Sunday, October 17, 2010

Live, from the Sanctuary ...

Get your needles ready and listen up: The Sanctuary's resident audiophile Wayne Shelor is about to reveal his list of the best damn live albums in the history of mankind. Or at least his personal favorites.  Is there a difference?

By Wayne Shelor

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That single – and singular – ping! that begins this song is Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright hitting a piano note run through an organ Leslie speaker, introducing the 1970 song "Echoes." This live version of the venerable song is from Floyd guitarist David Gilmour’s 2008 solo tour and album, Live in Gdansk, and is shared this morning as an example of an extraordinary live recording – of which there are comparatively few. As the song unfolds, listen to the crisp piano notes, the gorgeous guitar tones, the unmuddied drums and the wide, unsullied scope of sound as various instruments and vocals are introduced and integrated. It’s not easy to capture live performances, but even on computer speakers, this recording sounds special.

With the recent re-release of two time-honored live recordings – both remastered – I thought we’d pay homage to live albums this Sunday morning. I've been listening at length to Little Feat’s remarkable 1978 live Waiting For Columbus, re-released a few weeks ago by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, one of the premier remastering labels. I’ve also spent hours with the four-CD Delaney & Bonnie & Friends Live With Eric Clapton, an enjoyable time trip back to 1970, tho’ it’s not in the same league sonically as Live in Gdansk or Little Feat’s album.

When it was released in 1976, I thought Bob Seger’s Live Bullet was incredible. Now, with scores of well-produced live albums behind me, I realize it’s an imposter. There’s so much involved in accurately capturing a live moment, transferring it to playback media and having it sound good as well as sounding live, that there’s a dearth of sonically elegant recordings.

To be sure, live albums such as Cheap Trick’s At Budokan, the Rolling Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Yas and Government Mule’s The Deepest End are fun, if flawed, listens. And albums such as The Doors’ Absolutely Live, Warren Zevon’s Stand in the Fire and Nirvana’s Live at Reading are important historical captures, even if they’re … uneven.

When you get right down to it, a good live recording is one that touches something inside of each of us, and it’s a different experience for all. My favourite live recordings (based largely on the sound rather than the moment or the event) are:

The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East, The Who’s Live at Leeds, the above-mentioned Little Feat double album, James Brown’s Live at The Apollo, Porcupine Tree’s Coma Divine, The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over, Jeff Beck’s Live at Ronnie Scott's, Tom Petty’s Live Anthology, a just released obscurity, Tony Joe White’s That On The Road Look, Live, and The Band’s The Last Waltz, which we’ll listen to next week.

Perhaps you have some live albums you’ve not played in a while. After church, football, baseball or the outdoor adventure you have planned for today, you might give one a spin. There’s nothing quite like live music, and a good recording of a live performance is a thing of beauty.


  1. This was a good read and a good reminder that sound quality in and of itself is a valid reason to listen to certain recordings. I grew up with some of the records you mention, but increasingly, I'll admit, my experience with live recordings is all FLAC (or worse, mp3) all the time. I'm wondering what you think, Wayne, of the now-fairly-common practice of bands directly releasing show recordings digitally as a routine practice?

  2. I ENDORSE groups releasing recordings of just-completed live shows, such as the California Guitar Trio's habit of preparng CDs for concert attendees as they are leaving the show! GREAT stuff, but not required to be mixed, mastered and polished. I look at live recordings, BonnieB, like I do girls: ALL of um have some redeeming qualities; SOME of um you want to get rid of as soon as they make a sound; others you want to bring home and listen to again and again. Then there're the ones that are OH! so special - the ones that get better with age. Live recordings and wimmins; they make life rich!

  3. You really did just say "wimmins," didn't you? And here I was starting to think you were a classy guy.
    Anyway -- glad to hear you're not down on this practice due to less-than-stellar sound quality. I think most people, forced to choose between an average recording of a show they were at, or a much better recording of some other random show (or, worse, an old-skool compilation of tracks from different shows), would choose the former. So it's great that bands are starting to release recordings of more shows, even though I suspect most of them do so mainly because someone else is going to be recording the show and distributing it anyway (and many of those recordings are very good too)... it's a great time to be a music fan!