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Live Album Cop Out

Are live albums in 2011 a cop out? I think I'm going to have to say “yes.”

Here's why: back in the 70s and 80s...if you wanted to hear your fave band live, you saw them in concert. If you were too young or broke or lived in a remote location, a live album was your second best option for that special concert experience. While live albums have always been controversial in the fact that questions are nearly always raised to their validity (was this song touched up in the studio? Or this one? Or all of them?), at least the older the live disc, the more raw (usually). Now, live albums are basically always touched up to the hilt, so what is the point? Plus, every concert ends up on YouTube the fan the special chance of seeing and hearing the concert in its true form.

Even in the past, it seemed like bands only made live records as part of a contractual obligation to a label. Since few new acts (and even legacy acts) have the same sort of expansive, multi-album contracts that were once common, funding for live albums is getting less and less. I understand that a self-funded live album is a quick way for a band to get a new product in front of fans...but still. While I like live albums, I can't recall any in recent memory that I considered groundbreaking. It's pretty hard to compete with iconic live records like One Night at Budokan (Michael Schenker Group) or Live at Leeds (The Who).

I think in 2011, I'd just rather save my cash for shows...and watch other performances via YouTube. But then, that's me. What do you think: are live albums in 2011 a cop out?

Reader Comments (18)

Ok here's my take. Seeing as nearly every album now is done up so much in the stufio it is getting damn near impossible to do songs live without the help of sampling tracks live. Every album is Sgt. Peppers!

That coupled with many older bands, who can do songs without this, already having definitive live albums may be why live albums are a rarity. Judas Priest did have a touch of evil live come out and that was great record. in fact it and priest live are eons ahead of "Unleashed..." a record blatantly dubbed in the studio. Another thing is some of these acts, take ozzy for example are long in the tooth and may not be 100% on recorded shows nowadays, so a little editing is needed. Ozzy for example sounds great on the tour edition of Scream but i can tell its be doctored if not slightly. I know he sounds good live i saw him this past summer and believe there was no live autotune being used so he has something left in him.

The thing about youtube is that although every concert its seems makes it way there the quality 95% of the time is god awful. Bootlegs made in the 80's have better quality than every smuck with a cellphone or camera. And again why would i waste my time listening to some shitty recording of them now off the tour when i could get an official recording that sounds good and has what i want to hear on.

Bottom line, Pop artists now use autotune and everything else too such affect on the studio albums that it can be replicated in a live setting without sounding like a studio album. If they do record it sounds like "Unleashed..." a demo with crowd noise added for effect. Rock artists may do this too but again there haven't been as many live releases of recent tours by many that i know of other than Ozzy, Priest and Maiden( oh and by the way Maiden has too many frickin live albums. Live After Death is ok but damn it Bruce hit those high notes!).

So a cop out? No. A dying art resulting from the Sgt. Pepperization of recording music. Yes. OTSK #13
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShadow
"Can't be replicated in a live setting" for the last paragraph, sorry!
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShadow
Love live lps still but am selective
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSmknotsmf
Like anything, it's hard to generalize. Some are definitely cop outs -- especially those that are put out for no other reason to satisfy a record company obligation. Poison's "Swallow This Live" falls in that category for me.

But when a band who is at the top of their game puts out a live album, it's a great snapshot of where they are at that time and the records can be truly great. Metallica's "Live Shit: Binge & Purge" is a great example of that. The double album was recorded over 2 nights in Mexico in 1992 (93?) and captures Metallica at the height of their career: the band is extremely tight, the sound is massive and the live energy is palpable.

Kiss' Alive II is another great example of a band caught at their peak. We all know that it's been edited, but the album still paints a larger than life picture of their performance and listening to it makes you want to go back to 1978 and see them play.

By the way, I don't think it matters so much if the performances have been touched up at the studio. I can get crappy-sounding live recordings anywhere -- it's nice to have some professional recording standards applied.
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBryon
OTSK! Does #13 mean that's the number of times I've said that? It feels like more. Please enlighten us as to the significance of that reference, Shad.

I think there's a place for live albums when it makes a difference in the music -- meaning if the performance happens to be extraordinary or it's from a band who does a lot of improv that sways from their original recordings.

If a band is just going to play the songs they are known for virtually note for note, there's not much to it.

Great live albums of the past usually showcase a band's talent and ability to create a significant sonic departure from the original studio recordings of their hits.

Al mentions "Live At Leeds". A quick story I've commented on before:

I was taking an extended lunch hour in Rocks In Your Head, a tiny Record and CD store on Spring Street in NYC around '96 or so when Flea walked in with his chick, who promptly left him to his own devices, saying "I'll be back".

Probably a good thing for him, as he would have most likely created quite a stir at Prada Downtown or wherever the h*ll she was headed. At Rocks, he was left to browse the racks of LPs with nobody in the joint except for the owner at the register and moi.

I kept (as sparingly and nonchalantly as possible) looking up to see what he was browsing thru as I, myself, was burning thru each rack trying to fit as much searching time in as possible before having to return to the office.

Finally, Flea's girlfriend returned to drag him out of there and he quickly made a selection to purchase. I didn't want to seem too much like a paparazzi, so, already having gotten a good look at the both of 'em, I purposely forced myself not to gawk.

As Flea made his LP purchase, I heard him say to the owner, "Somebody once told me this is the greatest live album ever recorded."

The owner politely agreed.

Not long after Flea left, I eventually went up front to buy a CD or two, I asked the owner, "Hey, man, what did Flea buy, if you don't mind me asking, as I heard what he said."

The owner laffed and told me...

"The Who, 'Live At Leeds'."

And why would that be so? Because The Who really stretch out some of their original hits into Hard Rock wonders, heavying them up with Townsend E-chord windmills and exceptionally great guitar leads inserted where either none existed or classic, yet fairly prefunctory ones previously did.

On "Live At Leeds", the whole band is firing on all pistons and you just get the sense immediately when you put the needle on the record or press play on your CD player you are listening to Rock'n'Roll History being made.

They also added great Hard Rock versions of old classics like Mose Allyson's "Young Man's Blues", blowing out a relatively subdued jazz/blues thing into a monsterous and mean, Led Zeppelinesque barnstormer! The rest of the album is more of the same. It's a scorcher! Ace Frehley even knicked a Townsend lead and plunked it into his "solo" on "Kiss Alive", speaking of another great live record.

And now, a few great live albums from back in the day or recently released to finally put forth incredible old live recordings...

Led Zeppelin, "How The West Was One" (no overdubs whatsoever)

Hendrix, "In The West" (check out his version of "Johnny B. Goode" on this! Phenomenal!).

The Rolling Stones, "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out" (check out "Midnight Rambler". Classic!).

Deep Purple, "Live In Japan" ("Highway Star"!)

Kiss Alive, I & II.

Cheap Trick, "At Budokan" (which also shows contrast from their original studio recordings with much heavier ones and also unreal covers and an amazing original or two that never wound up on studio albums (i.e. "Lookout").

AC/DC, "If You Want Blood, You Got It". (Bon Scott!). Also, the "Live at Atlantic Studios" Radio Only Release that eventually officially came out as an extra treat in the Bonfire Box Set is even more amazing.

I think the "Jam Bands" of today benefit the most when releasing live albums -- bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead (sadly, sans Jerry Garcia, RIP). That's because their whole modus operandi is to never play the same thing twice the same way and just, well, jam. Of course, even though I respect their "art", these bands aren't particularly my cup of tea.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, where REAL Rock'n'Roll Bands are the topic -- I think Crue or Poison could put out live albums of their performances from their upcoming tour but only if they mix in some new material (Ha!) and play interesting, never done before, covers.

In fact, this discussion has just revealed a way for both acts, or the shrewder of the two, to release new material without having to go through the arduous task of recording extensively in the studio (God forbid!).

Of course, they would, no doubt, have to do considerable touch up to Vince's and Brett's voices. There's two "singers" who should, not only bother to sing all of their words, but also be required to use Autotune in the mix for the sake of the live audience.

Hey, maybe that's why they're touring again. They can save on the Autotune equipment on tour.

Let's pray they take advantage of it, if they aren't going to bother singing under their own power, or, understandably, are incapable of doing so.

p.s. You know what else would be fun. If these two could get together during Crue's act toward the end to do "Anarchy In The U.S.A.", Zep's "Rock'n'Roll" or Kiss' "Rock And Roll All Nite".
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
Oops! I'm sure it's not the only typo or grammatical error above, but, obviously, it's "How The West Was Won", not "One", you should immediately listen to in order to hear Zeppelin at one of their early absolute peaks. And the liner notes are priceless!
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
Rock in Rio - Maiden. Its pretty hard to call a show of this magnitude a cop out. It is among my favourite discs that Maiden has put out.
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterspence
Some folk say that the live album is a cop-out. Some say it's a publicity stunt - hello, Winger putting out IV, the Demo Anthology, a Concert DVD and a concert CD in less than a year?
But it's a blessing for those of us who get 2 things as far as concerts go: jack and ****. Where I live is DEAD as far concerts go. Queensryche comes in August to Virginia, but it's in Norfolk. Kip Winger's closest show to me (so far) is in Baltimore. Whitesnake is nowhere near enough to feasibly travel. So I have the concert CDs to listen to. True, there is YouTube--the only place I've ever been able to listen to the Alan Parsons Live Project (and, yes, I know there are live DVDs and CDs out there, I'm a bad fan & haven't acquired them yet.). So there are still options for those of us who can't get to concerts to hear the 'magic' of the live performances.
What a cop-out is when the artists go back over the live recordings and tweak them to make them sound better. I prefer the true sound. Dan Fogelberg didn't allow it for his last live CD, and I don't think Kip Winger tweaked the Winger live CD either.
Just my .02 cents worth...or is it now .10 cents with inflation? ;)
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChessie >^..^<
The #13 is my lucky number. It was my dad's favorite number and since he died its haunted me ever since I've embraced it.

While we're on the topic I'll list my top 10 live albums that i've heard or owned just for kicks.

In no particular order.....

1.Ozzy- RR Tribute
2. Ozzy Speak of the Devil
3. Judas Priest- Preist Live
4. Black Sabbath-Live At Last (the remastered 2002 Version on Past Lives)
5. Quiet Riot - Extended Verisons
6. Dio- Live At Donnington
7. Iron Maiden Live After Death
9. WASP live in the Raw
10.Van Halen- Live Without a Net.
I know VH was a video But I've converted it to an audio album so it makes the list.

Honorable mention- Rough Cutt Live
OTSK #13
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShadow
I agree with with Allyson, live albums are pointless in this day and age. Do we really need another live album with Maiden, Ozzy or Priest? Hell no.
Alive II, Live After Death, If You Want Blood, World Wide Live, Speak of the Devil - sweet stuff from the 70's & 80's, but there's no way I'd cough up the dough for a live album in 2011.
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSnoot
I don't buy very many live albums, because most don't seem to be that interesting, but I did get the new Michael Monroe disc, and it's pretty killer. Has a couple of new tunes that are not on the new studio album. I'm also a HUGE Wildhearts/Ginger fan, so that's an added bonus.
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack
I would buy any live album if it lives up to the criteria I outlined in my above comments -- longer guitar leads and other improvisation a la Zeppelin's live material including new and added "jams" to songs like "Whole Lotta Love" on The Song Remains The Same (interestingly heavily touched up but duzn't really seem to matter too much) where the live version becomes three songs in one, including abbreviated covers of old blues tunes.

Also, speaking of covers, if the odd cover that never shows up anywhere else but on a band's live album also happens to be a dazzler, it helps create legendary status for such an album.

Even better, if the live album contains an original or two not found anywhere else in a band's discography, that certainly helps to bring it a more essential sheen.

Chessie! Do you live anywhere near Jaxx in Springfield, Virginia, near D.C. and Baltimore?

If so, you can go see the following:

Accept, Wednesday, April 13th
Overkill, Friday, April 15th
UFO, Saturday, May 7th
Loudness, Friday, June 3th
Kamelot, Saturday, August 27th

And dates TBD for:

Lita Ford
RATT (!!!) a lot of other crap you may be into, in between all of those dates.

Sorry, did you say Dan Fogelberg? For real? AC/DC could have used him as a human cannonball on their "For Those About To Rock Tour".

Anyway, if you can make it up to Jaxx for all of those shows, you needn't concern yourself about no stinkin' live albums, well, for, at least, this summer!
March 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
I forgot about AC/DC's 'If You Want Blood, You Got It'; that's a killer album! For the most part I don't get into live albums either since you can find so much stuff on youtube these days. I would kill for some unreleased DLR-era Van Halen stuff though; some of the covers and unreleased stuff from their old club days are killer!
March 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteri'mtheone
I personally love live albums and enjoy listening to them, are live albums essential in this day and age? Perhaps not but I am glad that Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix's estate have released so many live releases since both men died when I was a one to 6 month old and gives an chance to hear a band live I of course would never gotten to otherwise
March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterManny
I absolutely love live albums, but don't get so excited about live albums from newer artists because, as metalboy pointed out, most of them don't take any chances when they play live so there's not much point.

Back in the day, a live album could actually make a band. peter Frampton put out several studio albums that I think only his immediate family bought. Then comes 1976 and the absolutely epic "Frampton comes Alive." That album made his solo career. 35 years later, that album still sends chills up my spine. How about Bob seger, "Live Bullet?" that album got his career going as well. Remember that cheap trick wasn't big in America at all until "Live at Budokan" came out. How about Joe cocker, "Mad Dogs and Englishmen"...Phenomenal!
March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob
I do like live albums,,BUT I like bootlegs better..ones that show warts and has a great selection,,Im hooked on KISS,Van Halen and Led Zep..who,by the way,are UNREAL on ALL the bootleg cds I have,,just total pros!
March 22, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjimbo
Jimbo! Check out the "Live Import" DVD of Zep's 2007 London Reunion if you haven't seen it yet.
March 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMetalboy!
Deep Purple's live album is titled "MADE in Japan"
March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJell-o

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