With the absence of ordinary gigs from our venues seeming certain to continue, our focus this week is on finding other ways to get your fix of live music: if you’re looking for instant access to the auditory sensations of an in-person concert, turning the lights down low in your bedroom and sticking a live album on your headphones is a decent alternative to the real thing. What’s more, this way you might get the live experience of favourite artists, past and present, who you just wouldn’t get the chance to see otherwise:
- Portishead – Roseland NYC Live (1998)
The eerie atmospherics, weird instrumentation, and stunning arrangement skills of trip-hop greats Portishead (backed by a full orchestra) are all on display in this live recording from New York’s Roseland Ballroom. Geoff Barrow’s impulsive DJing is exquisite and Beth Gibbons’ voice is as chilling as ever. All together now: “give me a reaaaason to love you…”
- Beyoncé – Homecoming (2019)
Released alongside the Netflix concert film of the same title, this live album only serves as further proof of Queen B’s status as the outstanding modern pop artist. Homecoming is a testament to and celebration of black culture, channelling RnB and hip-hop tropes, a brass band arrangement, and a lyrical focus on female empowerment into a sensational two-hour set.
- Tony Allen – Live (2004)
Perhaps the greatest drummer of all time, Tony Allen was performing at the peak of his powers right up until his death earlier this year. While the Nigerian featured heavily on Fela Kuti and Ginger Baker’s legendary 1971 live album, released at the peak of the afrobeat movement, this compilation of more recent live cuts is delightful. ‘Black Voices’ is a funky, swaggering, and pertinent highlight.
- IDLES – A Beautiful Thing: Idles Live at le Bataclan (2019)
Bristol punks IDLES truly do offer the best live show available right now. While, for the moment, we are unable to experience the pure joy of their sweaty, giddy moshpit, this 2019 recording faithfully exhibits the band’s double threat of visceral sound and heartfelt message. Joe Talbot’s ever-earnest between-song chat deserves a mention too.
- Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace (1972)
Still the best selling Aretha album of all time, Amazing Grace was recorded with choral accompaniment at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. The subject of a 2018 documentary/concert film (which Ms Franklin herself opposed in a legal battle), this legendary live performance remains best experienced through the 1999 remaster, which showcases the soul icon’s rousing, spellbinding voice. Beyoncé’s Homecoming is unlikely to have existed had Aretha not set such a precedent 47 years earlier.
- The Smiths – Hatful of Hollow (1984)
Although technically a compilation, rather than a live album, this release brings together 16 of the best live takes ever recorded by Johnny Marr and Co.. John Peel’s Radio 1 sessions tended to result in studio magic, and this is no exception: the renditions of ‘This Charming Man’ and ‘Still Ill’ included on Hatful of Hollow are up there with the classic originals.
Listen to selected songs from Fred’s chosen live albums below: