So…I’ve looked at the best gigs, live venues, and gigs at the London Astoria, bands at Infest, bands I’ve *not* seen live…but I’ve never had a look at live albums, somehow, as my girlfriend pointed out last week.
The Live Album, mind, is frequently little more than contractual filler. It doesn’t always offer a great deal more than recorded material, and by it’s very nature – unless there is a video or DVD included, perhaps – you miss the whole point of the live show, i.e. that of being there. But then, on the other hand, it could provide memories of a much-loved show, or prove to be a nudge towards actually making sure you see a particular live show. Or it could be released for another reason.
Anyway, this list got rather long very quickly indeed, so I whittled it down to twenty (!) as I couldn’t remove any more. All of these, by the way, I own in one form or another (CD, download, DVD, video, or a combination of these).
Let’s start with the first one that we even suggested – the audio document of a legendary live tour that frankly I’ve been kicking myself for missing ever since. Rather than just playing each song in turn, the utter joy of this album, and the live sets it was taken from, apparently, is the way that songs are cut up and rebuilt from the ground up, effortlessly mixing one into another, and then – more than a few times – returning to certain tracks a second time to whoops of joy from the clearly ecstatic crowd. Interestingly – particularly with a live show as visually arresting as this was, Daft Punk declined to release a DVD, stating instead that the (many, many) YouTube clips from the heart of the crowd were more representative of it.
One show I did see – many, many years ago at v98 – was Underworld in their prime, and it remains the best “electronic” live show I’ve ever seen. Underworld’s lengthy, trance-like epic songs lend themselves exceptionally well to live performance, particularly as they have a vocalist/frontman onstage in the shape of Karl Hyde, not to mention the complex, detailed visuals that the band use too. But also, this album works as a better “best-of” than the single collection did, as it captures the sheer thrill of their live sound, in particular the glorious mix of Rez/Cowgirl (two tracks that of course are built from the same base anyway) that closes the album – the roar of the crowd as Cowgirl rises from the ashes of Rez gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.
I finally saw Kraftwerk in their native Düsseldorf back in January – one of the best gigs of my life, period – and this live album/DVD, now a good eight years old or so, gives a good idea of just how brilliant they are live. OK, so with the current shows you need to see it “in the flesh” (with the show having 3D visuals and sounds), but again the seamless mixing and retooling of old favourites is simply brilliant.
Talking of retooling…There are a number of 242 live albums – I have four official ones, and a couple of others – but this is the one that was the most significant. This was where 242 brought themselves bang up-to-date, turbocharging their sound in spectacular style, and more than likely finding themselves a whole new audience in a late-90s world where “electronica” ruled the roost. Everything here has been changed around, but mainly there are amazing shots of adrenalin into classics, such as the longstanding live merging of Moldavia and Neurobashing sounding better and harder than ever, a bruising Im Rhythmus Bleiben, and then the astonishing, thundering build of set-opener Happiness (itself one of the many variations of Modern Angel) that is one of my favourite songs ever.
Don’t worry, it’s not all industrial in this list. However, moving on from 242 to contemporaries FLA, who released an equally spectacular live album just a couple of years before. This was a lavish set at the time, too – a double CD, or a box with double CD, VHS and various odds and ends (I have both – a DVD re-release was being worked on for a while, but sadly never happened), and the expense was justified with a wonderfully punchy mix from the mixing desk that like a few other live albums, for me contains certain versions that are better than the recorded originals (Resist, Bio-Mechanic and a thumping Gun fall into that category here). I had to wait around ten years after the release of this to finally see them live, but it was worth the wait and then some.
Doomsday: Back and Forth Series 5: Live in Dresden
Unlike many other releases here, there was a good reason for this release. This documented the return of Skinny Puppy, both as a band after the death of Dwayne Goettel, and also as a live entity after eight years – and the results were utterly astounding. Again, a punchy mix helps – which results for me in the definitive version of Worlock that I own – but the one thing missing is the visuals, in the form of a DVD that never ended up being released. A “what might have been” for those that like me that didn’t see this show in person, can be seen in the quite awesome footage of the aforementioned Worlock. There are a few SP live albums that have been released over their career, but none come close to this in tracklisting or quality. In the meantime, I’m glad I witnessed the 2004 show in London, generally agreed amongst my (many) friends who attended to be one of the greatest shows we’ve ever seen.
This release is the only one on this list where I actually attended the show that was recorded, and is a wonderful keepsake of a show in an unusual location (Tate Modern Turbine Hall) that was another universally agreed to be a fantastic show. Two hours long, covering every corner of Laibach’s history, covers, soundtracks, early material, dancefloor classics and other bits besides. It was, however, worth picking up the CD alone for the take on Across The Universe that left me speechless at the time and still leaves me in awe listening to it at home.
Super Ready/Fragmenté Tour
The Young Gods always seem overlooked in the annals of the development of the wider world of industrial music, which always seems a shame – particularly since they are one of the most incredible, life-affirming live bands you will ever see. The good thing is, there are, by my count no less than seven different live albums that cover most of their active period – and I own five of them. As well as more conventional live albums, there are recordings of collaborations with alternative hip-hop act dälek, another with a symphony orchestra, and then an acoustic album (which among the extras includes this “Take-Away Show” version of Gasoline Man, recorded while they walk through the streets of Paris. However of the albums, I’m going for the album that covers the 2007 tour, which was when I (finally, after years of waiting) saw them live for the first time, and in particular for the blistering take on Everythere.
Live at the Albert Hall
Moving on from industrial to other realms for a while, I was privileged in 2009 to see this band do all of their 1997 classic Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, and it was even better than I could possibly have imagined. The thing is, the live album that followed that album, a little into 1998, is every bit as essential as that classic album. No, really. Recorded and mixed with the crowd noise kept relatively in the background – or simply drowned out by the awesome noise coming from the band, it’s difficult to tell – this is music as a religious experience, made explicit by the extraordinary cover of Oh Happy Day that closes things here.
Escape From New York
One of the few albums here that perhaps doesn’t come close to doing justice to just how brilliant the band are when you see them live, this was released mainly, I think, as a record of their lengthy time as support for The Cure a few years back. Ok, it isn’t a bad album per se, but recorded at an arena show in New York it all sounds a bit distant at parts, and I’ve seen quite a few 65DoS shows that were much, much better than this: although the one thing this album does do well is to show the point at which the band began to leave behind much of their guitar-heavy material for the later-period electronics.
The reactivation of Swans, after a decade or more of inactivity, was accompanied by live shows that have only become more extreme each time, epic in length and, to be frank, testing the patience (and the hearing) of many fans to the limit. But for those who can stand it, they have been an extraordinary experience, and this album was an attempt to show just how amazing they were. I was lucky enough to secure one of the original, limited edition versions, which offered the first taste of new material (both live and in “sketch” format) while documenting that first, brutal comeback tour, and it sounded great.
Oddly enough, like The Young Gods (who took their name from an early Swans song, of course), there are many live albums in their discography (Wiki lists eight, but I’m sure there are a couple more than that), and of the seven live albums documenting the band’s first incarnation, Swans Are Dead is probably the pick (especially for the chilling, lengthy take on Blood Promise). Although if you want an idea of just how fucking extreme they were in the eighties, Public Castration Is a Good Idea is the one you need, but it is admittedly something of an endurance test to listen to in one sitting…
Very different, theatrical extremes have been Rammstein’s stock-in-trade live for many, many years now, their stupendously over-the-top live show being a big draw simply because it is so hugely entertaining (I’ve now been to see them six times over the past twelve years). But the first pointer for those of us in the UK as to what to expect – and it took a couple of years after the release of this for them to finally play the UK, in 2001 – was this epic album recorded, needless to say, at a huge show in Berlin. While the CD is great, though, for a band with such a visual live show, the DVD is a must and once again there is a choice, of either this or Völkerball, and both are awesome (although the tracklisting on the Berlin show is in my opinion the better one).
Bootlegged, Distorted, Remixed and Uploaded
The band I’ve seen live more than any other had to be included, right? At last count – and judging on recent inactivity I suspect I won’t be adding to the number – I’ve seen this band sixteen times, and I never, ever got tired of seeing them live, even if in later times they had neutered some of their older songs a bit, and aside from Triad and Virus had long since ceased playing anything from before www.pitchshifter.com. This album, though – from one of the few London shows I missed (I recall I saw them in Manchester on this tour) – captures their live energy nicely.
And All That Could Have Been
Yet another band in this list with multiple live releases, NIN are another band that justify them – but this album is the one that I chose to include. It covers the Fragile tour, as I recall, but (thankfully) only touches on that album for handful of songs, and needless to say includes most of the old favourites, including a pretty savage take on Suck. Indeed I’ve always been surprised that there never was a “best of” released, but maybe that was because the live albums like this do a pretty good job in that respect. (This album is also worth it for the second CD, the acoustic/mellowed out take on a number of songs, including an acoustic take on The Becoming which is worth the purchase price alone).
Live at Umeå Open festival (April 3, 1998)
The live album that accompanies the 2010 reissue of hardcore high-water mark The Shape Of Punk To Come, from a festival set in Umeå during 1998 (when Refused were at the peak of their considerable powers), is the only live set here where I’d long since had a bootleg of it, but it was so good that I was perfectly happy to pay for a copy when it was properly released (the sound quality is better, for a start!). Like the NIN release above, too, it works brilliantly as a primer for the band’s history, touching on most releases in the hour-long set, and with some amazing highlights, the best of which is the opening blast of The Shape Of Punk To Come. Finally getting to see the band on their reunion tour recently was one hell of a thrill, too – and in particular that song, closing the set this time, was just as amazing an experience as I hoped it would be.
Live at Brixton Academy
One of the first FNM releases I picked up, this served as a pretty damned awesome introduction to the band’s earlier work, and the assimilating of hit songs of the time into various FNM songs by Mike Patton has been a trick he has continued over the years, sometimes with better success than others! I also suspect there a few readers of this who attended this gig…
Synergy: Live in Europe
Covenant are a band that are (in)famously inconsistent live – they can either be skyscrapingly, jaw-droppingly brilliant, or they can be an utter shambles. I’ve seen both extremes, and it is always difficult to tell which you are going to get. This, the first of two live albums the band have released (the other was the In Transit DVD) was clearly recorded on a good night on the United States of Mind tour, and thus covers Covenant’s earlier releases well – and opens with a wonderful take on Tour de Force, a song the band don’t seem to play much any more, at least when I’ve seen them…
One band I’ve never seen – although will finally right that later this month – is Depeche Mode, and while I’m sure the gig will be fine, this album (and accompanying film) will, I suspect, remain as the definitive live document of the band, and also stand as one of the best films about a gig ever, too. Mainly as it isn’t just about the band – it also shows the fans, and their immersion into the band. And, not to mention their utter excitement about seeing DM live. Judging on the reactions that follow, they weren’t disappointed.
Come Forward – Live in Berlin
My love of Seabound has long been documented here, but even so their vast improvement in their live shows by the time of Double-Crosser was still a questionable reason for the release of this. As it happened, it is still a marvellous release – the songs make it that, as the tracklisting is pretty good – but Seabound are one of those bands that don’t really do a great deal different in the live environment from the studio versions, so I think that it is fair to say that this album is one for the dedicated fans.
The final entry in this list? An album that hasn’t had a great deal of distribution or support, released as it was after the band had effectively disintegrated (and before they reformed, as I recall), but still a brilliant document of the searing power of Six By Seven’s live show. While the slower, more plaintive songs are impressive, the moments that knock you off your feet here are the angrier songs, like the seething, raging Get A Real Tattoo and the death fantasies of Ten Places To Die. Their return this year has been a reminder of just how brilliant, and a forward-looking, band they always were.