15 Best Live Albums You’ve Never Heard
Ever since I got into music in the late-’70s, I’ve been a big fan of live albums. But I’m also very particular when it comes to them; I only like them if they’re organic, cruelty free, and soundboard-to-stereo. In other words, they have to be from a single show, be the whole show, not be “fixed” in the studio, and be professionally recorded by the band, from the soundboard, or broadcast on the radio or the Internet. If they’re two or three shows mixed together, missing songs, feature overdubbed guitar parts and vocals, or recorded by some guy who snuck a tape recorder in by stuffing it down his pants — a guy I’ve been — then I don’t care.
But while I may be super picky about what live albums I’ll put in my speakers, there are actually quite a few great ones that meet the criteria. They’re just not always the most readily available.
Here’s fifteen great sounding, mostly uncut, single show live albums you might’ve missed.
THE ROLLING STONES
Recorded: March 13, 1971 at the University Of Leeds in Leeds, England
Available: Sticky Fingers: Super Deluxe Box Set
Recorded during the peak of their power, this show not only has Keith and his pals playing such de rigueur tunes as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” but also some the best deep cuts from this era, including “Stray Cat Blues,” “Street Fighting Man,” and “Midnight Rambler,” the latter of which gets jammed out to an epic thirteen minutes. And while this show was originally recorded and broadcast by the BBC, and was thus widely available as a bootleg for years, this version has two songs from the show — “Live With Me” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” — that weren’t part of the original radio show.
Recorded: November 27, 1991 at the Marquee Club in London, England
Available: Live Cult: Marquee London MCMXCI
Originally released half on its own and half as a bonus disc to the best-of collection Pure Cult: for Rockers, Ravers, Lovers, And Sinners, this uncut two-disc concert collection not only has the band’s biggest hits (“She Sells Sanctuary,” “Love Removal Machine”) but also such unexpected tunes as “Zap City” and “Brother Wolf, Sister Moon.” Oh, and if you’re wondering just how “uncut” is this is, that track on the second disc called “Amplification Breakdown” isn’t a loud guitar jam on Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown”; one of the amplifiers broke and had to be swapped out, and the band left it in because it was part of the show.
Recorded: July 27, 28, 29, and 30, 1962
Available: Sonny Rollins Quartet With Don Cherry: Complete Live At The Village Gate 1962
Recorded: October 29, 1965 in Munich, Germany
Available: Live In Munich 1965
Thanks to their love of jazz, people in Europe have often gotten to hear great live shows over the radio. And thanks to their lax copyright laws, people in the U.S. have gotten to hear them as well, albeit on “legally” released import CDs. So while I’m sure Mr. Rollins wouldn’t be happy that I’m including these two collections in this piece, sorry dude, they’re still great shows that your fans should check out. For the good and the bad about the Village Gate collection, you can read my review here. As for Munch, this impressive collection has Sonny, bassist Niels-Henning Orst Pedersen, and drummer Alan Dawson playing lengthy but effortless versions of “Darn That Dream, “On Green Dolphin Street” into “Night And Day,” and a medley of standards that includes “Over The Rainbow,” “September In The Rain,” and Rollins’ own “Pent-Up House,” among others.
Recorded: December 19, 1990 at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, California
Available: A Cabinet Of Curiosities
While tracks from this show had been previously released as the b-sides of singles and on the Live And Rare compilation, and most of the show was available as a bootleg, its inclusion in the Cabinet boxed set marked the first time that this epic show — which includes great versions of “Up The Beach,” “Three Days,” and “Ocean Size” — would be available both legitimately and completely. This is also the only true live Jane’s Addiction album, as the band’s eponymous collection was recorded live but heavily overdubbed, including with crowd noise from a Los Lobos concert, while anything they did after this without bassist Eric Avery doesn’t count.
THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE
Recorded: September 5, 1967 at Radiobuset Studio 4 in Stockholm, Sweden; January 29, 1968 at The Olympia in Paris, France; May 24, 1969 at the San Diego Sports Arena in San Diego, California
Recorded: April 26, 1969 at The Forum in Los Angeles, California
Available: Lifelines: The Jimi Hendrix Story
Like a lot of musicians who died way too soon, Jimi Hendrix has had his catalog rereleased and repackaged so many times that it’s hard to keep straight. But while this confusion has resulted in some botched jobs — I’m still waiting for a version of the otherwise excellent Winterland shows to be released uncut — we’ve also sometimes gotten some real gems like these four great live albums, the former three of which come from a four-disc live boxed set (Stages), while the latter was included in a collection of rarities and classic tracks (Lifelines). Along with such staples as “Fire,” “Hey Joe,” and “Purple Haze,” these collection feature such surprising cover as The Beatles’ “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heats Club Band” (Stockholm) and Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” (on both L.A. Forum and San Diego), along with such deep cuts as “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp” (Stockholm) and “Tax Free” (L.A. Forum).
Recorded: November 19, 1992 at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia
Available: Automatic For The People: 25th Anniversary Edition: Deluxe Edition
Though R.E.M. didn’t tour in support of their 1992 album Automatic For The People, they did play a handful of shows, including this benefit for Greenpeace in the hometown of Athens, which they later released piecemeal on the CD singles for songs from their 1994 album Monster. And while this isn’t the best show they ever played — though mostly because it was a short one — it is significant and worth the time it’ll take to assemble. And not just because it’s the only official concert collection they did with the original line-up, either. It’s also a great show that has them going back to one of their best albums, Lifes Rich Pageant, for the one-two punch of “Begin The Begin” and “Fall On Me,” as well as busting out a fiery cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime.”
Recorded: July 21, 1969 at The Aquarius Theater in Los Angeles, California
Available: Live At The Aquarius Theater, The First Performance
Recorded: May 8, 1970 at Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan
Available: Live In Detroit
While the best live Doors album is Live At The Bowl ’68, these two collections — released by the band’s own Bright Midnight label — are also rather exceptional, as both capture a much looser version of the group, one that not only let singer Jim Morrison recite a bunch of his poetry while the band jammed, but also had them taking on Robert Johnson’s classic blues tune “Crossroads.” The former also includes rather epic versions of “When The Music’s Over” and “Celebration Of The Lizard,” while the latter has its own lengthy takes on “When The Music’s Over” and “The End,” as well as John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful playing harmonica and guitar on seven tracks.
Recorded: December 22 and 23, 1965 at the Plugged Nickel in Chicago, Illinois
Available: The Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel 1965
Though there’s been a ton of great live Miles albums over the years — from the bonus disc of the Round About Midnight: 50th Anniversary Legacy Edition to the last disc of Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series, Volume 4 — the pinnacle is this tight but loose eight-disc boxed set, which features his greatest ensemble performing epic versions of such classics as “No Blues,” “Milestones,” and Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” over the course of two nights and seven sets. And while, like some of the other live Miles boxed sets — including the excellent Live In Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1, which features the same band as Nickel, and the epic Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 — there is some redundancy, especially over the two days, the beauty of Miles and this band is that they could play such standards as “I Fall In Love Too Easily” or “Stella By Starlight” twice in the same night and not have it sound the same.
Recorded: November 16, 1974 at Wembley Stadium in London, England
Available: Dark Side Of The Moon: Experience Version, Wish You Were Here: Experience Version, and The Early Years 1965-1972
Though you have to put it together yourself, which requires you to buy three different collections — the latter of which is a couple hundred dollars — it’s well worth it. Er, rather, it would be were it not for the fact that this may get an official release one day. Though when is anyone’s idea. I thought for sure that The Doors would release the whole Live At The Hollywood Bowl show on CD one day, and sure enough, they did…it just took 25 years. Hopefully, Live At Wembley, or whatever they call it, won’t take as long. Especially since it is a great show. Not only does it have them performing the entire Dark Side Of The Moon album, but it also has intriguing early versions of the Animals tracks “Sheep” and “Dogs,” here called “Raving And Drooling” and “You’ve Got To Be Crazy,” respectfully.
Recorded: October 10, 1969 at The Olympia in Paris, France
Available: Led Zeppelin: Deluxe Edition
Over the years, Led Zeppelin have released a handful of live albums. Sadly, though, they were not only compiled from multiple nights, but have often featured songs that were stitched together from different shows as well. And while this concert is also edited, most of the cuts are between song banter and an audio issue during the solo of “Heartbreaker.” Even stranger, the whole disc is only 71 minutes long; there was plenty of room for the banter. Regardless of the cuts, though, this is as close to a pure live Zeppelin album as we’ll ever get. But man, if this is it, we’re ahead of the game. Capturing the band when they were young and hungry, this not only has blistering versions of “How Many More Times” and “You Shook Me,” as well as an epic opening that has them going from “Good Times Bad Times” into “Communication Breakdown,” but it also has early versions of “Heartbreaker” and “Moby Dick” from what was then their upcoming second album.