Best Live Albums

U2 is planning on releasing a DVD of their current 360 tour.  U2 is one of the greatest live bands ever, yet they insist on releasing live DVDs of all their tours.  As more and more bands put out live DVDs instead of live albums (and sometimes a live CD is included as a bonus disc to the live DVD) the live album is quickly becoming a thing of the past.  As such, I’ve decided to include a list of my favorite live albums.

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964 – Concert at Philharmonic Hall

While the “Royal Albert Hall” show might be more historically significant, I prefer this one.  Recorded on Halloween Night 1964, it shows the two sides of Bob Dylan in the mid 1960s.  There’s the political folk of “The Times They Are A-Changing” and “With God On Our Side”  alongside the surrealism of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”.   Dylan is evidently stoned delivering some of his funniest stage banter.  There’s also a hilarious introduction to “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” where Dylan clearly forgets the first verse and asks audience how it begins.  For anyone who thinks that Dylan is always serious, this is worth checking out.

Sam Cooke – One Night Stand! Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963

If anyone thinks that Sam Cooke is just easy listening, one listen to this album will put you straight.  Cooke tears through a tight set of classics (“Cupid”, “Chain Gang” “Bring it On Home”) as if his life depended on it.  This is the sound of a performer clearly in command of his audience.  At the end of “Sentimental Reasons” when he shouts out “everybody!” –  clearly wanting the crowd to sing along – Sam Cooke is wanting everybody in the world to be united in the power of music.  Live at the Harlem Square Club is the sound of everyone “Havin’ a party”.

Van Morrison  – It’s Too Late To Stop Now

It’s Too Late To Stop Now, might be my favorite live album of all time.  Unlike a lot of other live albums I love, It’s Too Late To Stop Now is clean and precise.  Van Morrison isn’t so much a performer here, but more of a conductor of an eleven piece band (including a string section).  It’s a fantastic mix of celtic folk, jazz, soul, r&b and roll are rolled into one fantastic document.  The highlight of the album is “Cypress Avenue”.  Where the album version was a haunting jazz number, on this live album Van Morrison transforms into a 10 minute tour de force including several false endings.  Clearly the stuff of legend.

Bruce Springsteen –Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75

Someone told me recently that Springsteen was too cheesy.  I agree, sometimes he can be.  But not here.  This album is the sound of a man who knows he’s got the world’s greatest rock band behind him and is ready to take on anyone who thinks otherwise.  The solo piano version of “Thunder Road” makes a song that has been overplayed (though still great) sound new and refreshing.  “Spirit in the Night” (always a great live song) is played with such intensity that when Bruce dramatically breathes hard during the bridge you wonder if he’s actually serious.  And this is only in the first three songs.  The version of “Born to Run” here is the closest that Springsteen would ever come to punk.  And just to prove that he could still have fun the second half contains the famous “Detroit Medley” a medley of old soul hits.

The ClashLive at Shea Stadium

Better known as the live album where The Clash blew the Who off the stage.  Even though it’s not the classic Clash line-up (drummer Topper Headon is not on drums) this live album is better than the earlier live compilation From Here To Eternity for a number of reasons.  First of all the song selection is far superior.  No Clash live album is complete without “Clampdown” or “Tommy Gun”.  Since they were opening for the Who, Joe Strummer knows he’s got his work cut out for him and forces the audience to listen to them.  “Everybody please stop talking in the back,” He snarls at one point.  “It’s too loud.  It’s putting us off the song.  Stop yakking!”  They close the show with a furious version of “I Fought the Law”.  Too bad The Clash imploded not too long after this, and The Who decided to keep touring for decades.

Those are some of my favorites.  What are yours?

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