Live albums tend to get a bad rep from music snobs… often because they’re a quick, largely-work-free way to another paycheck… often because they’re a way for a band to fulfill/escape a contract penned by one of Lucifer’s buddies… and often because they would seem to be synonymous with the records your uncle plays for you half-a-dozen-Coors-Lights-into-the-barbeque, when he tries to convince you that “in [his] day,” he was cool, just like you (I won’t try to hide the fact that I grew up listening to Alive II and the soundtrack to The Song Remains The Same… but the last time I craved either of them I was probably still getting carded for Marlboro Lights.) However, I have always maintained that live albums offered the opportunity for the most pure kinds of musical recordings. Of course, this opportunity is often squashed in post-production… whether in the re-recording of tracks or the compilation of a hypothetical set list that will boast the most sales… But I still maintain that a good recording of a great show often makes for the ultimate record. After all, the most profound beauty is often found in its most flawed, most chaotic, and least-intended state…
Sadly, the live album has fallen largely out of fashion in recent years… with those in existence generally in the categories of “dinosaur-rock-bands-documenting-their-experiences-in-arenas- four-decades-after-their-prime” and “digital-only-releases” (Something that may be even more detestable.) However, next Tuesday, March 25th, Portland proto-hipsters The Dandy Warhols release Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia Live at the Wonder, likely the best live album to drop since I’ve been legally able to consume PBR. The album is also quite interesting in a postmodernly conceptual way, documenting the band’s 2013 tour, which had them celebrating the thirteenth anniversary of Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia by performing the album in order, in its entirety (Read about their local stop in my year-end list of the “Top 10 Philthy Live Performances of 2013: Old School Edition,” in which the show places #2)… It’s an album celebrating an album of “yesteryear,” a remake of sorts by the artists who spawned the original. And this rehashing, re-recording, or reuniting of this collection of tracks is arguably as potent as the original. Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia Live at the Wonder was recorded on June 20, 2013 at PDX’s Wonder Ballroom “with no overdubs or re-recording.” It is also entirely honest (as is so uncommon these days) in that it includes all thirteen tracks, in order (as they were played that evening), without any additional content.
If there’s anything that can be criticized about this recording it’s that the audience (and likely the band, as well) are more polite, agreeable, and coherent than the first time around… which is, you know, just plain less entertaining. But it’s the furthest thing from “nostalgic.” The fuzzy psychedelica of “Godless” and “Nietzsche” sound just as beautifully sludgy as ever; Courtney, Peter, Zia, and Brent certainly don’t sound like they’re living “the good life” (the least appealing colour on any relevant rockers). The kitschy folk artistry of “Country Leaver” and “Get Off” are close-to-enjoyable as any of the most legit downtown New Yorkers of the 1950s. The satirically popular aesthetic of “Horse Pills” and “Bohemian Like You” are as anthemic as any credible artists of the past century have ever managed. And while “Sleep” and “The Gospel” don’t prove to be quite as existentially profound 10-ten-truck balladry as the likes of “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” they’re damn close. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia Live at the Wonder accomplishes is that in its celebration of an established work of art, it doesn’t cheapen it one iota.
And in light of The Dandy Warhols’ upcoming brilliant live album, I have decided it’s my duty to inform you of an additional five live albums that all of your uncles would likely dislike and all of your “weird cousins” would agree are progressively relevant works of art.
MC5 – Kick Out the Jams (1969)
While “No future” and “The new beat” have left their mark on disenfranchised youth looking for the bumper sticker of their personal “political” party, no phrase has more potently embodied sonic and social revolution of the past century than “Kick out the jams, Motherfuckers!” It should actually be of little surprise that the first punk record ever was actually a live record, considering that the genre’s biggest selling-point is that it’s not overseen by some “professional.” The MC5’s debut album (which beat out Iggy and his Stooges by just two months), recorded live at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom on Devil’s Night and Halloween of 1968 (go figure…), fuses soul, blues, rock’n’roll, and noise (all things that America should be very proud of… as opposed to what it actually is.) into a beautifully horrifying chaos that is yet to be met nearly 50 years on… And these guys can fuckin’ play… although not in the way that you’re supposed to…
The Cure – Concert: The Cure Live (1984)
Although The Cure’s first-ever live release may have been criticized for being recorded on the tour behind The Top, their least popularly and critically appreciated effort, and for lacking many of the songs that “people wanted to hear,” that is possibly the most beautiful thing about it. The recordings on this album are certainly not the most likely to sell Big Fat Bob’s records, but they’re also unlikely to gain him additional criticism from record collectors. The Top may actually not be a great album, but Concert’s recordings of “Shake Dog Shake” and “Give Me It” actually give two of its songs some punk potency. And its highlights, Pornography’s “The Hanging Garden” and “One Hundred Years,” embody a post-punk morbidity that could make Lars Von Trier’s take on “the dystopic” sound almost Disney-ready.
Morrissey – Beethoven Was Deaf (1993)
Beethoven Was Deaf simply must be the most underrated live album of all-time. I don’t understand what’s not to love here. The three-word title that comically breaks down and makes a complete fool of the absurdity of Eurocentricity and “high art?” The admirable pompousness of including 9 of 10 songs of Your Arsenal (undeniably Moz’s best solo effort), an album released less than a year prior? The fact that the Mozzer sounds like more of a rocker and less of a poet than he had up to this point in his career? Although Morrissey’s most famous musings on “the self and other” are what made me fall in love, there’s something nice about the socio-political revolutionary satirist we find in this period of his career, best exemplified in songs about becoming a Nazi for the sake of taking up an afterschool activity (“The National Front Disco”), the heroism of Jack the Ripper for saving a plethora of poor and sad souls from living out a life of unthinkable poverty and despair (“Jack The Ripper”), and the notion of living in a world where the triumph of the few is dependent upon the disappointments of the majority… and the anguish of actually having been acquainted with the triumphant (“We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”).
Joy Division – Les Bains Douches 18 December 1979 (2001)
I realize it may be sacrilege to reach for a posthumously-released live compilation when paying homage to one of history’s greatest and most admirable transgressors, but whenever I’m looking to get off on the beauty of Joy Division, I look past my copies of Unknown Pleasures and Closer (which I bought when Joy Division were still a band appreciated stateside solely by suicidal queer teens) for this live release, documenting the Manchester band in December of ’79 and January of ’80. The album shoots it’s load early with the band at their most popularly accessible, with “Disorder” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as the first two numbers, but proves the worth of the band’s entire, sadly-brief, (far-more morbid) catalogue with “24 Hours” and “Atrocity Exhibition” in its second half. It may have been recorded slightly after the band’s initial take on the songs… but what difference does 6-18-months really matter… and I’m pretty sure that the studio recording of “Dead Souls” is far less efficient than this live recording for conveying Ian’s assumed identity… an android being sodomized by Satan…
The Slits – Live at the Gibus Club (2005)
Although The Slits are most admired for their melding of punk, dub, and reggae (which is quite amazing), I can’t help but find this early, pre-studio-recorded, purely “punk” effort to be their most sloppily satisfying. It was recorded in a Paris club and stars four female revolutionaries that were yet to learn how to tune their instruments… But doesn’t that just add to the romance? The release boasts later-(sadly)-refined tracks, such as “So Tough,” “Love und Romance,” and “Shoplifting,” but also a handful of un-ever-studio-recorded tracks, in addition to a cover of “Femme Fatale,” which should have been the last Velvets cover to ever occur… Performances like this solidified The Clash, John Peel, and Derek Jarmen as fans, which is pretty much the only thing any band could ever hope to have on their resume… But a decade and a half later the legacy of the band would go on to inspire the riot grrrl movement, the most profoundly significant musical movement of my lifetime…