Only perhaps on this site could we query folks for Desert Island Live Discs, and find a six-way tie among the responses between the Who, Bill Evans, Little Feat, Kiss, Warren Zevon and the Talking Heads.
The Who and Evans, officially, edged into a shared top spot — since both received two first-place votes a piece for Live at Leeds and Sunday at the Village Vanguard, respectively. Little Feat topped one of our lists with Waiting for Columbus, as well. Alive! from Kiss, Stand in the Fire from Warren Zevon and The Name of This Band is the Talking Heads each received two total votes. We also had multiple nods for separate albums by Bob Dylan, Chicago, the Grateful Dead, John Coltrane and Sting.
Credit the nature of live discs, which can surprise and delight across every genre there is in music. Don’t believe us? Read on, as Something Else! Reviews’ Desert Island Disc series takes on in-concert recordings …
1. BILL EVANS – LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD (1961): My favorite live album, and it’s not even close. There are, of course, Evans’ delicate joys, but check bassist Scott Lafaro. This tragic figure, a genius with a unique counter-melodic style, has come to loom almost as large for me.
2. BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND – BEFORE THE FLOOD (1974): Recorded on the last night of the Band reunion — these where their first shows together since their groundbreaking 1966 folk-rock jaunt — this record finds a ferocious group cleaning Dylan’s clock.
3. CANNONBALL ADDERLEY – MERCY, MERCY, MERCY!: LIVE AT ‘THE CLUB’ (1966): Adderley is joined by fellow Miles Davis alum Joe Zawinul on a soul-lifting set, capped by the uproarious title cut. This was, in fact, the first jazz record I ever heard, and my gateway to Davis, who then led me to Charlie Parker, and on to points further out.
4. CHICAGO – AT CARNEGIE HALL (1971): Their first live album is marred a bit by sound problems, in particular with a mis-miked horn section. And these guys are clearly (I mean, seriously) high. Yet there remain these stunning moments of musical prowess, and a shared bond of on-stage brotherhood that I’m not sure Chicago ever completely reproduced on record.
5. SINATRA/BASIE – SINATRA AT THE SANDS (1966): Sinatra often liked to play it cool, approaching the lyric with a wink and a snap. Not here. The Basie band charges forward with a fearsome thunder, surrounding him with banging brass and careening reeds. It’s all Ol’ Blue Eyes can do at times to keep from getting bowled over.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Michael Wolff on the lasting importance of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Nancy Wilson’s way with a song — oh, and being Dear Old Dad around the Naked Brothers Band.]
1. THE WHO – LIVE AT LEEDS (1970): Not the too-short original, not the complete “deluxe” or even the recent “deluxier” super-deluxe with a whole ‘nother show included, but the Goldilocks-just-right expanded edition first issued in 1995. So tight and amazing in this format. You don’t really need that live version of Tommy, do you?
2. JACO PASTORIUS – THE BIRTHDAY CONCERT (1981): One of my earliest forays into jazz, and what an introduction it was. I couldn’t find anything that even came close to measuring up to this for ages. “Soul Intro/The Chicken” still kicks my ass to this day.
3. TALKING HEADS – THE NAME OF THIS BAND IS TALKING HEADS (1982): As reissued in 2004, I have to give this the nod over Stop Making Sense. The band is leaner, weirder, and more fun here.
4. RUSH – A SHOW OF HANDS (1989): If one wants an example of a live album that highlights a particular time and a particular mood, there aren’t many that do so as well as this one that focuses heavily on Rush’s keyboard-dominated ’80s material – and that’s exactly why I love it so.
5. MIKE KENEALLY – BAKIN’ @ THE POTATO (2011): Some live albums just do it up right, and this one is a great example. Perfect sound, perfect mix of old and new songs, and Mike is perfectly on fire from beginning to end.
1. JOHN MAYALL – THE TURNING POINT (1969): A unique live album! Two acoustic guitars, harmonica, flute, sax, and bass (no drums) provide the foundation behind this blues based set of tunes. Mayall always made sure the best musicians supported him and this concert is no exception.
2. J. GEILS BAND – FULL HOUSE ‘LIVE’ (1972): This street-wise bar band was always more comfortable on stage than in the studio and they should have been America’s answer to The Rolling Stones. All the ingredients were there.
3. THE BEACH BOYS – IN CONCERT (1973): This double set LP, single CD, is a testament to the great touring band Carl Wilson led during the early ’70s. The album is full of both hits and rarities that span The Beach Boys entire career up to this point in time.
4. BILLY JOEL – SONGS IN THE ATTIC (1981): This is easily Joel’s most rewarding album. His goal was to offer superior live versions of the best of his deep tracks from his pre-Stranger days. He succeeded.
5. BLACK 47 – LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY (1999): These Irish-American rockers play a combination of Celtic-folk, reggae, and punk rock. If you can picture the Chieftains, the Clash, and Bob Marley and the Wailers all playing on the same stage, in the same band, at the same time, you get the idea.
1. IRON MAIDEN – LIVE AFTER DEATH (1985): This album, for me, is arguably the greatest live album of all time. Maiden, always a great live band, rips through about an hour and 12 minutes worth (an hour and 42 minutes if you have the original LP version, which sadly, I don’t, but I accept donations if you have one you don’t want anymore) of the best songs from their best albums.
2. BLACK SABBATH – LIVE EVIL (1982): Many people will disagree, but I have always loved this record. Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice bring a different feel to the classic Ozzy lineup songs on this record that make it a very interesting performance.
3. KISS – ALIVE! (1975): Alive or Alive II? Tough call. Alive II has a few songs that I really like, but in the end, the hit parade of Alive won out. Can’t really go wrong with a single song on this record. Party rock ‘n‘ roll as it should be done.
4. OZZY OSBOURNE – LIVE AND LOUD (1993): My heart says Tribute, the little demon on my shoulder whispers Speak of the Devil. In the end, though, I think this is my favorite of the three Ozzy live albums that got consideration. It features a better mix of songs from his whole career to that point, and the version of “Changes” with Zakk Wylde on piano is phenomenal.
5. TED NUGENT – DOUBLE LIVE GONZO (1978): It’s not a perfect record. I think it’s missing a few important songs, but it does showcase Uncle Nuge at the height of his powers, doing what he does best.
1. LITTLE FEAT – WAITING FOR COLUMBUS (1978): It’s a big ‘ole greazy pot of blues/rock/funk/jazz. It’s also full of heart,groove, and fun. Easily my favorite live rock album.
2. KISS – ALIVE! (1975): Sometimes you need, as Frank Zappa called it, the Big Stupid. Hell yeah, I do!
3. ROLLING STONES – GET YER YA-YA’S OUT (1970): The Stones at the height of their powers. It’s an edit from a full show but worth it for the killer versions of “Midnight Rambler,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” and (especially!) “Honky Tonk Woman.”
4. FRANK ZAPPA – YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON STAGE ANYMORE, VOL. 2, THE HELSINKI CONCERTS (1988): Frank and his band were so good they made even the impossible stuff (“Approximate”) look easy.
5. GRATEFUL DEAD – DEAD SET (1981): There’s a metric buttload of live Grateful Dead recordings out there from the iconic Europe 72 to the Dick’s Picks series. Despite this particular recording not having some of my favorite Dead tunes, I’ve always loved the vibe of the show.
1. BOB DYLAN – THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 4, LIVE 1966: THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL CONCERT (1988): Dylan and members of the Band toured Europe not long after he plugged in and broke folk traditionalists’ hearts at Newport, and you could cut the awkwardness with a knife. When a heckler screams “Judas” at Dylan in between tunes, Bob responds in original punk fashion — calling the unhappy patron a liar before telling Robbie Robertson to “play it fucking loud” as they launch into a blistering version of “Like a Rolling Stone.”
2. THE GRATEFUL DEAD – ROCKING THE CRADLE (2008): This 1978 concert catches a glimpse of the Dead approaching their heyday as a touring juggernaut, with a jiving version of “Shakedown Street” from the last night under Egyptian skies – an evening that was also marked by a lunar eclipse highly viewable from Cairo.
3. BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS – LIVE (1975): I’ve often wondered how a country of so much poverty and pain could have produced the soothing sounds of the Wailers. It’s like Bob Marley and his band of Rastafarian rebels had to produce their style of music just to counteract the tragedy of life around them.
4. THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND – LIVE AT FILLMORE EAST (1971): There’s not a wealth of recordings of Duane Allman with the band available for consumption, but every single one is magical — and none touch this performance, which displays some of the most soul-piercing guitar work in rock history.
5. LITTLE FEAT – WAITING ON COLUMBUS (1978): This boogie-down jam band had the type of loyal followers that rivaled the Dead, and they partied like them to. Taken from seven shows from their ’77 tour in England and the U.S., Little Feat put together 17 live tracks that would become one of the most feel-good southern rock albums constructed.
1. STING – BRING ON THE NIGHT (1986): Supported by a crack group of players, Sting proves that rock and jazz can peacefully co-exist. In addition, Kenny Kirkland’s piano solo on “Bring on the Night/When the World is Running Down” is simply sublime.
2. GENESIS – THREE SIDES LIVE (1982): Recorded right before they turned completely pop, the now Collins-driven group performed both mainstream tracks as well as artsier classics like the “In the Cage” medley. It’s also a sentimental favorite for me, as the album served as my “conversion” into a Genesis fan.
3. THE BEATLES – LIVE AT THE BBC (1994): From 1962-1965, the Beatles performed their own songs and covers live in the radio studio. If you need proof that the Beatles were one of the most dangerous live bands in rock, check out this amazing album.
4. ERYKAH BADU – LIVE (1997): Releasing a live disc as a second album is a risky move. But Badu’s jazz-inflected performances of “Next Lifetime” and “Otherside of the Game” effectively demonstrated that she was the real deal.
5. TONY BENNETT – UNPLUGGED (1994): The entire show can be summarized by one song: “Fly Me to the Moon.” All the mics and amps are turned off, allowing Bennett to show off both the power and nuances of his voice.
1. CHICAGO – LIVE IN JAPAN (1972): Compared to the U.S.-released Live at Carnegie Hall, with horns sounding like kazoos, Live in Japan is in another ballpark completely. Easily the best Chicago live album ever officially released.
2. TOTO – FALLING IN BETWEEN LIVE (2008): A farewell album of sorts. The band sounds tight and it includes material from all eras of Toto.
3. DREAM THEATER – SCORE: 20TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT (2006): An orchestra backs the band on two of this set’s three CDs, as Dream Theater plays some of its more technically complex and classically inspired material.
4. REO SPEEDWAGON – YOU GET WHAT PLAY FOR LIVE (1978): REO was one of those bands that sounds better live than in the studio. And this live release was recorded when the band was still rocking in their pre-Hi-Infidelity days.
5. POCO – THE LAST ROUND-UP (2004): Recorded during the “Indian Summer” tour back in 1977, it was a fan favorite in bootleg circles for years before it was finally officially released in 2004. This album is the epitome of live country-rock and captures the energy of the show much better than many other live albums by other bands.
1. JOHN COLTRANE – LIVE AT THE HALF NOTE (2005): Recorded in 1965, we see Coltrane at arguably the pinnacle of his creative mastery. His solo on “One Down, One Up” lasts for over 25 minutes, and it is nothing short but an absolute masterpiece — not leaving a single human emotion untouched.
2. BILL EVANS TRIO FEATURING STAN GETZ – BUT BEAUTIFUL (1995): Featuring songs from several live dates in August, 1974 — one of which was Evans’ Birthday — this album catches Getz’s interpretation of “The Peacocks,” which may be the most beautifully played ballad I’ve ever heard.
3. STING – ALL THIS TIME (2001): Before this concert which took place on September 11th, Sting gave the musicians the option of stepping down, but none did, leading to an emotionally raw and ever-so-meaningful performance.
4. JOE HENDERSON – JOE HENDERSON IN JAPAN (1971): Recorded with a relatively unknown (in the U.S.) all-Japanese rhythm section, Henderson is soaring on this album like a bird that has just been uncaged.
5. DUKE ELLINGTON – ELLINGTON AT NEWPORT (1956): As is now legend in the jazz community, Paul Gonsalves’ electrifying 27-chorus solo on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” caused a woman to hop down from her box seat in excitement — and soon, the rest of the audience joined her.
1. THE WHO – LIVE AT LEEDS (1970): The raw immediacy of this album signifies that it’s “meant to be played loud.” That’s a given. But in my case it was also seemingly meant to emanate from a crappy eight-track tape, bought at a swap meet or from the trunk of stranger’s car much like, say, my friend’s ’65 Impala with its tape-eating eight-track player — or from my scratchy used copy of the simply-packaged LP, which for some reason lent itself to the previous owner’s scribbles and math problems.
2. TOM WAITS – NIGHTHAWKS AT THE DINER (1975): Oh, to have been a barfly on the wall! I would’ve forgone my frontal lobotomy to have a bottle in front of me, strike up an Old Gold in a Naugahyde booth at Nighthawks’ nightclub setting soaking up the “inebriational travelogue” offered up by this early career souvenir, punctuated by beatnik bonhomie and bon mots. And of course, afterwards I would’ve gone out for one of those “strange looking patty melts at Norms” — the one on Fifth and Vermouth, of course.
3. WARREN ZEVON – STAND IN THE FIRE (1981): “He’ll rip your lungs out Jim, and he’s looking for James Taylor!” “Enjoy every sandwich” on the excitable powerhouse performance documented here in an intensity and passion that perfectly mirrored my experience in seeing Zevon live. And by the way: His hair was perfect!
4. NEIL YOUNG – LIVE RUST (1979): I’ve seen the record needle and the damage done: With its irresistible sequencing of powered-out performances of “Powderfinger,” “Cortez the Killer,” and “Cinnamon Girl,” I practically wore out the grooves of side three of the original double LP soon enough.
5. TALKING HEADS – THE NAME OF THIS BAND IS TALKING HEADS (1982): Unique for chronicling the as-it-happened evolution of the group, this energetic double album sees the first crisp and quirky disc showcasing the core four-Heads. But by the time of the recording of songs for the burning-down-the-house second disc, they had benefited by picking up backing vocalists and musicians including P-Funk veteran Bernie Worrell, and newbie Adrian Belew.
1. BILL EVANS – SUNDAY AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD (1961): The most magical trio performance ever recorded. This one gets the nod over Waltz For Debby, culled for the same gig, for the emphasis on Scott LaFaro — and for LaFaro’s gorgeous tune “Gloria’s Step.”
2. JOHN COLTRANE – LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD (1962): Trane at a peak with a performance that must have had to be seen to be believed. Bringing along Eric Dolphy for the ride made it even better.
3. PETER BRÖTZMANN – FUCK de BOERE (1970): Just two tracks — a raw, raucous early live version of the seminal “Machine Gun” and a later audio cyclone featuring Derek Bailey and four trombones. Whack jazz at its finest.
4. GEORGE BENSON – WEEKEND IN LA (1978): Benson’s tightest, funkiest unit unencumbered by studio sterilization and Claus Ogerman’s weighty orchestral backdrops.
5. WARREN ZEVON – STAND IN THE FIRE (1981): Energetic and clean, Zevon performs several of his gems from his classic 1976-1980 period.