Monday, February 13, 2012

Listening Notes - Live Albums

The live album that got me thinking was by a group that I didn't really know and wouldn't have listened except that the album came with a trusted recommendation: The Asylum Street Spanker's "What and Give Up Show Biz?". The one studio album I'd heard from them wasn't anything special, so two plus hours of them looked to be a chore. It wasn't. The difference between them live and in the studio is that live they put on a show, complete with audience interaction jokes, schtick and good times. I am imagine the package works even better in person than it does on CD in your living room, but I'll never know. There may even be a DVD - not something I care about.

So what makes a good live album? Well, there has to be a concentration of songs. Live albums can serve as a "best of" if that's what the artist wants (it's what the record company wants), but that doesn't necessarily work as a stage show. The album has to catch the flow of a stage show even if its assembled from different shows. There should be some elements of a show involved - audience interaction, jokes, schtick, good times. If the performance is fierce enough, I'll forgive it for not being overtly fun, but I'm not going to buy, say, a Bauhaus live album. Please tell there isn't such a thing.

As you can see from my year end list, I'm very fond of Todd Snider's "Live: The Storyteller". It's his second live album in eight years, with the first one being worth seeking out as well. As are the four intervening studio albums, especially "East Nashville Skyline" and "The Devil You Know". In fact, some of my favorite songs from those two albums are missing from the new live album. In compensation, you get stories, some go one for as long as eight or nine minutes, except I don't mind hearing them even when I know the punch lines because they unfold just as well as Snider's best songs do. Or, to put it another way, he's grown just as much as a storyteller as he a singer in the last eight years, and that's as much as anyone.

The Bottle Rocket's "Not So Loud" is also on my list, and I suspect I'm the only person in creation who put them there. For one, the recording was made in 2006, so it may have been available digitally before 2011, although it says copyright 2011 on the CD case. It's one of those "unplugged" dates, hence the album title. They also don't play many of their best songs. (Where is "Welfare Music"?) However, the choice of what they play coheres well, and they have enough good to great songs in their songbook to cover the omissions. The band is into the gig, and a good time is had. If I don't make a case for these guys, who will?

I've confessed to my love for the trifle that is Rockpile's "Seconds of Pleasure" in other places, so naturally I distrust my joy at a live album. Indeed, a close listen to "Live at Montreaux 1980" suggests to me that the band is rushing the tempos because they're either bored or they've had a few drinks before the show. And this record makes it clear they were very much Dave Edmund's band live. Whatever. There's another Rockpile record in the world. I'm a happy man.