Live Music Recordings Rule!… For Some Of Us.

I love live music… 

being there if I can get it, but largely I mean live recordings.

I know there are folks in this world that can’t stand the crowd noise, the variation from the album tracks and the sound quality. An audience recording? Forget it.

There is plenty of room for us both in this world… the live lovers and the prefer-not thanks folks. No judgement here. I fully understand.

For myself, I started out loving live stuff. My parents played “Neil Diamond – Gold: Recorded Live At The Troubadour” and Neil Diamond – Hot August Night” frequently. So I grew up with an experience of both album tracks and live tracks. 

In later days, when I had little money and wanted to get into a band, I usually sought out their live album which usually consisted of greatest hits and extended solos and oftentimes different arrangements of songs.

Thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure the first live album I bought was either “Queen – Live Killers” or David Bowie – Live” or “Jethro Tull – Bursting Out”. I was able to get a feel for their songs and when I did dive in to buying studio albums, I knew the albums to start with, the ones that had the most songs from the live albums that I dug.

I bought a lot of live albums. Even triple albums. Remember “Yes – Yessongs” or “Wings – Over America”?

Most commercially produced live albums had good sound. We haven’t gotten to bootlegs yet. These commercial albums provided a slice of a band performance from the period and though some dig them and some don’t, sometimes it can be said that the crowd on the album truly MAKES the songs work. I can think of 2 prime examples of this. These songs have studio cuts, but 95% of the time the live ones are the tracks you will hear on the radio.

“I Want You To Want Me” from “Cheap Trick – At Budokan”

“Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)” from “Pat Travers – Go For What You Know”

Do I even need to discuss the “Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive”? If you hear “Baby I Love Your Way” or “Do You Feel Like We Do” it’s going to be from the live tracks from that classic 1978 album.

Here he does it on The Midnight Special so you can get a visual of how he uses the talk box, which by the way he now markets and sells.

How about “Now I’m Here” from the Queen – Live Killers” album. The track is on the “Sheer Heart Attack” album as a studio cut, but this live version, with Freddie playing with the audience is one that I always go back to. The studio cut, while good, pales in comparison. Hearing Freddie challenging the audience to match his vocals is amazing.

I’m also reminded of one I loved that was recorded live and eclipsed the album version. Again, an audience sing-along. That track is Dashboard Confessional doing “Screaming Infidelities“ live on MTV. This track is made even better with the crowd singing along.

Now, we turn to live bootlegs.

When I learned about bootleg tapes and trading them, it was a game changer for me. I have elaborated about my tape trading days, so I won’t rehash it, but suffice it to say that I have quite a pile of bootleg tapes, and once digital bootlegs MP3’s were available… the game changed even further.

THEN came the days of YouTube hosting longer and longer videos. Suddenly there were full length live shows out there. In recent times I have harvested YouTube and gathered shows from my favorite bands to add to my collection.

I have already confessed on this site to having over 1200 Frank Zappa bootlegs.

So why do I have these? Simple… I love live music.

The reason that this topic has come up? I have been reading a book about Joy Division written by Peter Hook (the bassist for the band).

This book is a real eye opener and great document of the band. There was a hell of a lot I didn’t know about Joy Division. There was a lot of information about their early shows and the recording of their EP and 2 albums. I revisited my vinyl of all 3 and really enjoyed them, even more so with the added info.

A thought occurred to me as Peter Hook described some of their performances… I have never seen any Joy Division performances. I figured there might be some out on YouTube and decide to take a look.

I was surprised to find that there was actually quite a bit. Not 1200 mind you, but some really good stuff. Here is a really nice set of 3 songs that I came across. A lot of the shows you will find are darkly lit or grainy. So this is a nice bright short set. Check out Ian’s frenetic moves during “She’s Lost Control”. I also got to see Peter Hook as a young man banging that bass.

Now, true the sound is not soundboard quality, and it goes in and out a bit occasionally and the songs don’t fade out nicely, but I still think this is a great clip. These performances are different obviously from the studio cuts.

Mind you, the sound is not always bad. Sometimes the sound rivals that of an studio album. This is one of the absolute best. It is only the audio, but man, what audio it is.

The difference between studio tracks and the live tracks is pretty pronounced in some songs. It’s very cool to hear the differences in pace and vocals and arrangements. That is something you don’t get listening to the albums. They way they perform is influenced by the day and the events and the venue etc. It’s the differences that make it worth listening to, even if the sound is not studio quality.

Sometimes there are also audio artifacts like this one. A collection of rehearsals from 1977 – 1980. Listening to this you will hear (again, not all is studio quality) a multitude of interesting takes of songs.

Nearly 2 hours of Joy Division working on and practicing songs. It’s quite a recording.

I love, love, the Joy Division albums. They are top notch and a constant source of pleasure for me, but damn, the live stuff is also fantastic. Not always as consistent in their audio, but consistently revealing of the time and place and evolution of the band and are well worth the listen as I feel most live recordings are, and since the internet is teeming with them, it’s a live music lover paradise.

Just make sure you have enough storage.

Not to mention time.

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  1. Two songs that popped into my head are Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”, the live version is so much better than the studio version. The second one is “Two much two young” by The Specials, this one a lot closer, but I prefer the studio version than the live one. I never got into the bootlegs, I must look into it.

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