Neil Young’s set list is mainly made up of is then-new songs which nearly all come that year’s ‘After The Goldrush’ and some of them, particularly ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’, sound far more alive and energetic here. The best parts of this concert, though, are when the quartet get together, with powerful readings of ‘Long Time Gone’ ‘Ohio’ and blistering 16 and 18 minute takes on ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Carry On’, the only official places where you can hear that famous Stills-Young guitar conversation interplay in all their glory (although, to be fair, as many fans hate these two long tracks as love them – as for me, I love them, every distorted improvised second of them!) Not every performance works – the acoustic arrangement of ‘Teach Your Children’ is pretty poor by CSNY standards and the opening 30-second tease of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ is annoying because it sounds so good. But any CSNY fan needs this record, particularly the CD issue which adds a song apiece from CSNY with Nash’s one-off, never repeated take on his Hollies hit ‘King Midas In Reverse’ and Young’s medley of ‘The Loner-Cinnamon Girl-Down By The River’ up there with the best of the album. 8/10.
‘Allies’ (1983) is superseded now we’ve got the whole of the main concert available - see below - and never did make it to CD. You still need it, however, for the forgotten studio song ‘War Games’ which is one of the angriest CSN recordings in a while and two Crosby songs from 1977, ‘Shadow Captain’ and the Joni Mitchell cover ‘For Free’, which were added to the album in order to cover up how shot Crosby’s voice supposedly was in 1983 (it sounds pretty fine to me as you can read below…, perhaps Atlantic should have added these three tracks to the end of the LA Forum set for posterity?)
The next CSN/Y live album isn’t until as late as 2008, with the soundtrack to Neil Young’s CSNY documentary film ‘Déjà vu Live’. The DVD for this is excellent, mixing CSNY’s heckled and brave performances from their ‘Freedom Of Speech Tour’ with interviews and footage of George Bush and serving soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan criticising the war. The DVD gets the mix of music and politics about right, but alas this ‘soundtrack’ CD just leaves the music – and great as the songs are, the performances really aren’t that good at all. Crosby is under-represented, not the first or last time on a CSN project, Stills’ voice has lost it’s shine, Nash sings more off-key than usual and Young dominates proceedings but not always with the album’s best songs. The setlist is quite fitting to the theme of war, with songs like ‘Military Madness’ and ‘Find The Cost Of Freedom’ more fitting than ever, but there’s too many clunk songs from Young’s ‘Living With War’ project (apart from the CD’s highlight, the spot-on and blisteringly funny if it weren’t so serious ‘Let’s Impeach The President’) and the odd re-arrangement, as on Crosby’s sterling ‘What Are Their Names?’, falls flat. Watch the film and give this CD a miss. 3/10.
There is also ‘Live At The LA Forum’ , a hard-to-find 2007 release of a 1983 concert out on DVD under the name ‘Daylight Again’ from what was widely believed would be the last CSN show of all (Crosby, in a very bad way at the time, was facing his prison sentence).Considering Crosby’s health, this is a very fine show indeed, with just the right mix of famous and obscure songs from the CSN back catalogue, with welcome reinterpretations of songs like ‘Cathedral’ and ‘For What It’s Worth’ among the highlights. The then-new songs like ‘Turn Your Back On Love’ ‘Wasted On The Way’ and especially ‘Delta’ are pretty magical too, the latter proving that Crosby’s voice had lost none of its quality when the others were brave enough to let him work ‘without a net’ as Nash puts it during the show. Best of all there are two songs that for years were exclusive to this set – Stills’ bluesy Vietnam parable ‘Treetop Flyer’ which didn’t make it to record until 1991 and Nash’s ‘Try To Find Me’, which didn’t come out until 2009. Overall, an impressive show, even with Stills and Nash doing practically all of the work. 7/10.
There are two other CSN/Y concerts only available on DVD not CD. He first is the semi-official ‘Long Time Ago’, a magnificent show of the 1974 Wembley Stadium show that Nash is reportedly working on re-mixing for a release in 2011. Let’s hope that news is true because this show, intended for a live release but long dismissed for supposedly being too raw and out-of-tune, is magnificent, CSNY playing to the record-breaking 72,000 crowd like they’re in their living room and featuring no less than three unheard Neil Young songs. ‘Unplugged’ (1990) is a fine acoustic concert with CSN dispensing of the band and getting back to their acoustic roots, what most people expected them to do in 1970 before Neil Young came along. For the most part the show is excellent and features another good mix of the rare and the popular, although admittedly several of the songs do sound a bit the same when the 90 minutes is up. The highlight are the CSN harmonies wrapped around Stills’ ‘4 +20’, the song’s original arrangement before Crosby and Nash told the singer his recording was perfect and they didn’t want to interfere.
‘Another Stony Evening’ (recorded 1971, released 2002): One of the most famous bootleg sets of all is an earlier show from the same 1971 tour, released under the name ‘A Stony Evening’, hence this set’s curious name. David Crosby is suffering from a high fever on both nights of the tour and his between-song banter is as strange and surreal as ever, but the acoustic two-guitar performances are tight and show off more than ever the spooky telepathy between the two musicians born on completely different sides of the world. A gorgeous ‘I Used To Be A King’ and a remarkable version of the peculiar folk song ‘Orleans’ are the highlights here, although this set really is a mood piece. All too often you want Crosby and Nash to stop yacketing and get on with it and not all of the songs are up to the sometimes brutal bare-bones treatment, but if you ‘get’ the magic of Crosby-Nash and the way they can just as easily become zeroes as heroes with their loose approach, then you will appreciate this set. 6/10.
‘Crosby-Nash Live’ (recorded 1976, released 1977) came out on the back of the CSN reunion in 1977. The duo were reportedly furious it was released at all and this album isn’t anything as well loved as Crosby and Nash’s three studio albums. The problem is that the slick backing band are perfectly suited to arena touring and the pair’s meatier tracks on records, but hear across a whole tour they rather dilute Crosby-Nash’s free form and back to basics ideology. The track selection here is a curious mix of the obvious and the weird (‘Fieldworker’ and ‘Mama Lion’ are probably the least known of all the pair’s joint songs) and none of the arrangements differs that much from the record, aside from a rather top-heavy version of Nash’s lovely ballad ‘Simple Man’ that threatens to topple over all together by the end and a spooky experimental ‘Deja Vu’ which may well be the weirdest version of this multi-recorded song around. Not a patch on the Crosby-Nash records, though, or the other official live recording. 3/10.
‘Stephen Stills Live’ (1975) is a case of right idea, wrong tour. Stills’ solo tours of the early 70s are legendary and his extensive ones with Manassas even more so. By contrast, 1975 contrast finds Stills resting on his laurels, wondering what the heck just happened after folding Manassas to work on an aborted CSNY reunion. This record isn’t what it could have been, then, but neither is that much of a disappointment as there are plenty of Buffalo Springfield tracks Stills rarely if ever played again (and they sound pretty good too, a jazzy ‘Special Care’ is the highlight of the set) and ‘exclusive’ covers of You Can’t Catch Me’, bizarrely merging into the blues classic ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me’, a Stills sang so many times over the years he’s probably sung it more times than composer Freddy Neil! The set is also cleverly divided into a storming electric show with a full band and an intimate acoustic set, allowing Stills the chance to show off his playing (his guitar work on a sadly censored version of ‘Word Game’ is amazingly reassured and impressive). Yes this album is too short and is missing nearly all the hits you’d expect to see (‘Love The One You’re With’ ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ ‘For What It’s Worth’ etc), but for all that it’s still one of the most undeservedly under-rated albums in the CSN canon. 7/10.
‘Alchemy’ is an oddball Dire Straits record. Some of it works very well indeed, some of it doesn’t work at all, with every song extended by several minutes as part of lengthy jamming sessions, sometimes transforming and sometimes smothering the songs. The best here are the ones that rock the hardest – ‘Solid Rock’ does particularly well, taking fire in a way the studio version on ‘Makin’ Movies’ almost but not quite manages to pull off and ‘Sultans Of Swing’ isn’t far behind. Songs like the murky ‘Expresso Love’, the passionate-but-slowed-to-a-full-stop ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and even the excellent ‘Telegraph Road’ sound like poor shadows of their older selves, however. Worst of all, forgotten EP track ‘Twisting By The Pool’ is revived complete with retro-50s feel and smothering saxophone: one of the worst of all Dire Straits records is duly revived for no reason and only sounds marginally more alive here. The 1983 vintage means we only get songs up to the ‘Love Over Gold’ album and not the record-breaking ‘Brothers In Arms’ record – fine by me, but newcomers might wonder where most of their favourite songs are. Still, when Mark Knopfler’s really on it the band come alive and there’s few performers as charismatic or committed – the question is how many songs or how long a passage per song he can keep it up. Overall a hit and miss affair, still worth picking up if you like the band, although for some reason it’s the hardest Dire Straits album of all to find in the present day and seriously in need of a decent re-issue. 5/10.
‘On The Night’ (1993) is, alas, a dog of an album. I must admit my copy went missing a while back and I’ve never bothered to replace it so I might be a bit rusty here, but from what I remember there were far too many songs from the band’s then-current LP ‘On Every Street’ (and not the better, more suitable ones for arena crowds at that!), which knocked all but the biggest songs from the setlist. The best song here is ‘Calling Elvis’, which has a swagger and uneven rhythm that suits this new line-up’s jazzy playing, but even that goes on for at least three minutes too long, repeating the ‘morse code’ coda ad infinitum. Not a very worthy release and clearly only released because the band had broken up. 2/10.
‘Live/Dead’ (1969) is one of the absolute wonders on this list. Only seven ‘songs’ fill up this double album’s 77 minute running time (and one of them is entitled ‘Feedback’!) and yet four of them at least are up to the best things the Dead ever did. The set starts off with a 23-minute Dark Star, segues neatly into a minute ‘The Eleven’, back out again into ‘Saint Stephen’ complete with a ‘William Tell’ passage missing from the record and spirals into a 17 minute blues workout on ‘Turn Off Your Lovelight’. All four songs are very very different and very complex - this is the best case on any album for proof of the Dead’s uncanny telepathy for how to improvise together – and if you have the patience to lose an hour of your life in the music you won’t be disappointed. Sadly the band spoil it all by including the last side – an untuneful and quite scary take on ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’, descending into the already-mentioned ‘Feedback’ and ending with a sketchy 30 minute traditional song wishing us goodnight. Ah well, you can always miss these three tracks out and start from the beginning again! 9/10.
‘Grateful Dead’ (October 1971) – the second band album to share this name, a last minute compromise after record company Warner Brothers baulked at the intended name ‘Skullfuck’ - is another double album disappointing by comparison. There’s less going on in the performances here (mainly because second drummer, Micky Hart, has left the band briefly during this period), the ‘new’ material is almost all cover songs and even the live readings for some Dead favourites, like ‘The Other One’, comes off as a pale copy. Where this album really takes off is on the new group originals – ‘Playing In The Band’ is an interesting ever-changing Bob Weir song, ‘Bertha’ is an oddball yet enticing rocker about an electric fan that used to fall of it’s stand and chase the band during rehearsals (!) and best of all, Hunter-Garcia’s ‘Wharf Rat’ is a winning mix of jazz chords, guilt, story-telling and self-pity, one of the greatest Dead songs of them all, with a drunken loner promising he’ll do better next time around. 5/10.
‘Europe ‘72’ (recorded April and May 1972 and released in November 1972) is another of those fan dividers, some Deadheads holding it up as one of the best things their heroes ever did and some scratching their heads over a triple album with so much filler it could have easily been a single LP. The rambling 30-minute segue from ‘Truckin’ into an especially twinkly ‘Morning Dew’ is the biggest problem for most common fans, breaking out into some very unorthodox and dissonant sounds. The rest, however, does shine quite brightly with Garcia-Hunter’s new song ‘Jack Straw’ (about an outlaw, not the politician – although, hey, they might be the same person you never know!), a moving ‘He’s Gone’ about manager Larry Hart running off with all the band’s money and a staggering and much rockier version of the classic ‘Sugar Magnolia’ about the best on offer here. The other new songs are a bit of a disappointment, though, especially the one-note ‘Tennessee Jed’ and ‘Ramble On Rose’ which, fittingly, rambles on for hours. If only the Dead had held back their new songs from both this project and the last for one killer studio album they might have done better. Though having said, the highlights of this album on CD are the bonus tracks – a cracking 25 minute medley of ‘Good Lovin’ plus odds and ends, a chilling Weir solo song ‘Feels Like Rain’ and best of all Pigpen’s greatest and more or less his last song ‘Two Souls In Communion’ – warned by doctors that taking a European tour would strain his health too much, he went anyway and died in 1973.
‘Dead Set’ and ‘Reckoning’ (both 1981) are both being reviewed here as they more or less compliment each other. ‘Dead Set’ is an under-rated double record, with some sterling reinterpretation of rare Dead songs like the rocky ‘Passenger’ and plenty of songs from Dead solo albums not well known to the band’s fans (the medley of Weir’s ‘Supplication’ and ‘Lightning’ is especially fine, although Garcia’s ‘Deal’ and ‘Loser’ might just pip it). ‘Reckoning’ is an all-acoustic double set which was warmly received at the time – far more so than ‘Dead Set’ – and yet doesn’t hit the spot for me. Without the Dead’s famous electric interplay, there doesn’t seem an awful lot of point to this album, which mainly consists of Bob and Jerry rehashing old songs from their childhood. There are highlights, however, such as the exclusive-to-this-set Robert Hunter solo song ‘It Must Have Been The Roses’ and the moving ‘To Lay Me Down’ which are both well worth owning. All too often, though, there’s no variety or drive in this under-stated gentle set of songs. 7/10 for ‘Dead Set’ and 4/10 for ‘Reckoning’.
‘Without A Net’ (1990) is the last Dead release to come out before Jerry’s death and was so unloved it quickly fell out of the official discographies, falling into place with the first rush of post-Garcia archive albums. It’s not really a good place to say goodbye, although a few new cover versions do catch the ear and a re-arrangement of Weir’s epic ‘Weather Report Suite’ - similar to another recording added as a bonus track to ‘Dead Set’ – is among the best live Dead recordings. Too often, though, this triple album falls flat on it’s face – if this is the Dead ‘Without A Net’ I wish they’d put the thing back in place and get back to the simpler, less troublesome songs they made their own in the 70s. 2/10.
NOTE: There are flipping hundreds of Grateful Dead CDs out there, issued by the Grateful Dead record label in the 15 years since Garcia’s death. I haven’t been able to buy them all – perhaps if they stuck to releasing one a year instead of eight I’d have a chance of catching up - and the only one I know is ‘Hundred Year Hall’ (recorded April 1972, released September 1995), a watered down version of the ‘Grateful Dead’ and ‘Europe 72’ albums, albeit with a far more impressive improvisation based around ‘Truckin’ this time around.
‘Hollies Live Hits’ (1977): There are some cracking live Hollies performances around from the Graham Nash era which are all sadly relegated to YouTube. The only official Hollies live set is this album a staggering 14 years into their career (the Grateful Dead and Beach Boys were already on three by that time in theirs!) Alas that means most of this record is made up of famous hit singles, you know what I mean, ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ ‘Air That I Breathe’ ‘Bus Stop’ ‘Just One Look’ et al – which sound just as professional as all 1970s-era Hollies but don’t always have the heart of them. The best track by far is a sensitive reading of Hicks’ ‘Too Young To Be Married’, the Hollies single that never was (well, only in New Zealand!), where the band finally play from their hearts. This recording, missing from the shelves for years, is sadly only available as part of the ‘Long Road Home’ Box Set, where thankfully it is complete. Far more interesting are five live tracks on the same set – two ridiculously early Hollies songs including an impressive version of ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’ and a fun if rambling version of ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ which branches out into various other hits of the day including ‘Daydream’ and ‘My Generation’, a so-so ‘Look Through Any Window’ from 1966 and a classic cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ that knocks spots off the rather melodramatic original. There are also a handful of live tracks on the latest Hollies compilation ‘Midas Touch’, although only the Mickael Rickfors’ era ‘The Baby’ is at all up to the studio versions.
‘Live At The Dome’ (2003) is to date the latest League album of any kind, which in many ways is surprising as the band’s gigs are always popular and grudgingly popular with most reviewers. To be honest, though, this concert doesn’t find the band at their best and the spectacle and atmosphere of a League gig doesn’t translate well onto record. The tracklisting is also fairly disappointing, containing all the usual suspects and not many of the album classics that really show the band at their best. Only a heartfelt ‘Love Action’ (complete with a segue from the rare B-side ‘Had Times’) and a suitably dark version of ‘Darkness’ shine through the mess. 2/10.
‘Bless It’s Little Pointed Head’ (1969) is the last hurrah for the original spirit of the Airplane, with original singer Marty Balin firmly back in charge of the vocals and a rhythm section that are frequently travelling out into the ether. The band starts out with the clever trick of quoting from the ‘King Kong’ film that ‘it wasn’t love killed the beast – it was the airplane that did it’ – a neat motto for the band – and ends with an alarming and spooky 10 minute improvisation from Grace Slick-led ‘Bear Melt’ exclusive to this disc, based on the eerie line ‘there’s a million ways that you can go’, growing and fizzling out at random in true Jefferson style. In between several classic airplane songs are here, including a much rockier take on the single ‘Somebody To Love’ which is more heavy metal than pop, a spaced-out ‘The Other Side Of This Life’ which never did make it to record and sounds nothing like the ballad original made famous by The Animals and a garbled-but-great re-tread of ‘Plastic Fantastic Lover’ – Marty Balin’s love letter to a television – which knocks spots off the rather timid original. The star of these shows is undeniably bassist Jack Casady, whose melodic rumblings dominate the sound here far more than on the band’s records and giving them a fluid and quite different feel to the records. Only the long and rather pointless jam ‘Rock Me Baby’ lets the side down, but this track too is exclusive to the set so at least it’s value for money. Hard to get into but very rewarding when you finally do. 8/10.
‘Across The Sea Of Suns’ (2001) is, surprisingly the only official and widely available Starship set around on CD (although there’s a whole host of them available from the band’s website), although sadly this time around only Martry Balin and Paul Kantner are around for the ride. If you suspend your expectations and realise that a late-50-something band with mortgages to pay for can’t possibly compare to ‘Bless It’s Little Pointed Head’ then this concert does have its rewards, especially the ‘Blows Against The Empire’ tracks which I’d given up hope of ever hearing live. No singer can ever compare to Grace Slick – well, only Janis Joplin and alas there’s no chance of getting her to take part any more – and arguably the band shouldn’t have even tried to replace her, but full marks to Diana Mangano for trying, even Grace’s heavier more epic songs like ‘Hey Frederick’. The set seems awfully full of Airplane moments though rather than Starship ones and is definitely one for fans only. A 3CD Halloween 2000 gig, available from the website, is better still, with a few new and some even rarer songs within the mix. 5/10.
Oddly enough, there isn’t an earlier Jefferson Starship live record – although a great live B-side version of ‘Layin’ It On The Line’ bodes well for seeing an archive set sometime in the future. The closest is the DVD-only ‘The Definitive Concert’ from 1983, which is actually far from definitive – there’s hardly any Grace Slick or Paul Kantner vocals for instance – but does show off how well the band’s interplaying skills were working out by the early 80s. The track selection has some interesting songs too, with the best tracks from the band’s 1979-83 period such as ‘Stranger’ ‘The Girl With The Hungry Eyes’ and ‘Black Widow’ (even if the simply horrible ‘Out Of Control’ is in there somewhere too). An honourable mention too for the band’s ‘Woodstock’ set, now re-released in full on the back of their ‘Volunteers’ album in one of those curious marketing moves you come across from time to time. The one new song ‘Uncle Sam’s Blues’ is a disappointment but the other tracks here are that typical mixture of terrible and terrific, often in the space of the same song.
There never were any live albums in Janis’ lifetime, but understandably there’ve been quite a few concert recordings released posthumously, with and without Janis’ backing band Big Brother And The Holding Company.
‘Live At The Winterland 1968’ (released 1996) is a ragged but atmospheric run through Big Brother’s repertoire up to that time. The tracks from the band’s eponymous debut album sound much better here as the band clearly know the arrangements that much better and don’t have recording jitters, but the songs from ‘Cheap Thrills’ pale in comparison to the studio, live and studio-live hybrids on that LP. In fact, the sterling version of ‘Ball And Chain’ recorded here is the famous one from that record, though alas it’s by far the best thing here (did the record label intend to release a live LP rather than a studio one back in 1968?) One of the better versions of ‘Magic Of Love’ and the ever-popular ‘Piece Of My Heart’ are the other highlights here. If ragged and raucous is your thing then this album is perfect for you, although the releases from the 60s are decidedly better. 5/10.
There’s also a new Big Brother-era recording released barely a few weeks ago which hasn’t quite made it to the shops in Britain yet – hopefully I can update this page when and if I do get to hear it! – and Janis’ Woodtsock set (2008) which is largely awful like many of Janis’ last gigs before her death but comes alive on a stunning ‘Work Me Lord’.
There’s also a new Big Brother-era recording released barely a few weeks ago which hasn’t quite made it to the shops in Britain yet – hopefully I can update this page when and if I do get to hear it! – and Janis’ Woodtsock set (2008) which is largely awful like many of Janis’ last gigs before her death but comes alive on a stunning ‘Work Me Lord’.
The Kinks took four years to make a live record – far longer than the average band of the day – and yet they’ve certainly made up for lost time because, to date, there have been five of the things, plus a whole quota of solo spin-off records to boot. Your best bet really depends on whether it’s the muffled 60s, the artistic 70s, the noisy 80s or the splintered 90s you’re after...
‘Live At Kelvin Hall’ (recorded April 1967, released 1968) is one of those albums best filed under the label ‘atmospheric but unlistenable’. The Klassik line up of the Kinks seem to be playing well, but it’s hard to tell thanks to all that audience noise and the flimsy microphones that make this whole set sound like it was recorded underwater. Like the Beatles, first Beach Boys and first Stones live LPs the technology for recording live rock sound simply wasn’t there in the mid 60s (in fact, it’s amazing that the late 60s live recordings are light years ahead sonically). The other problem with this album is the timing: The Kinks had shed their early rocky image quite successfully by late 1967 and must have hated it when record label Pye suddenly decided to stick this low-key album out months after the psychedelic ‘Something Else’ LP. Pye even manage to get the names of one of the songs wrong on the sleeve (‘All Day And All Of The Night’ is actually ‘Til’ The End Of The Day’, which hardly shows the forethought and care Ray Davies usually did with his creations). The track listing for this gig is...unusual to say the least, mixing the expected (‘You Really Got Me’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ etc) with the unusual (who but the committed fan even knows about the 1965 calypso oddity ‘I’m On An Island’ or the urgent B-side ‘Come On Now’? ) It’s the truly oddball nine-minute closing medley that wins the best performance award though: zooming from a raucous ‘Milk Cow Blues’ into a laidback ‘Tired Of Waiting For You’ via – The Batman Theme! Against the odds, these three disparate songs really fuse together well in a Grateful Dead type manner and show perhaps more than any other track around what a cooking band the first line up of The Kinks were on a good night. There’s glimpses of genius in the rest of the concert, too, but alas it’s simply so hard work trying to work what’s going on – even on the remastered CD – that you quickly get tired of the whole thing and end up sticking a different Kinks Koncert on. 4/10.
‘Everybody’s In Showbiz’ (1972): Like The Byrds’ ‘Untitled’, this is a double album hybrid made up of a (very) loose concept album of life for the travelling musician on the road and a 30-minute concert. Alas, Ray Davies’ scheme falls down because most of the famous Kinks tracks are from the 194-70 Pye period and Ray is loathe to do business with ‘the enemy’, leaving him with just the ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ album to fall back on (although I’m curious why the band don’t do their one true RCA hit ‘Supersonic Rocket Ship’ at this gig). I’m not a big fan of ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ – although, again, many fans are – as it’s simply too detached and emotionless compared to all the others Kinks albums for me and to this album’s credit these songs get a new lease of life, with Ray at his most raucous, angry and sad, with the knowing ‘Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues’ the highlight this time around along with the horn-embellished obscurity from ‘Arthur’, ‘Brainwashed’. Alas, there are too many signs of filler material for such a short concert and fun as hearing Ray break into renditions of ‘Baby Face’ and Kinks-favourite ‘The Banana Boat Song’ is, surely they could have done some other tune from this period? The worst candidate of all is ‘Lola’ – as if to underline how much contempt Ray has for his old material, this version is just a two-minute section of the crowd shouting out the word and the band refusing to play it! Note – the CD version adds two fine bonus tracks, ‘Til’ The End Of The Day’ and ‘She’s Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina’ which should have been on the album proper. The 1970s compilation ‘Celluloid Heroes – Kinks Greatest’ adds a concert recording of this album’s ‘Here Comes Yet Another Day’ from the same period and a lot of fun it is too! As for the album, though – what on earth was going on with this mess? 4/10.
‘One For The Road’ (1980) will be a shock to readers who never heard the band in the late 70s/early 80s when they were being remodelled as an angry new wave Americana band. I like this approach more than most and like this recording more than most of the albums of the period, but like most double albums on the list it’s just too much to take in one sitting. On the plus side most of the better songs are here, such as ‘Wish I Could Fly Like Superman’, the decidedly punkish ‘Attitude’ and an intriguing rearrangement of ‘Celluloid Heroes’ and the band are on fine form, particularly Dave Davies whose finally back at the centre of the band’s sound for the first time since 1965. On the negative side, there are no rare or unheard songs for collectors, there isn’t much interaction between the band and audience and all too many of these songs sound like their studio incarnations, with a fair few of the really early songs like ‘David Watts’ and even ‘You Really Got Me’ falling flat in their new surroundings. By and large, though, this is a faintly impressive concert. There is a video of the show – or at least one of the shows this recording was taken from, released under the same name – but it hasn’t been seen since 1980 and seems unlikely to make it to DVD any time soon, sadly. 7/10.
‘The Road’ (1986): This live album from the MCA/London years adds in a few songs the last recording didn’t have space to include (such as ‘Apeman’) but is mainly made up of the band’s 1980s recordings. Alas, this time around the best songs from the period (‘Working At The Factory’, ‘Do It Again’ and ‘Property’) are all missing and we’re left with Ray’s more generic songs of the period, with ‘Cliches Of The World (B Movie)’ the best thing here by a short nose. Collectors get the bonus of the title track – a really lovely ballad celebrating the ups and downs of The Kinks’ career in song (albeit it’s a studio track, not a live recording) and a fairly odd number about a housewife wanting to flee the mundanity she sees in her life in ‘It (I Want It)’. Reports have it that this rare song was stunning in concert, thanks to a dance arrangement and a troupe of guest dancers, but it rather falls flat on record, despite Ray’s best American TV personality voice. 4/10.
‘To The Bone’ (1994/95) is the last Kinks recording of all at the time of recording and has a strange lineage – first issued as a short single CD, it was then hastily replaced by a much more thorough double disc the following year with the original CD taking up the first disc. It’s a fitting and thorough way to say goodbye to the band’s career, containing songs from all periods but relying heavily on the band’s 1960s songbook including – unbelievably – the first live recordings of such standards as ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset’. For my taste there are too many hits here rather than the band’s album tracks and few of them differ in any way from their originals, but full marks for reviving ‘Do You Remember, Walter?’ in a Bavarian style folk dance and a gorgeous half-a capella version of ‘Days’. There are two new studio songs, as per ‘The Road’, with the title track an especially strong song and a perfect way to end the last Kinks album – a heartbroken narrator looks back through his record collection, using all the old songs he sees as a trigger for some old memory. 6/10.
Note – ‘Classic Airwaves’ (2010) is a semi-official release of out-of-copyright TV appearances put onto CD and features several interesting variations on the above, mainly from the mid-70s. Songs like ‘No More Looking Back’ and ‘Sleepwalker’ are easily the equal of any of the more well known live recordings above and there’s a delightful piano-based reinterpretation of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ too. It’s also cheap – I found my copy in Poundland again – even though it’s terribly short and the sound’s a bit dodgy in places.
‘Storyteller’ (1995): An intriguing release this one, with Ray performing for the most part as a duo with Carlislian Pete Mathison, breaking off from his most personal songs to read extracts from his ‘unauthorised autobiography’ X-Ray. Usually speech gets irritating when heard together with music but somehow this album works better than most, with Ray a natural and humble storyteller with a fine eye for detail in both words and song. Even without the words some of the reinterpretations are staggeringly good – ‘20th Century Man’, especially, dispenses with the slow-burning fuse of the original to become an all out angry protest rant. The new songs too are a pretty good bunch, especially ‘The Ballad Of Julie Finkle’ about a groupie from Ray’s youth (‘who, you never know, might be here tonight’) and the cutting ‘X-Ray’ about Ray’s childhood fear of a hunchback who lived down the street that he got a completely new perspective on when doctors warned the young lad that he too might end up with a crooked back. The misfires ‘Art School Babe’ and ‘London Song’ drag the set down a bit, being far too obvious and unemotional for a songwriter of Ray’s usual talents and Ray might have been better making his best songs an EP but no matter – this is still a fine album well treasured by the few fans who managed to buy a copy before it disappeared. 8/10.
Note: there is a Dave Davies album ‘Live At The Bottom Line’ (2001) which I’ve been trying to get hold of ever since it’s release (I like the Dave Davies spin-off releases a lot, but alas I wasn’t as into collecting The Kinks back then!)
‘Live’ (recorded 1971, released 1973, reissued with longer running time 2005) might be a snappy and obvious title but the songs here aren’t short or obvious by any means – especially if you buy the fully restored concert on CD which all but triples the original running time. Lindisfarne were a shambolic but intimate group, able to make up in charisma what they sometimes lacked in slickness and this concert at the city hall in the band’s hometown of Newcastle is a very likeable if occasionally ramshackle affair. Rare tracks abound, from the B-side ‘No Time To Lose’ to the completely unique comedy angst song ‘Knacker’s Yard Blues’, although it’s an elongated last encore of ‘Clear White Light’ that brings the house down, taking in everything from harmonica sound effects to Bo Diddley covers. It’s clear the audience don’t want their ‘own’ band to go – and neither do Lindisfarne. On the down side, this gig was never intended for public consumption – it was released two years after the event when the band had broken up – and the original sound of the vinyl was awful, although they’ve cleaned it up well for the CD. ‘Fog On The Tyne’ is also stretched beyond breaking point and unlike the majestic ‘Light’ it doesn’t have the same staying power or room for improvisation and instead just gets on your nerves. However, despite all this and the original’s much unloved status with fans, being able to hear the full concert – complete with rarer tracks and plenty of revealing patter from the band - is a must for every Lindisfan. 8/10.
‘Magic In The Air’ (1978) is a double set again recorded in Newcastle around Christmas 1978 which was the band’s first tentative steps to seeking a permanent reunion. You can see why the band stayed together for another 25-odd years after this – as the title line from ‘Dingly Dell’ says, there is ‘magic in the air’ at this gig. The audience are eager to hear the band together again, Lindisfarne are eager to play and, considering this double set is made up of songs from only three LPs, there’s surprisingly little filler here. There’s no real standout track this time, although Rod Clements’ hard-edged ‘On The Road To Kingdom Come’ , an atmospheric ‘Lady Eleanor’ and a moody ‘Dingly Dell’ are among the best, but yet again there’s nothing bad, barring perhaps a cover of Woody Guthrie’s noisy nonsense song ‘Jackhammer Blues’. Again, another live Lindisfarne delight. 7/10.
‘Lindisfarntastic Volumes One and Two’ (1983): These two records were originally given away with concert tickets – the audience found them sitting on their seats when they first arrived – and are quite rare now, although they did come out on CD very briefly in the 90s. Neither volume can quite live up to the earlier live recordings, with the band less together and the set lists a bit more variable in this period, but the good recordings here (‘Day Of The Jackal’ back in the days when it was still an Alan Hull solo song, a fun ‘I Must Stop Going To Parties’ and yet another strong version of ‘Clear White Light’) are well up to standard. There’s a treasure trove of new songs exclusive to these two collections too, many of which sound more like studio recordings to me but I’ll not quibble, songs like ‘Brand New Day’ are great to hear for what was originally a ‘freebie’ record. 5/10.
I’ve yet to buy the ‘Croperdy Concert’ or ‘Untapped and Acoustic’ (both 1997), the two of which sadly sank like a stone without Alan Hull, Ray Jackson or Simon Cowe in the band to help promote it. I do like the post-Hull ‘Here Comes The Neighbourhood’ CD, however, and our old friend Billy Mitchell from another AAA band ‘Jack The Lad’ so there’s a good chance that they’re pretty nice too.
Alas, despite the many Lofgren live CDs out there, none of them is really definitive. Your best bet by far if you want to hear Nils live (and you should – the best concert I’ve ever been to was a Nils Lofgren show) is to pick up the DVD of three of Nils’ TV appearances at Germany’s Rockapalast. Absolutely exquisite, especially the 1979 set (which I’d have no hesitation in giving 10/10), although alas these CDs find Nils unusually off-form...
‘Night After Night’ is a double album set taken, for my money, from the wrong tour. 1977 was a poor year for Nils – his ‘Came To Dance’ album from that year is the weakest of his solo LPs and sadly there’s lots of that album’s songs in this setlist and his backing band aren’t anything like as hot or as sympathetic to his playing as in 1976 or 1978/79. Many of the songs here are stretched past their breaking point in terms of length and get repetitive to the point of alienation and yet even on an off day Nils is such an excellent and committed musician that he and his brother Tom can still overcome all these problems at times. The old Grin favourite ‘Moon Tears’ is hardly at its best here, but it’s such an excellent song that this brothers-playing-each-other’s-guitars showpiece is still the highlight of the set, along with a punchy ‘Beggar’s Day’ from the Crazy Horse album and a surprisingly tight take on the classic kiss-off song ‘Incidentally...It’s Over’. I still miss seeing this gig in all its trampoline-bouncing, guitar-played-with-teeth glory though. 4/10.
‘Code Of The Road’ (1986) is a later double-album set which has a much more comprehensive feel, with Nils adding several of his best loved songs such as ‘Shine Silently’ and ‘No Mercy’ in the interim period and luckily this album comes from a tour advertising one of Nils’ better albums, the under-rated ‘Flip!’ Like many a 1980s live set, however, this CD has dated quite badly from all the synthesisers in the arrangements and, again, this gig seems detached and lifeless compared to the DVDs that are out. There are plenty of highlights, though, from a surprisingly bitter-sounding ‘New Holes In Old Shoes’ (perhaps the best of Nils’ 1980s work), a determined ‘The Sun Hasn’t Set On This Boy Yet’ and a sprightly ‘Keith Don’t Go’, that marvellous ode to Keith Richards. 4/10.‘Acoustic Live’ (1997) is another mixed bag, with an intimacy these other two records are lacking and a number of new songs exclusive to this set that are the equal of almost any of his others. Nils is an amazing player on electric guitar but on acoustic you can hear his playing so much better and with the show a solo one for most of it, there’s far more emphasis on the excellent material rather than showmanship. The only trouble is that, like many an acoustic set, after 75 odd minutes the songs all began to sound a bit the same and there’s some strange songs included along with the ones you’d expect and want to hear. To bed honest I haven’t played this album half as much as I thought I would as that samey-sound rather puts me off. However, as ever with Lofgren on even his worst records, there are plenty of highlights. The oddball tearjerker ‘Little On Up, encouraging an orphaned girl to carry on, is about the best of the new songs although it’s the nicely bare-boned versions of the classic ‘Black Books’ (from our AAA classic album ‘Damaged Goods’ ), the unsung utopian classic singalong ‘Wonderland’ and the all-out classic‘Sticks and Stones’ that are the most rewarding songs
‘Summer 1967’ (released 1988) is sadly the only example from a band that were undeniably raw and unpolished but nevertheless exciting. After hearing all the ‘pre-fabricated, couldn’t-really-play’ stories you’d expect the only Monkees live album from one of only two tours to be awful. Certainly the sound is pretty ropey, even with a lot of cleaning up going on from record label Rhino, Micky Dolenz is clearly not a natural drummer (again, why didn’t they give the job to Davy, who has a much better sense of rhythm?) and some of the song choice is questionable (‘Auntie Grizelda’? I know they had to give Peter Tork some song to sing but – ‘Auntie Grizelda’?!?!?) But despite these problems, this record is unexpectedly good. The playing is never less than committed and on some songs the band know really well – notably the Nesmith ones – the playing is as good as with any other 60s band. Some of the recordings here even come close to trumping the originals, such as a straining-at-the-leash ‘I Wanna Be Free’, a confident ‘You Just May Be The One’ and a psychedelic ‘freak out’ extended version of ‘Steppin’ Stone’. And the song patter is among the best on this list, especially Micky’s asides to the audience, fitting for a band who were natural comedians in their TV series. Alas the rare songs from the set – mainly the ‘solo spots’, only available on the nice but pricey limited edition 4 disc set ‘Monkees Live’ from Rhino Handmade – are missing from the more common release. Those who still harp on about The Monkees not being a ‘proper’ band need to hear this album – it might not change their mind completely, but it will give them cause to think otherwise.
Note – there is one other Monkees show available on DVD, ‘Live Summer Tour’ (2006) which was rumoured to be out on CD as well but I never saw it. The band are down to a trio (no Mike Nesmith this time around, though he did tour with the band in 1997, the tour that really should have been filmed for posterity) and on the positive side, Peter Tork is at long last in charge of the setlist, adding several rarer gems along with the expected hits. The Monkees are to some extent going through the motions here though and while not entirely horrible (there’s a nice version of ‘Can You Dig It?’ never heard live before and exclusive-to-Monkees versions of ‘Higher and Higher’ and a song from Davy’s time with the Brady Bunch). The definitve Monkees live recording is, sadly, a one off – the version of ‘Circle Sky’ taped specially for inclusion in the film ‘Head’ and then mysteriously missed off the soundtrack LP, a terrific grungy performance of one of the band’s better rockers.
‘Live At The Britt Festival’ (recorded 1992, released 1999) is a typically understated and mainly acoustic set taken from Nesmith’s solo career with only ‘Papa Gene’s Blues’ thrown in for Monkees fans. Almost half this double-set comes from Papa Nes’ then-contemporary album ‘Tropical Campfires’, an odd little album that’s among the most lyrically complex and yet melodically simple albums by any AAA member. ‘Laugh Kills Lonesome’, one of the weirdest songs here, is probably the highlight of the ‘new’ songs along with the postmodern ‘I Am Not That’, although it’s moving versions of 1970s classics ‘Propinquity’ and ‘Two Different Roads’ that are the real highlights. Nesmith announced these shows as his last musical contribution to the world (an announcement he’s broken only once with a soundtrack CD in 2000) and if so then they’re a fine send-off, although sadly there’s nothing from ‘The Prison’ or ‘The Garden’ here and in fact not any of Nesmith’s better known songs at all except for ‘Rio’. 6/10.
‘Caught Live Plus Five’ (recorded 1969, released 1977) was an archive release from Decca who clearly feared that one of their biggest cash cows really had split up for good in 1973. We know now, of course, that the split was merely temporary – the band get together again the following year – but it was good to hear this album at the time after such a long gap permeated by only Moodies solo records. This record sounds rather less welcome nowadays, thanks to a rather primitive sound and the fact that the perfectionist Moodies were never going to be able to recreate their thoughtful recordings live. Too much of this album (a double set, albeit with a 4th side of vinyl dedicated to some surprisingly strong outtakes) sounds under-rehearsed and tentative, although some tracks (notably the less serious songs such as ‘Peak Hour’ ‘Ride My Seesaw’ and ‘Dr Livingstone, I Presume’) do work well, with a kick that makes them different enough to the originals and pleasing in their own right. Alas, ‘Nights In White Satin’ sounds truly awful here, with Justin Hayward struggling to play the tricky guitar part and sing at the same time and Mike Pinder’s epic ‘Voyage/The Journey’ suite drags far more than it did on record. One for collectors only really, although its fun to note the differences in arrangements and the role each Moody plays in these stripped-down songs on stage. 4/10.
‘Live At Red Rocks’ (1992) is by contrast so slick that it’s all but robbed of the humanity and interest of ‘Caught Live’. The big talking point at the time was that the band were back working with an orchestra for the first time since ‘Days Of Future Passed’, an album which naturally dominates the setlist, but if so then hurrah for the band abandoning the idea in 1968 and working with a mellotron – the arrangements here make the songs sound far too ‘heavy’, often dragging them down under a weight of melodrama the songs don’t need. The singing is excellent throughout, with Hayward and John Lodge now firmly in control of proceedings and there’s nothing really bad about this album, with a particularly sweet version of ‘Tuesday Afternoon’ and Ray Thomas’ rare and lovely ‘For My Lady’ to enjoy. There’s nothing here that comes close to the originals, however, and the then-new songs from the worst Moodies album ‘Keys To The Kingdom’ really drags the setlist down. Amazingly, on the 10th anniversary of the show in 2001, the band put out a deluxe edition of this album which is, scarily, even worse. 3/10.
There are two DVD live sets around as well – ‘Live At Montreaux’ (1991) and ‘Lovely To See You Live’ (2005) – which aren’t available on CD. None of the performances will ever win any awards but I was impressed by the slightly tweaked setlist on ‘Lovely’ which offers an all but perfect balance between old hits, old album favourites and new tracks.
‘Familiar To Millions’ (2000) is exactly the sort of arena-filling huge-sounding wall of noise you’d expect from an Oasis live album, whether you’ve bought the original double CD set or the later single one. Whilst none of these songs are all that different from their original versions, there is lots of atmosphere on these discs and some intriguing band banter (in amongst the swearing!) and a good balance between the hits and some unusual songs which are nearly all the best ones here (a quite scary version of the then-new song ‘Gas Panic!’ in particular, although Liam’s on –stage comments suggest the audience don’t like it much amidst all the back-slapping bonhomie of the other songs here; a shining ‘Champagne Supernova’ is the other highlight). There are two exclusive cover versions here, both sung by Noel Gallagher, which are both of interest to AAA readers: The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ which is rather more melodic than expected though it still ends in a familiar burst of feedback and Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey My My’ which is suitably nostalgic and head-hanging. No substitute for the studio records, but enjoyable nevertheless. 6/10.
There are two further Oasis concerts available on DVD but not CD: ‘Live By The Sea’ (1995) which is a fascinatingly early gig which only goes up to the very earliest songs written for the ‘Morning Glory’ album including plenty of rare and excellent B-sides and where the band are genuinely enjoying playing together and ‘There And Then’ (1996), a slightly more generic gig from Earl’s Court which is a bit more jaded but nevertheless quite enjoyable. The best Oasis gig of all – the band’s 1996 ‘Unplugged’ set with Noel depping for brother Liam at the last minute, is sadly still missing from the official Oasis discography.
I must admit that Pentangle is the one band on this list whose live albums have passed me by. The band’s third album ‘Sweet Child’ is another of those half-studio, half-live double album hybrids we see so often on this list and I do know some of the live songs, though only from a compilation. They sound oddly retro, actually, far closer in style to the pre-war period than anything from the 1970s and not really in keeping with the traditional-made-to-sound-contemporary feel of their studio records. That may be an unfair assessment, however, as I haven’t heard them all.
Take your pick from a 1970s full playing set with four songs (!) and two double CD sets from the 80s and 90s.
‘Ummagumma’ (1971): It’s strange to think that the Floyd’s huge reputation for live show spectacle rests, for people like me who were born too late to see the band live in their heyday, on a curious studio/live set and a DVD recorded in some ancient ruins. ‘Ummagumma’ is a truly off-the-wall album even for the Floyd, with a suite of mainly instrumental songs from each band member (including drummer Nick mason who had not former credit to his name), a selection of tape loops masquerading as a song and a live set made up of only four tracks, none of which lasted in the band’s setlist past the following year. Yet the live half of ‘Ummagumma’ is exciting on its own terms, showing both how well David Gilmour could mimic his predecessor Syd Barrett in concert and how different the Floyd’s cavernous sound was to anything else around at the time. Had the band put a full concert on here and made it a double this could have been a great record – as it is, any set that takes up 13 minutes with an unlistenable version of the unlistenable ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ – a full third of this CD’s 39 minute running time - is asking for trouble. The other tracks are luckily much better, with an extended version of ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ and a rare reading of the psychedelic extravaganza ‘Astronomy Domine’ the highlights. 6/10.
‘Is There Anybody Out There? – The Wall Live’ (recorded 1979/1980, released 1999): I’m going to be controversial here and say I prefer these live recordings of The Wall live show far more than I do the album. Of course I miss the original’s production touches – the steel guitar on the title track, the children’s choir on ‘Another Brick Part 2’ and the sheer range of cacophonous sound effects on ‘Run Like Hell’. But these live shows add the witty opening (this show was a spoof of all big live shows and opens with the MC and his list of rules being drowned by a band who – shock horror – turn out to be a bunch of substitutes miming to the Floyd), the lost-at-the-last-minute song ‘What Shall We Do Now?’ which is far superior to its replacement ‘Empty Spaces’, a funky suite of riffs and melodies from the album added to the set in case the stage-hands building a wall across the stage hadn’t finished on time at the end of the first half and best of all this sounds like a band album, not just Roger Waters and a bunch of session musicians mimicking the Floyd sound. This more an album for collectors than casual fans – who will only recognise two or three out of all these 30 songs - but it’s an excellent addition to our Floyd CD shelves. And the music is, of course, stunning for the most part – see review no 76 for why. 8/10.
‘Delicate Sound Of Thunder’ (1988) reveals everything that’s awful about the later Gilmour-led Floyd. Nick Mason’s distinctive drumming is drowned out by everything else going on here, Rick Wright’s distinctive keyboard playing is drowned out by all the other synths on stage and neither Gilmour’s voice or Guy Pratt’s bass work can substitute for Roger Waters. Having said that, I have a lot of sympathy with the tour this live album was taken from. When Waters quit the band he basically said the others would never work again and Gilmour and Mason put a great deal of money on the line to re-launch themselves, despite their shattered confidence after several years playing second fiddle to their increasingly dominant bassist. It’s only fair that the ‘Threesome Floyd’ should try to regain some of their money back again – and yet there’s nothing here that’s at all inventive or pioneering enough to let me recommend the work. There are too many songs from the then-current album ‘Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ that sound identical right down to the last note and of these songs only ‘Sorrow’ is a worthy addition to the Floyd canon anyway. The second ‘hits’ CD is even worse, with a truly limp version of the band’s hardest-hitting song ‘One Of These Days’ quite mind-numbing version of ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ that treats the whole thing as a singalong! Also, I’m amazed the Floyd let through an edit where someone accidentally starts the tape for the ringing alarms of ‘Time’ causing the audience to cheer and then fall silent as they realise its all a big mistake and they’ve got to sit through another ‘Momentary Lapse’ song instead. Depressingly ordinary for a band of such talents. 1/10.
‘Pulse’ (1995) only improves matters slightly. True, ‘The Division Bell’ (1994) is a much more deserving album to plug and some of these new songs suit the stage well (especially ‘What Do You Want From Me?’) But a revival of the complete ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ merely shows up how glossy and perfectly produced that album was – these live performances are pretty dire by comparison. Taking up 50 minutes of the second disc also doesn’t leave much room for rarer songs in the setlist (alas the band attempted ‘Echoes’ but left it off the album), the only thing in ‘Thunder’s’ favour. On the plus side, though, the packaging is a huge improvement – Hipgnosis’ much lauded cover in 1988 always seemed too tacky and obvious to me (lightbulbs and birds wings on a coat – hmmm), but this 1995 cover with its pulsing rhythmic lights really is a pretty good interpretation of the spectacle of a Floyd live show. 3/10.
Note – the best live Floyd recording of all is the superlative ‘Live In Pompeii’, an absolute must for any self-respecting collector with the band playing to camera crews rather than an audience, with a staggering set list played with absolute telepathy in the eerie cavernous ruins of Pompeii. All the performances here are staggering – well, give or take the howling dog instrumental ‘Seamus’ anyway – and there’s lots of footage of the Floyd working on their ‘new’ album at Abbey Road to boot (an album that just happened to be ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’!) If only the band had released a soundtrack CD I’d have no hesitation in giving it 10/10.
‘Live At Gdansk’ (2008) is a Polish show which will, in years to come, be remembered more for being Rick Wright’s last performance than for any musical merits. But compared to the horrors above, Gilmour has learned his lesson here – the modern Floyd songs have been trimmed down to just the excellent ‘High Hopes’, there are rare favourites like ‘Fat Old Sun’ back in the setlist (this album’s greatest highlight) and a cooperative and supportive band who seem to have much more leeway in branching out onto limbs in time-old Floyd fashion than the rigid arrangements of the 80s and 90s. Not everything works – ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is a poor substitute for the record and Gilmour still sounds uncomfortable when taking Waters’ lines as on songs like ‘Comfortably Numb’– but there are more things to applaud than criticise here, with Rick’s occasional vocal cameos the other highlights of the record. 7/10. There are two other excellent Gilmour concerts around, ‘Live’ (1998) and ‘Remember That Night’ (2007, with AAA men David Crosby and Graham Nash guesting!), along with a third from the mid-80s that’s sadly as rare as a Floyd reunion gig nowadays. None are out on CD which is a shame because the first has several rare songs and covers that are truly lovely (especially the Richard Thompson cover) and the second has some lovely rearrangements, such as giving half of ‘Comfortably Numb’ over to either Rick or the Soft Machine’s Robert Wyatt and some typically magical Crosby-Nash harmonies on ‘On An Island’ and ‘Crazy Diamond’.
‘In The Flesh’ (2000): You have to pity Roger Waters. Whatever the shenanigans of the Floyd reunion, it ends up with the cold hard fact that Roger wrote most of the band’s best known songs not usually for himself but for David Gilmour to sing. Roger tries hard to recapture ‘his’ songs here but his vocal talents can’t match his old partners and in places this album is a worse travesty than ‘Delicate Sound’ or ‘Pulse’. Yet we have to give full marks to whoever chose the running order, as the songs on this 2CD set fit together much better than on any of Gilmour’s and the presence of Roger’s best solo work (especially the superlative ‘Amused To Death’ suite) is the perfect balance to the Floyd classics. The one exclusive track, ‘Each New Candle’ is also one of the best things here, although on the negative side there’s a version of the Floyd’s second longest song ‘Dogs’ which even beats the original for pointless soloing (no wonder the band stop for a game of cards during the solo!) 7/10.
There is also a CD of Waters’ all-star charity event ‘The Wall’ staged at the ‘Berlin Wall’. A great idea on paper but the list of stars is excruciating and the worst fit for an album since The Who re-cast ‘Tommy’ – had the Spice Girls been around at the time they’d no doubt have ended up on the album as well!
There are lots of Otis Redding live albums from after the singer’s sad death in 1968, but none of them were officially sanctioned by Otis or released in his lifetime. Alas I only own one of these but what a one to own – ‘Monterey’ (recorded June 1967, released 1971) a double set with Jimi Hendrix’s guitar-burning act) is the best place to hear Otis who simply takes over the stage when he arrives and doesn’t let the audience go to the end. All of the Redding songs you’d expect are hear (though he hadn’t written ‘Dock Of The Bay’ yet) and for the most part they’re even more exciting and energetic than the originals! The only downside is the short playing time – after all, it wasn’t only Otis playing at this show (although arguably it’s his performance that’s best remembered...) 9/10.
There are blooming hundreds of Stones live CDs out there and yet none of them quite hit the spot for the modern collector. There’s nothing around from the band’s classic 1971-73 period, for instance, and apart from the woefully raw and unpolished first set the rest are far too slick and by-numbers for what we know this band is capable of.
‘Got Live If You Want It’ (recorded September-October and released December 1966) is one of those LPs like The Beatles’ ‘Hollywood Bowl’, The Beach Boys’ ‘Concert’ and The Kinks’ ‘Kelvin Hall’ that’s of huge interest to the collector but will sound like absolute rubbish to everybody else. The recording techniques to record this album were primitive in the extreme, with the audience far louder than the band and the whole album smacks of money-making desperation (infamously, this album features two outtakes dubbed with crowd ‘noise’ to sound like they are live and manually slow the tape of the show in order to recreate the strange opening to ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?’!) Yet despite everything working against it, this album is probably my favourite Stones LP with a charisma and attitude missing from the later sets and some fine, rare material with Brian Jones back to his proper place as the semi-leader of the Stones. ‘Fortune Teller’ is my favourite of almost all the Stones recordings – even with erroneous crowd noises – and the always enticing ‘Lady Jane’ sounds especially fine here. So two fine reasons to buy the album – it’s just a shame about the rest! 7/10.
‘Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus’ (recorded December 1968, released 1996) is an archive release of a TV special the band recorded but never screened due to either a) shock at their performance or b) because they were blown off the stage by The Who, depending on what you read. Certainly the Stones sound tired, having been up 24 hours as comperes to the other guests by the time they hit the stage for their delayed set and The Who are on blistering form with their ‘A Quick One’ mini-opera. But I like The Stones’ short six song set, which features the best songs of the 1968-69 period, especially a slowed down version of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ (although, alas, on CD you don’t get to see the hilarious moment where Jagger pulls off his shirt to reveal his devil tattoo, only to find the ink has run and made it unrecognisable). Brian Jones’ exquisite slide guitar on ‘No Expectations’ is also a fine place for the band’s founder to say goodbye. 8/10.
‘Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!’ (September 1970) used to be an especially well regarded album, but its reputation has slipped in recent years as its uneasy mix of early rockabilly and later swamp rock and some particularly badly dated songs (such as the rape-praising ‘Midnight Rambler’ and the under-age sex song ‘Stray Cat Blues’) help it to come unglued. The Stones play well on this set – amazingly so considering it’s their first big tour in three years what with Brian Jones’ decline and Mick Taylor only recently joining the band. Some of the recordings here sound mighty fine too – ‘Live With Me’ is far better than on ‘Let It Bleed’ for instance and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ sounds suitably seductive and hypnotic. But all in all there’s a definite something lacking from what used to be called the best live album by the world’s best live act. 6/10.
‘Love You Live’ (September 1977) was only ever released because it looked like Keith Richards’ drugs bust in Canada might well see the end of the Stones as a touring band or at least delay them for quite a few years and it seemed a fine souvenir of what the world might have been missing in the late 70s. Luckily for fans but unluckily for this record, that prison sentence never happened and instead this record is left as the first live blot on the band’s discography. The album starts off badly with the recorded tape playing back the ‘Fanfare Of The Common Man’ - all very well for the people actually at the show but it seems a bit pointless to put on the record – and goes downhill from there. The band, now with Ronnie Wood on second guitar, sound tired throughout and the gig only intermittently takes off, particularly on the four 1950s cover songs recorded at the El Mocambo Club. Amazingly, worse is still to come. 2/10.
‘Still Life’ (June 1982) repeats all the mistakes of the predecessor (a pointless recording to open the show – this time it’s ‘Take The A Train’; poor song choice; a real drained performance) without that album’s side-long excursion into the blues clubs that gave the band its original sound. Only ‘Just My Imagination’ and an unexpected return to the setlist for the sweet ballad ‘Time Is On MY Side’ cut through the mess. 1/10.
‘Flashpoint’ (1991) is a much more substantial live recording from the band’s ‘Urban Jungle’ tour. The result is probably an improvement on the last two live albums but it’s hardly an essential performance. The band are still sloppy and the set list is still tilted too far in favour of the hits we’ve heard hundreds of times before, yet the Stones do sound more committed than before and if you have to sit through yet another poor version of ‘Satisfaction’ or ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ then you’re best going here rather than anywhere else. Nice to see ‘Little Red Rooster’ and ‘Ruby Tuesday’ back in the setlist too, although the new performance doesn’t do either song any favours. As for the new songs, I can’t even remember them despite having just played this album – they’re totally anonymous, like many a modern Stones recording (although the album the Stones are touring with here. ‘Steel Wheels’ is the best in a very long time). 3/10.
‘Stripped’ (November 1995): I was mighty pleased that The Stones were at least doing something different with their (gulp) sixth live album and I was even more pleased when I glanced at the back cover and saw some unusual songs amongst the running order. However, that’s where my excitement ended – the band sound even more disinterested than normal throughout and they might have done better by sticking faithfully to some ‘unplugged’ performances instead of going for this uncomfortable ‘halfway house’ between acoustic and electric. ‘Spider And The Fly’, a delightful B-side from the mid-60s with a great update from ‘flirty, dirty, she looked about 30’ to ‘nifty, thrifty, she looked about 60’, is the best thing on the record. 4/10.
‘No Security’ (November 1998): Enough already! The only difference really between this and the previous electric live albums is the addition of several tracks (including many of the better ones, thankfully) from the ‘Bridges To Babylon’ album the same year. ‘Saint Of Me’ from that album is probably the best thing here, although a welcome return for ‘Sister Morphine’ cuts it close. Still, though, you’d have to be pretty committed or daft or both to buy this album as well as all the others (I bought mine in a £1 sale, honest!) 3/10.
‘Live Licks’ (November 2004): Even I can’t stomach the thought of owning nine Stones albums so I haven’t actually bought this two CD set yet. The biggest innovation is sticking all the hits on the first disc and leaving the second one free for rarities – including an exclusive-to-this-set cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘The Nearness Of You’ and the excellent ‘Can’t You Hear Me Rocking?’ is one track I’d love to here, being built for freeform jamming of which the Stones, occasionally, excel.
There is no Searchers live album as such (which is a shame given the tibits thaqt have come out over the years), although an honorary mention here for the ‘Iron Door Sessions’ (the Searchers’ equivalent of the Beatles’ ‘Decca Audition Tapes’ which is live-in-the-studio and historically fascinating if not as tight and enjoyable as the records), ‘The Searchers’ Sweden Sessions’ (taped live before an audience in Sweden for radio broadcast and unexpectedly fantastic, especially the exclusive cover songs like ‘Red Sails In The Sunset’ and a drop-dead amazing take on Ray Charles’ ‘What’d I Say?’) and a handful of so-so recordings from early 1963 and late 1964 that appeared on the ‘40th Anniversary’ compilation.
‘The Concert In Central Park’ (1983) was a welcome release for many, with Simon and Garfunkel finally putting their acrimonious past behind them and uniting for a special one-off show (although things became nasty when this gig turned into a tour later on...) The track selection is pretty much spot-on, with a fine mix of old singles and old album tracks well loved by fans along with some of the solo material that’s actually among the best here (it’s fun to hear Art’s harmonies on tracks like ‘Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard’ ‘American Tune’ ‘Slip Slidin’ Away’ and ‘Kodochrome’, as if we’re in a parallel world where Paul wrote the same songs as he did in the 70s but gave them to Arty to sing). Alas, Art seems to have been given short shrift here, with only two Simon and Garfunkel-era vocal to his credit (‘April Come She Will’ and, of course, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ along with just one solo track – it would have been fun hearing Paul Simon’s harmonies on Art’s better tracks like ‘I Believe’ and ‘Bright Eyes’. It’s almost as if Paul, still reeling from the pair’s breakup, is asserting his authority over the partnership all over again, often leaving Art on stage with nothing to do . The pair do have some sort of a bond, however, otherwise they could hardly have got the spine-tingling harmonies on ‘Sounds Of Silence’ or ‘The Boxer’ spot on. And if only the pair had included their three genuine partnerships during the interim period between the breakup in 1970 and 1983: ‘My Little Town’ ‘Mary Was An Only Child’ and ‘What A Wonderful World’, all three tracks highlights of the pair’s back catalogue. Perhaps the greatest moment, however, is the tribute to John Lennon, ‘The Late Great Johnny Ace’, sadly missing from first pressings of the album, performed less than a mile away from where the Beatle was killed three years before – interrupted, alarmingly, by a member of the audience climbing up on stage to talk to a frightened looking Paul (who is never the same for the rest of the set and notably drops the song from his set list after just this one performance). Still, despite the flaws, this is a strong and value-for-money release, with a running time of almost 90 minutes. 7/10.
‘Old Friends – Live On Stage’ (2004) finds the duo much much happier and far more comfortable with each other (even to the point of adding genuinely witty banter about ‘the breakup’ and the reasons behind it, such as Art wanting to call the act ‘Garfunkel and Simon’!), but alas the pair are that much older and that much more, well, fragile than they used to be. The soaring harmonies that were present even as recently as the 1983 reunion above are long gone by the 00s and the backing band is often out-of-tune or simply playing completely the wrong part for each song. The one new track here – exclusive to the set – is lovely but is actually a cheat because it dates back to 1983 and the intended reunion of the duo on what became Paul Simon’s solo album ‘Hearts and Bones’, an impressively early ecological statement about looking after mother earth and each other. It’s by far the best thing here, even with the presence of the classic tracks, although the other highlights are a fantastic return to the pair’s roots as 15-year-olds on ‘Hey Schoolgirl’ and Simon’s moving goodbye to Garfunkel on ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’, sung face to face albeit 34 years too late! 3/10.
Note – there is also a more recent CD featuring a complete Simon and Garfunkel performance from New York in 1967, but try as I might I haven’t come across that one yet – the set list is acoustic apparently, which would make a nice contrast to the above two sets, although it didn’t receive particularly glowing reviews at the time. More Simon and Grafunkel tracks available include the box set ‘Old Friends’ which adds three mini-concerts from 1967, 68 and 69, with the first by far the best, containing the rare song ‘Red Rubber Ball’, a chilling version of ‘A Church Is Burning’ and lots of fascinating chat between the pair of singers. The only other exclusive songs are a rather boring cover of the Everly Brothers record ‘That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine’ and a 30-second long version of the 1950s juvenile but fun number ‘Black Slacks’. Oh and there’s also a six-song version of the pair’s Monterey performance doing the rounds, although sadly only part of it is on the Monterey DVD box. The duo are on great form, even if Paul Simon’s monologues suggest he’s joining in the hippie mayhem and enjoying an illegal something-or-other...(perhaps the fresh air or the pressure of helping to run the three-day event got to him? Certainly it’s one of the stranger S and G concerts around!)
‘Live Rhymin’ (March 1974) is a typically understated concert that works best when Paul sits, alone, with his acoustic and his voice – the audience is so quiet and respectful you can hear a pin drop and at last the emphasis of the songs is placed on their greatest aspect: the words. Few people can turn a phrase like Paul Simon and this album is a good example of that, containing pretty much all the best lyrical songs Paul had written up to that time. Things go downhill when the gospel-tinged band join in, especially when they fill up five precious minutes of what is quite a short record with a song of their own. But everything comes right on a gorgeous church-like rendition of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ which takes the song right back to it’s gospel roots. Many fans don’t like it and think it sacrilege but, seeing as Paul can’t sing like Arty did, this is the best compromise, a marvellous re-reading of something we’ve heard so many times its like hearing ‘Bridge’ anew hearing it like this. There’s also a new last verse on ‘The Boxer’ which Paul added in 1972 when he started playing it in concert and first heard here, ending: ‘After changes upon changes we are more or less the same’. The other live tracks here can’t compete with Paul Simon’s records though and his songs don’t all suit the live stage as well as most on this list. 6/10.
‘A Concert In Central Park’ (1991) is better still, a double disc set featuring many tracks from Paul’s best modern-day album ‘Rhythm Of The Saints’ (an AAA classic after all), past gems from albums like ‘One Trick Pony and Hearts and Bones’ (AAA albums both) which usually get short shrift and the choice songs from Paul’s early solo career (like AAA album ‘Rhymin’ Simon’!) The band are joined by several Brazilian drummers who re-create their percussion which made ‘Rhythm’ so memorable and the band, whilst faithful to the originals for the most part, get the chance to add their own touches to the originals when appropriate (such as the five-minute closing instrumental tacked onto the end of ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of her Shoes’.). In all this one of my favourite records, with Paul clearly enjoying himself at the head of this multi-cultural and multi-national ban, although its a last encore of ‘Sound Of Silence’, with the singer alone with his guitar, that is the album’s highlight, closely followe3d by a riveting ‘Cool Cool River’ from ‘Rhythm’ which is full of life and power in contrast to the deliberately subdued original. If only Art was there on this concert instead of the 1983 gig it would have been perfect! 9/10.
‘The Best Of Art Garfunkel – Travels Across America’ (recorded and first released 1996, but re-released many more times over the years) is, alas, a terrible record, full of clichéd arrangements and lacking the bite that Simon and Garfunkel and indeed Arty’s solo records possess. All of the classic S and G material sounds like it’s been covered karaoke-style, while the occasional guest appearances – especially a toe-curling duet on ‘Feelin’ Groovy’ with son James – are excruciatingly awful (James Taylor doesn’t sound a lot better, though, to be honest, at least Art’s son has an excuse!) To be fair, Art’s singing is quite often as magical as ever, especially when the awful backing band shut up and actually let him sing, and the record takes off on the most unexpected places, most notably a cover of one of the few Lennon/McCartney songs hardly anybody knows ‘I Will’. Still, Art can do so much better than this truly awful record. 1/10.
There sadly never was a live Small faces record – the band were together just four years, after all, and recorded just five LPs – but there are a few live recordings on the posthumous release ‘Autumn Stone’ (1968) (AAA classic album 28, no less). A fuller set, adding two new tracks, appeared on the hard to find eponymous Small Faces box set (sometime circa 1990). These 1968 recordings are as roughly recorded as all of the early Beach Boys/Beatles/Kinks/Stones albums we’ve been moaning about, but they do catch the band on a particularly good night. Steve Marriott’s vocals were never finer and – especially on ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ with its wailed coda of pain and hurt – he simply cuts through all the audience noise and owns the stage. Well worth seeking out by any Small Faces fan, assuming you can find them anywhere (even ‘Autumn Stone’ is hard to come by these days and the otherwise excellent ‘Whapping Wharf Launderette’ Anthology is missing all of them).
‘Majikat’ (recorded 1976, released 2004) is a pretty good and pretty comprehensive concert, professionally recorded on cat’s one and only major tour of his ‘second’ career (ie one after his TB illness and not a tour made up of an odd date fixed here and there between recording dates). It’s a mystery why this recording never came out at the end of the 1970s when Cat and label Island were clearly pleased to be shot of each other following falling sales and Cat’s conversion to Islam. Not many of the songs are that different from their studio versions and Cat’s in-between-songs patter is a little bit weird (he announces ‘Peace Train’ by claiming he wrote it while ‘thinking about Alfred Hitchcock’s chin’, for instance), but most of the songs you’d want are here along with a few more you might not know but are the true hidden gems of Cat’s back catalogue (such as ‘Buddha And The Chocolate Box’s ‘Sun/C79’ and ‘King Of Trees’ and Numbers’ ‘Majik Of Majiks’). The backing band – who by and large are the same men who worked on all cat’s albums of the 70s – are also a wonderful bunch, especially guitarist and unsung hero Alun Davies, and it’s fascinating being able to watch the band making their distinctive sound up close. The highlight, though, is a surprising one: ‘Lady D’arbanville’ didn’t quite come off on record but its sounds amazing here, with Cat showing off his full range from intimate whisper to anguished cry by the song’s end. There are two exclusive or at least rare songs on this set – an opening instrumental that doesn’t add an awful lot to be honest as Cat hasn’t even made it onto the stage by this time according to the DVD and the rare single ‘Two Fine People’ long ago relegated to a deleted hits album. The song is a close cousin of ‘Hard Headed Woman’ though not quite as good, although it’s far better than its obscure history suggests. Only the ever-present but unfathomable ‘Banapple Gas’ seems like a strange choice... Note – this show is also available on DVD, although another video release – ‘Tea For The Tillerman Live’ (recorded 1971, released 1988) which, confusingly, isn’t actually completely made up of songs from the album – hasn’t yet been re-issued. 8/10.
‘Live and Let Live’ (1978): Sadly there is no concert of the ‘classic’ Godley and Creme line-up at work (although footage of a BBC In Concert set from 1972 exists). However, I’ve always enjoyed the later 10cc records far more than most and this new-look six piece are clearly aiming high on this record, with the newer members getting vocals of their own – even Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldmann’s at times (such as a misguided ‘Art For Art’s Sake’ with keyboardist Duncan O’Malley on lead). Like many a live album on this list, its the obscurer tracks that fare the best, with a delightful version of the first 10cc B-side ‘Waterfalls’ with a staggering Eric Stewart guitar solo, a multi-part free-form version of ‘Ships Don’t Just Disappear In the Night’ and a raucous ‘Second Sitting For The last Supper’ the best here, all three very different to their original versions. The banter is pretty good too: ‘That’s definitely going on the record’ quips Graham Gouldmann after one particularly tight track, whilst ‘I love you all, yes even you with the big mouth’ is said by Eric at one point to a particularly vocal fan! Some of the classic hit singles sound bland by comparison while there are simply too many ordinary songs from the rather less than exciting album ‘Deceptive Bends’ to sit through. Interestingly, too, ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ is missing from the line-up although it was written early on in this tour (as indeed was most of AAA classic album no 73 ‘Bloody Tourists’). Still, all in all, this is a good if not always great gig and you have to sympathise with Eric when he says ‘I think the roof just came off – yes, look, I can see the stars!’ 7/10.
‘Live In Concert Volumes 1 and 2’ are both, alas, so much worse it’s hard to believe it’s the same band – well, 3/6ths the same band at any rate. The trouble is, like the studio reunion LPs, the band are here for legal reasons, not because they have anything new to say, and watching the DVD of this show must be one of the dullest experiences of my life (a shame, as I saw 2/3rds of this line-up a couple of years later and they were quite good). There are good points however – the return to the set list of classic singles ‘Rubber Bullets’ ‘Silly Love’ and ‘Life Of Minestrone’ are very welcome (even as part of a rushed ‘hits’ medley), the three truly unique choices for a John Lennon tribute (‘Across The Universe’ ‘Slow Down’ and, err, ‘Paperback Writer’) are well played and suit the band well, whilst new song ‘Shine A Light In The Dark’ is one of the very best songs of the whole set. All too often, though, the band seem to be playing by numbers – and this latest version of the epic ‘Feel The Benefit’ seems like an even tougher experience this time round. Still, I picked my copy of this set up cheap – and the CDs were pretty low budget even at their peak – so I can’t complain too much. 4/10.
‘Live At Leeds’ (1970): Ahh, The ‘Orrible ‘Oo. Live act extraordinaire and the most telepathic and improvised act of this list, going to new places night after night. Or at least that’s how they sound throughout this superb set (covered in more detail as AAA classic album 33) – the other later CDs are a case of diminishing returns but this gig is the point where the live album comes of age, with both performances and recording levels at their peak. The original album was only 40 minutes long and that was pretty special, but the best thing about owning either the 75 minute or 140 minute deluxe version is this show’s consistency; The Who don’t hit peaks and troughs as much as reach perfection early and stay there. Many of the Who’s gigs around on bootleg and officially are cases of ‘you really had to be there’ to take in the spectacle of Roger Daltrey twirling his microphone, Pete Townshend twirling his arms and Keith Moon twirling everything in a mile radius of his drumkit. Not this set which gets by on sheer noise, talent and willpower, extending into several magnificent variations on songs we know and love and adding fairly rare but well loved tracks like ‘Tattoo’ and ‘I’m A Boy’. We’ve been rude about the record of ‘Tommy’ elsewhere on this site, the most poorly realised and produced of all Townshend’s great concept albums, but it sounds magnificent in concert on the ‘deluxe’ version, with all of the gauche and awkward passages taken out and the formerly lifeless songs turned into an unbelievable 60-minute high. The highlight of the ‘Tommy’ set is a jaw-dropping ‘Amazing Journey > Sparks’ which defies description in its sharp rises upward and devastating plunges downward (that’s defies description’ even though we’ve commented on it on this list three times now!), the highlight of the full-CD length version is a storming ‘Heaven and Hell’ and the best of the original vinyl version an amazing free-flight version of ‘My Generation’ which veers sideways into several songs from ‘Tommy’ and some quite ridiculous virtuoso improvising from Townshend on a particularly hot night. There are absolutely no poor tracks on any version of this album, with even the lesser Who moments transformed into rock powerhouses by the new rocky arrangements and two exclusive cover versions never released on a studio LP by the band: ‘Young Man Blues’ and ‘Summertime Blues’, both essential to The Who’s canon. The only album on this list to get a full 10/10 marks.
‘Isle Of Wight’ (recorded 1971, released 1996): This belated issue is surprisingly the only archive Who CD release in all the years since 1982 when the band split up and – even though its far to similar though not quite as good as ‘Live At Leeds’ – its nevertheless a very welcome opportunity to study The Who’s peak live years in greater detail. ‘Tommy’ is the greatest casualty in this era, with the band plainly tiring of it already a year on from its live debut (and that’s a shame because it takes up over half the running time of these two CDs!), although there’s nothing wrong with their other performances here. The highlight here is an elongated ‘Magic Bus’ – yes the ‘Leeds’ version was pretty special but this later improvisation goes in quite a different direction and is such as interesting to Who fans and the rare B-side ‘I Don’t Even Know Myself’ which is a pretty spiffing update of ‘I Can’t Explain’. Annoyingly, the set is split so that you have to change CDs right in the middle of ‘Tommy’ (they correct this in the film, strangely, where Tommy now ends the set). There is, however, one live medley unique to this release: ‘Shakin’ All Over’/’Spoonful’/’Twist And Shout’ which is right up there with the best Who covers with Roger on especially good form. You don’t really need this album if you’re a casual fan and you already own ‘Live At Leeds’, but then again any casual fan whose fallen in love with that album really does need this in their collection. Also available on DVD. 7/10.
‘The Kids Are Alright’ (recorded 1965-78, released 1979): This soundtrack to a Who film made up of concert and TV appearances over the years isn’t strictly a ‘live’ album, but kind of fits because 90% of it is live, so we’ve included it here for completists sake. By and large this set has some extraordinary material from the band’s early years (including a devastating version of ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ and the infamous version of ‘My Generation’ from the Smothers Brothers show where Keith Moon blows up his drumkit and sets alight to Townshend’s hair!), although it’s the two tracks specially recorded for the film and the last ever concert with the band’s explosive drummer that are the most moving and impressive (powerhouse versions of ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. Another mention too for the jaw-dropping reinvention of the rather dull ‘A Quick One’ mini-operas from the Rolling Stones’ Circus which shows off all sides of the band’s skills in its many parts, a million miles away from the poor original version from the album of the same name. The set drags in the middle – or at least it does chronologically, why can’t the CD compilers put these things in order?! – with some near-enough-to-the-original versions of ‘Tommy’ (‘Tommy Can You Hear Me’ is just the studio take with the final 10 seconds re-instated where they were cut from the record, for instance). Watch out too for early pressings of this album which had to cut a lengthy jam of ‘Join Together’, ‘Roadrunner’ and a truly oddball instrumental bluesy version of ‘My Generation’, although the slightly extended playing time of modern CDs mean its re-instated on the more modern pressings (and to be fair, if Polydor had to cut something then this formless jam is about the best choice). One for the collector only really, although there’s enough gems here to make it worth your while if you’re a mad passionate Whonatic. The film, incidentally, is far superior to this soundtrack CD as you get to see The Who in all their windmilling, chaotic glory. 5/10.
‘Who’s Last’ (recorded 1982, released 1984): Alas, this awful CD – commemorating the final ever Who show (well, it seemed that way at the time although there will be reunions for Live Air, a 1989 ‘Tommy’ tour, a 1992 ‘Quadrophenia’ tour, a 2005 Live 8 reunion and a pretty comprehensive tour programme between 2005 and 2007) is here simply to fill a record contract and make the band money as they might not be seeing any more for a while. Compare this back to back with ‘Leeds’ and the chasm is tremendous: fair enough, the band are 12 years older and they’re missing Keith Moon badly although Small Faces drummer Kenny Jones tries his best. But even with a similar set list, very much centred on early gems rather than new recordings, the band sounds horrid, lifeless and afraid to move out even slightly from their rigid arrangements, in complete contrast to the rule breaking of the early 70s. The only man to come out with any credit here is Jim Gorman, whose keyboard runs fill a hole in the sound where Keith Moon should be. Alas there’s nothing exclusive here for collectors bare a miserable version of ‘Twist and Shout’ with John Entwistle on lead and a suitably rocky re-arrangement of ‘Long Live Rock’ with a coda missing from the studio version. Entwistle’s financial difficulties are well known since his sad death a few years ago and is probably the reason any of the last batch of Who live CDs exist at all – but alas there’s no need to help The Ox nowadays and it’s best giving this depressingly ordinary album a miss. 2/10.
‘Join Together’ (recorded 1989, released 1990): This is where it really starts going wrong. On the 1989 stage tour even Pete was taken to telling reporters The Who as a band were really dead and they were only doing this tour for the money and alas it shows. While the DVD of the show works surprisingly well, once you’ve given up trying to work out who each band member is under all that big hair (it’s the first disc of the 3DVD ‘Tommy/Quadrophenia Live’ – why on earth wasn’t the band’s 1992 revival of ‘Quadrophenia’ released if they needed the money?!) this souvenir works rather less well, without the histrionics and stage set to keep you interested. Alas there are now two drummers filling in for Keith, Pete is so embarrassed about his years away from the stage that he sticks to playing acoustic rhythm guitar throughout and worst of all the troupe of female backing singers take away even the last ounce of integrity from this touring show. The only good point is the many songs exclusive to this set (done by The Who anyway), including the OK ‘Dig’ from an abandoned Townshend solo project and a few songs from Pete’s superb ‘Empty Glass’ album which sound pretty good compared to everything else and the title track itself, a semi-flop single and long neglected minor gem from 1972. 2/10.
‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ (2005) is a double CD set again mainly here to get The Ox out of a financial hole. The band have at least tried to make this show as different to ‘Who’s Last’ as they dare, inviting in guest stars such as AAA star Noel Gallagher to guest on certain tracks, which alas gives Roger less to do but does offer some intriguing glimpses into how Who songs sound done by other people. Ringo’s son Zak Starkey is also a much more suitable drummer for the band than Kenny Jones (note that’s suitable, not better – his work on The Small Faces catalogue is incredible) and very fitting too seeing as Keith Moon was his godfather (can you imagine having Keith Moon as your godfather – what does he do on your birthday, drive a Cadillac into a swimming pool for you?!) Alas, that’s about all of the good points to recommend, with this album another bland and unnecessary release which merely shows up how amazing ‘Live At Leeds’ is. Also available on DVD. 3/10.
‘The Las Vegas Job’ (2006) is yet another bland Who live album you don’t need. We fans realise how much the band, particularly John, needed our support but please – couldn’t you have bought up one of the many semi-official releases out there from the 1960s or 70s and released that instead?! Again, the usual suspects are here, again it’s well played and executed and might well seem pretty good from another band but after you’ve grown up with ‘Live At Leeds’ I can’t explain how disappointing this is.
Note – There’s a further Live DVD retrospective ’30 Years Of Maximum R and B’ (not to be confused with the box set of the same name) and ironically this would be the best Who live release by far (after ‘Leeds’ anyway) had they stuck it out on CD. Pretty much all the hits are here and well accounted for from various eras, but its the rarer songs – like a stunning version of ‘Music Must Change’ with a clearly ill Townshend completely losing himself in the solo and a terrific ‘Bell Boy’ with Keith trying to balance singing, playing the drums and holding onto his microphone all at once – that take the best honours here. There’s also a few songs on the box set (titled – wait for it – ’30 Years Of maximum R and B’, although only the Woodstock tracks are worth going out of your way to hear and self-respecting AAA fans already own plenty of Woodstock recordings already). The other oddity is the already-mentioned ‘Concert For Kampuchea’ double album set which has yet to appear on CD but does include a pretty good Who gig from 1979, with Kenney Jones at his best with the band and riveting versions of ‘Sister Disco’ and ‘Listening To You’. Finally, there is a 2008 DVD of a 1975 show but alas I haven’t managed to buy it yet despite it being one of my favourite years for The Who – this site will be updated if and when I do buy it.
‘Benefit For Maryville Academy’ (1999) is an unusually low-key acoustic live release that finds Pete Townshend re-inventing himself with aplomb. The benefit shows contained the magic banner ‘a man never stands as tall as when he stoops to help a child’ and that’s true of Pete here too – he never stands as tall as when he steps out on a limb like this. Instead of the usual live show we get some fascinating oddities including a rare version of ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ which is extended by several minutes, a funky ‘Drowned’ and no less than two versions of ‘Magic Bus’ which are some of the funniest Who-related recordings around, with Eddie Vedder from Pearl jam filling in for Roger Daltrey. There’s also some rare cover versions: ‘On The Road Again’ ‘Now and Then’ and ‘North Country Girl’, a traditional song seemingly covered by just about every AAA member. Unexpectedly excellent, with Pete revelling in the intimate surroundings after years of playing arenas with his day band, it’s just a shame this set wasn’t a better seller or around for longer, as not many fans seem to know about it. 8/10.
‘Sugar Mountain – Live At Canterbury House’ (recorded 1968, released 2009): This is Neil’s first ever solo gig, an intimate and poorly-attended event that is most famous for being where Neil recorded the version of ‘Sugar Mountain’, a popular song that used to be the B-sides of all his singles for a space of 18 months or so. I must admit I don’t own this album so I don’t know it really well (I can only afford two Neil Young albums a year – three or four is getting ridiculous!), but I have heard it after ‘borrowing’ a copy of Neil’s massive Archives set. I was actually fairly disappointed – Neil’s rambling between songs is usually the highlight of his gigs but not here where everything seems to be in-jokes and impenetrable even when you know what Neil might be talking about! Understandably, Neil doesn’t have many songs in his setlist yet and this gig is most interesting for hearing Neil reclaiming his Buffalo Springfield songs from that band’s vocalist Richie Furay. There’s nothing here that amazing, though, apart from a plaintive ‘Expecting To Fly’ with an inventive piano part subbing for the original’s gorgeous string arrangement. 4/10.
‘Live At The Fillmore’ (recorded 1970, released 2006): Yet another ‘archive’ release paving the way for Neil’s mammoth box set of last year, this set with a very young Crazy Horse was heralded as a revelation by many but bored me to tears I’m afraid. I’d been after a set featuring the late great Danny Whitten for years, but this set sticks religiously to the free-form jams already heard on the ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ record, with even the few oddities (such as an early version of not-released-till-1983 ‘Wonderin’ and an off-key version of the lovely unreleased-till-1977 ‘Winterlong’) not as exciting as they should be. The best thing here is Danny’s own song ‘Downtown’ – and even that sounds so minutely close to the version remixed and released on the Whitten tribute album ‘Tonight’s The Night’ that I’m tempted to think they’re one and the same. Only ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ itself is at all different or intriguing enough to want to know this album and even then its possibly the weakest track on the whole of that first Crazy Horse collaboration. Oddly disappointing and not the best place for Neil’s re-issue series to start. 3/10.
‘Live At Massey Hall’ (recorded 1972, released 2008): This double album set, planned by producer David Briggs as the follow-up to ‘After The Goldrush’ instead of ‘Harvest’, is by far the best of the three archive sets. Neil is on fine form, revelling in the new attention his solo career is getting and his piano playing, especially, is a revelation here – poetic and complex rather than the simple chords he often plays in later concerts. The tracklisting features all the Buffalo Springfield/CSNY/Crazy Horse/solo songs you’d expect to hear circa 1972 and many of them sound refreshingly different to their originals (such as the opening ‘On The Way Home’, a poppy ballad on album and a ragged harmony piece on ‘Four Way Street’ heard at its best here, plus a fiery version of the career highlight ‘Ohio’). The highlight is a fascinating medley of the under-rated ‘A Man Needs A Maid’ and ‘Heart Of Gold’ with Neil admitting that the line ‘I fell in love with the actress’ is true (he married academy-award winning actress Carrie Snodgrass not long before this gig), with the song honest and direct, without the smothering string arrangement of the album. There is one new song here is ‘Bad Fog Of Loneliness’ a song unreleased in studio form till the Archives box set and its a winning mix of vulnerability and Dylan-like stream of consciousness (it sounds better here than it did in the studio, too), along with the poppy ‘Dance Dance Dance’ given to Crazy Horse which isn’t exactly one of Neil’s better songs (he’ll re-write it as ‘Love Is A Rose’ for ‘Deacade’ in 1977). Not everything here works – many of the ‘Goldrush’ songs sound far too similar to the record – but in all, Neil deserved to get his first American #1 since ‘Harvest’ with this record. 7/10.
‘Time Fades Away’ is the first of Neil’s ‘doom trilogy’, recorded in the wake of ‘Harvest’s success but in the middle of a messy divorce and the death of Danny Whitten, not to mention a strike by the band members who had problems with the lack of money they were getting from such a big tour. Record label Reprise must have been eager to get a live album on the back of ‘Harvest’, but it’s to their credit that they let Neil get this unmarketable album out of his system (the reviews at the time nearly all seized on this album’s title and called it ‘Neil Young Fades Away’ – the guitarist’s sales don’t completely recover till 1978). It’s not quite as consistently heart-wrenching as ‘Tonight’s The Night’ but I like this record a lot - off-key throughout, with the worst Crosby-Nash harmonies on record, it’s brave revealing and pioneering. All the material on this, Neil’s first released live album, is completely new and even had it been recorded by a tighter band in the studio it would have been a really dark and edgy album. It starts with a song about a drug addict promising his mother he’ll be home on time whilst knowing full well he won’t and ends with a majestic shambolic ‘Last Dance’ in which Neil attacks his audience for following sensible working hours and giving up on their dreams. It’s called ‘Last Dance’ seemingly because Neil’s reached the lowest point he can go. The highlight, though, is the moving autobiography of ‘Don’t Be Denied’, in which Neil tells us of his childhood fighting bullies, rocking with his first band ‘The Squires’ and his up-and-down career since then. The line ‘Don’t Be Denied’ has almost become Neil’s theme tune down the years and its one of the most important and revealing songs of Neil’s whole career. Not every track is up to this one - although, unlike ‘Harvest’ and even ‘Goldrush’ there aren’t actually any bad tracks here – but if you’re willing to hear Neil at his rawest and most powerful then ‘Time Fades Away’ is a very rewarding album. 8/10.
‘Live Rust’ (1979) is more famous for its tie-in video, complete with roadies dressed up as ewoks and ‘rust-o-vision’ glasses where the audience were meant to be able to see the ‘rust’ falling off the old songs. Neil Young’s humour is spot-on for this story of the history of ‘rock and roll’ and ironically there’s hardly any rust here at all – yes there are plenty of older songs here but they almost all sound fresh. It’s a shame, now there’ve been so many live Young LPs, that there aren’t any surprises in the songlist – especially given the hundreds of unreleased songs Neil had even back then – and some of the first side’s solo acoustic tracks do go on, I have to say. But this double album is probably your best first stop after ‘Decade’ to see if you really ‘get’ Neil Young as nearly all sides of this genre-bending performer are here. The highlight is a spooky ‘Tonight’s The Night’, an encore that singlehandedly undoes this concert’s strong positive vibes, and a terrific version of ‘The Loner’, with the low point a cod-reggae revival of the Spanish-come-Aztec song ‘Cortez The Killer’, which has to be heard to be believed (‘He come dancing across de water, man!’) A DVD, using the name ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, is also available taken from one show from this tour rather than a few stuck together, although the differences are pretty mimimal. 6/10.
‘Weld’ (1991) is another all-time classic and is AAA classic album no 95 no less. The track listing doesn’t look that different to ‘Live Rust’ and the average second CD undoes much of the good work of the first, but this is Crazy Horse at their all-time high: powerful, loud and yet with a layer of dynamics their other work doesn’t always have. The band used lots of footage of the Gulf war on stage which had then just broken out and the theme of war, violence and unfair colonialisation cuts through quite a few of these songs, especially the one exclusive song, a moving cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ which is all feedback and harmonies. The highlights are a truly on-the-edge version of then-new song ‘F!#*in’ Up’ and a fiery version of ‘Crime In The City’ which is by far and away superior to the detached and cold reading on ‘Freedom’, even if some of the better verses of this long song are missing. All in all, this is a powerful record with a capacity to move like few other Neil Young records and its no surprising Neil damaged his hearing playing so many gigs this loud! There was a limited edition third CD with early pressings of this set, ‘ARC’, but this avent garde 30-minutes of feedback and end of songs stapled together at random is hard going, even for the fans who enjoy ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ and ‘Landing On Water’. The best Neil Young live record around. There is also concert film of ‘Weld’ doing the rounds, again taken from one single gig rather than lots from the same tour though again the differences are small. 9/10.
‘Unplugged’ (1993) takes the other extreme: a largely acoustic romp through Neil’s back pages, solo for the first half and adding old friends like Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith on the second. Neil actually recorded a completely different show first – one rather too heavily dependent on ‘Harvest Moon’ but otherwise not that bad at all – before rejecting it in favour of this more radical and longer show. The highlights are the songs that sound the most different – a pump organ version of ‘Like A Hurricane’ should be awful and yet is the revelation of the set, ‘Old Laughing Lady’ sounds almost like a pop song here rather than a moody orchestral ballad (later covered in this new style by Stereophonics, incidentally, who won much praise for their ‘arrangement’!), whilst a ‘Transformer Man’ without the vocoder effects sounds like a completely different song. There’s also a new song – well, a song written in 1976 but not released till now – ‘Stringman’, a delicate humble piano song reportedly about Stephen Stills which is a pretty amazing and welcome addition to the set. The other songs simply sound so like the studio versions you wonder why Neil bothered, especially his-then current acoustic album ‘Harvest Moon’ which account for all he lesser moments of this set. Still, an intriguing and often revealing sideways look at Neil’s work. 6/10.
‘Year Of The Horse’ (1997) is a now sadly forgotten two disc set that dispenses with most of the usual Crazy Horse songs from ‘Rust’ and ‘Weld’ and adds several rarer songs. ‘Mr Soul’ sounds like a completely new song, slowed down to a dangerous and moody crawl, whilst ‘When Your Lonely Heart Breaks’ finally delivers on the promise heard on the ‘Life’ album version and ‘Prisoners Of Rock and Roll’ is as mad and witty as you’d hoped it would be, if a little out of tune by the end. The highlight, though, is ‘Dangerbird’, an exhilarating version of one of Neil’s most obscure records about a man having a nervous breakdown about his broken marriage whilst visiting a museum, fighting ‘wings that have turned to stone’. All too often on this record Neil is on auto-pilot, especially on the largely awful new2 songs from 1997’s ‘Broken Arrow’, but this recording is one of the most painfully intense and downright magical of all his records, all 12 minutes of it. Not everyone will like this record, but if you own the more famous live albums then this is highly recommended and seems to have been unfairly shunted to the lower end of Neil’s catalogue in the opinion of most fans since its release. 7/10.
‘Road Rocks – Friends and Relatives’ (2001): Alas, Neil’s live ouvre ends with one of the all-time clangers of his career and possibly the worst live album on this list. Most of his worst songs are resurrected for this record (an interminable ‘Words’, a hiudeous version of possibly Neil’s worst track ‘Motorcyle Mama’ and ‘Peace Of Mind’, which might be the shortest track here but certainly doesn’t feel like it) and only two new recordings: a cover of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ with guest Chrissie Hynde that’s simply horrible and a new song, ‘Fool For Your Love’, which is so generic it could have been written and recorded by anyone. Play this back to back with any of Neil’s other live LPs and you have to ask – what the hell was going on with this release? As tuneless as the worst of Neil;s catalogue without the invention or drive that makes him get away with his sloppier moments, this is a terrible record that deserved to be one of Young’s worst sellers with absolutely nothing about it to recommend. 0/10.
Note – There are to the best of my knowledge three live DVDs that haven’t yet been given a soundtrack CD release. ‘Live In Berlin’ only came out on DVD briefly and that’s a shame because even in poor quality and black and white this official release is still a revealing account of one of Neil’s best tours (his 1982 one with the vocoder and the ‘Transband’ made up of musicians from all eras of his past including Buffalo Springfield bassist Bruce Palmer, Nils Lofgren and Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina). Unlike most fans who scratch their heads over it, I adore Neil’s ‘Trans’ LP (see review no 84 for why) and hearing half a concert with Neil and Nils’ pre-recorded vocoder sounds adds another dimension to the sound, in places quite different to the record too (just have a look at the audience’s reactions to see how divided fans were over the use of electronic aids – half are in heaven and half can’t wait to leave the gig and go home!) Neil’s had enough of a tour that cost him emotionally over yet more band revolts (‘This is our last show – if this tour ever ends!’ he moans near the end), but you can’t tell that from his committed performances, even with Bruce Palmer needing to be reminded how to play a new song live on stage! That new song – ‘Berlin’ – is exclusive to this set and is a nice discovery, its pained tagline ‘Help Me, Help Me’ saying it all. ‘Silver and Gold’ is an acoustic performance from 1999, more upbeat than ‘Unplugged’ but dominated by songs from Neil’s then-current album of the same name which is one of the low spots of his canon. In truth, there’s not much you need on this DVD and Neil seems to spend a good quarter of it cleaning and testing his vast array of harmonicas, but at least many of his newer songs sound much better here than they do on record. Finally, ‘Heart Of Gold’ finds Neil in Nashville with many of the musicians who played on ‘Harvest’ and his then-new album Prairie Wind’ is by far his best of the past decade, although we really didn’t need to hear note-for-note performances of every single track from it! The old ‘hits’ also seem subdued here, even with added country twinges from the players, and are the closest yet Neil has come to making a ‘Greatest Hits Live’ release.