Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Get off the stage: Favorite live albums 2009

I've never really been much for live albums. Unless it's a band I'm really attached to, the only way I want to hear them live is if I'm intrigued enough to actually go see them live. Unless, of course, seeing them in person is no longer an option because they've died, broken up or, in the case of say, the Police, regrouped for an embarrassingly bad reunion tour that inevitably left fans broke and disappointed. With these things in mind, I was kind of surprised to realize just how many live albums I've been excited about this year. Six in fact - two from acts I've personally seen, two from acts I've yet to see, and two from acts I'll never get to see.

Two from bands I've had the pleasure of seeing:

Lambchop - Live At XX Merge
Lambchop remains one of the most underrated bands around today. I've had the pleasure of seeing them once as a full band, with Yo La Tengo at the Majestic Theater back in the late 90's. It was one of the best live shows of my life and one that I still use as a barometer for subsequent shows. This might be why so many concerts since have left me feeling underwhelmed. I also had the pleasure of seeing Kurt Wagner do a solo set (also with Yo La Tengo) in Charlotte, NC a few years ago, and he was fantastic. And he played "Moody Fucker" so it was double plus fantastic. Live At XX Merge is taken from the Merge 20th Anniversary show at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC and it is the perfect example of how fucking great Lambchop is.

Shudder To Think - Live From Home
I saw Shudder to Think open for Pavement at Saint Andrew's Hall back in the late 90's. I remember watching some indie elitist Pavement fans making fun of STT's grandeur and dramatic stage presence - particularly Nathan Larson's almost Spinal Tap-like guitar moves. I thought they were totally awesome and actually remember their set way better than Pavement's. Live From Home was recorded on their 2008 reunion tour - the first time they'd done a live stint since breaking up ten years earlier. It must've been a 90's indie rock dream come true for those who got to see them on this tour. For those who didn't, this is a great reminder of just how good they were.

Two from acts I've not had the pleasure of seeing (yet):

Tom Waits - Glitter And Doom Live
I love Tom Waits. This is his first official live album since 1988's Big Time and contains performances from his acclaimed Glitter and Doom tour - all hand picked by Mr. Waits himself. On my "Things To Accomplish In My Life" list, seeing him live ranks pretty near the top. Even above learning CPR.

Drive-By Truckers - Live From Austin, Texas
One of the most quintessential American rock n' roll bands in the quintessential rock and roll city. Austin City Limits has a pretty stellar reputation and is apparently now the longest running music series in American television history (trivia!). I consider it my patriotic duty to like this band.

Two from acts I'll never have the pleasure of seeing:

Ella Fitzgerald - 12 Nights In Hollywood
The story behind this new, 4 CD box set is awesome. But suffice to say, these recently unearthed, Norman Grantz produced live sets from 1961 and '62, at the Crescendo - a small jazz club in Los Angeles - are already being heralded as among the best live Ella Fitzgerald recordings in existence.

Nirvana - Live At Reading
I missed my chance to see Nirvana and that's not something I can change. And really, I didn't feel much regret about that until this Live At Reading recording made me painfully aware of how big a missed opportunity this was. 1996's On the Muddy Banks of Wishkah didn't make me feel that way. Neither did the Unplugged album. But Live At Reading is like the perfect set at the perfect time in Nirvana's all too short trajectory.

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