Debating the Appeal of Live Albums

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So I’m trying to figure out just what I think of live albums. My initial reaction is: not much. At least, not in rock music. If you like an artist or band enough to go see them live, odds are the recording of that very same event just won’t live up to how it felt when you were there, enveloped by the sound. And that’s the crucial difference: a live concert is more than music; it’s a communal experience and a physical one, even if all you do is sit there and let the sound pin your ears back. King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp once described a live concert as a “hot date” – but a recording of a live concert as merely a love letter.

Having said that… James Brown Live At The Apollo. Nirvana Unplugged. There ARE some tremendous live recordings. (I’m gonna refrain from mentioning Johnny Cash at San Quentin, which, as longtime Soundcheck listeners may recall, was very much a studio creation – especially the iconic roar of the prisoners when Cash sings “well I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die.” That roar was layered on by the engineers later for dramatic effect.) And for jazz and classical music, live concert recordings are absolutely essential, and arguably way more important than the studio creations of either a be-bop combo or a symphony orchestra. (Fans of the classical pianist Glenn Gould will probably disagree. Fans of Keith Jarrett may feel torn.)

For me, though, the live album in the world of pop music usually has a whiff of “let’s fulfill this record contract and get back to the beach.” What do you think? Are there live albums that helped form your musical tastes? Are they still relevant in an age when tonight’s concert is tomorrow’s Youtube clip?