10 Best Live Albums
The best live albums don’t just replicate songs that were probably perfected in the studio after months of multiple takes. The best live albums add something more than just ecstatic audience cheers between tracks. The records on our list of the Top 10 Live Albums were made by artists who use the concert setting to extend the scope of their original works. Lots of bands treat live albums as cheaply produced stopgaps between records, but not here. These 10 alt-rock albums transcend the genre.
Case hooked up with some old pals — including Kelly Hogan and members of the Sadies — for some shows in Chicago and Toronto in 2004. The results are personal, striking and intimate. Case’s voice is strong on ‘The Tigers Have Spoken”s dozen cuts, which include originals, traditional numbers and covers of Loretta Lynn and Shagri-Las songs.
Thirteen years after they broke up, the Clash’s record company finally got around to releasing a live album by the punk legends. ‘From Here to Eternity’ spans performances from 1978 through 1982, singling out shows from London, Boston and New York. The set list covers early scorchers like ‘London’s Burning’ through late-period epics like ‘Straight to Hell.’ Excellent all around.
These Kentucky rockers have made some adventurous records over the past decade; their 2006 live album captures them onstage, where many of their songs take on new forms and perspective. The tracks come from a pair of 2005 shows at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore, the location of many other grand live statements over the years.
Depeche Mode were still two years away from becoming massively huge synth-pop stars around the world, but you’d think they had already reached that plateau judging by the deafening screams recorded at their 1988 Rose Bowl appearance. More than on any other record on our list of the Top 10 Live Albums, the audience plays a big part on ‘101,’ singing along, cheering wildly and generally pushing the songs forward.
‘Live at Sin-e’ (1993)
Before he released his 1994 debut album, ‘Grace,’ Buckley recorded this four-song EP at a NYC coffeehouse, accompanying himself on electric guitar. It’s a mesmerizing, dynamic performance that includes two ‘Grace’ cuts, one old French number and a 10-minute cover of Van Morrison‘s ‘The Way Young Lovers Do.’ No wonder he became a star.
Culled from a few stops on Radiohead’s 2001 tour, ‘I Might Be Wrong’ reworks, sometimes drastically, songs from ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ into sonic feasts that offer a bounty of revealing new details onstage. Songs are expanded, some get new arrangements and instruments are added and dropped along the way. Need more proof that Radiohead are one of the 21st century’s most significant bands? Add this to that list of inarguable evidence.
By 2005, when ‘Kicking Television’ was recorded at four live shows in their hometown of Chicago, Wilco was one of the country’s best live acts. Frontman Jeff Tweedy, never one to leave well enough alone, constantly restructures the band’s songs onstage, taking them into directions that often depart so freely from their studio versions that they’re barely recognizable by the end. ‘Kicking Television’ documents a typically great string of shows.
This eight-song EP pretty much made U2 stars. Recorded during their world tour in support of ‘War,’ ‘Under a Blood Red Sky’ spotlights the group’s electric stage presence, sealing their reputation as the most exciting live band to emerge in years. It’s the only record on our list of the Top 10 Live Albums that was a true career changer.
‘Stop Making Sense’ is more than just a soundtrack to a great concert film; in fact David Byrne doesn’t want you to think of it that way. It’s a remarkable portrait of one of the ’80s’ best live bands at the peak of their career. At the time, Talking Heads were a nine-member live act capable of delivering everything from elastic funk to springy punk. It’s all covered here.
Nirvana had just released the noisiest, most abrasive album of their career when they stripped down and unplugged for this moving, intimate performance in November 1993. They played some of their new songs, but they also covered David Bowie and a traditional folk tune, invited punk legends the Meat Puppets onstage and revealed the acoustic heart underneath a few of their classics. Kurt Cobain would be dead less than five months later. ‘MTV Unplugged in New York’ serves as a requiem.