Top Ten – Live Albums

I love live albums and documents!!  I can’t get enough live versions of a song that I really dig.  For example:  The million live versions of Whitesnake’s ‘Still of the Night’.  There’s even another one coming with a double disc version of the 30th anniversary edition of the band’s 1987 self titled smash.  A great live album sounds better than a studio album.  The reason being that a live setting often displays the a heavier guitar and all around band sound.  That combined with a great crowd and spontaneous instrumental jams make live albums the top of the pile for many rock and metal heads.  Here’s a look at my top ten live albums.

Dio – Finding the Sacred Heart (Live In Philadelphia)

Don’t let the fact that original Dio guitarist Vivian Cambell left mid tour, before this recording in fact, sway you from this amazing live album.  Even though Cambell was gone and replaced by Craig Goldy, this live document (released only a few years ago but recorded in 1986) displays what may have been Dio’s best tour of his entire career.  Veteran drummer Vinne Appice sound is bigger than the cosmos.  Seriously, every snare hit sounds like an earthquake.  Just as it should be.  The audience is excited and invested through the entire set.  And Dio is in fine fine form throughout.  It’s a great set list of songs too.  Including a 12 minute but never tired version of ‘Sacred Heart’, a heart pounding version of ‘King of Rock N Roll’ and a very very impressive guitar solo from newcomer Craig Goldy.

Dream Theater – Live at Luna Park

After losing founding member and drummer Mike Portnoy in 2010, many people wondered what the fate of Dream Theater would be.  The answer was one of their best and most successful albums followed by one of the bands biggest tours.  New blood Mike Mangini comes in and in many ways exceeds his predecessors skills.  Dream Theater have had many live documents released before this one.  But Luna Park is in Buenos Aires, where heavy metal reigns supreme.  Dream Theater have had sizeable audiences around the world, but they didn’t have any live documents in a big arena with 10,000 plus people until this point.  And I’ve always wanted to hear this band with a huge, invested and excited crowd.  And here you get just that.  The audience screams with every guitar and keyboard solo.  The set is perfect.  Petrucci’s guitar tone is one of the best in Dream Theater’s career.  And James LaBrie’s voice soars with passion and deadly precision.  Plus, an excellent drum solo from Mike Mangini.  If you don’t have this Dream Theater live album, get it.

Iron Maiden – Live, After Death

I know I know, many of you think this should be at the top of the list.  It’s one of the most legendary live albums of all time.  Certainly one of the most recognized album covers in rock and metal.  And for good reason.  Iron Maiden were at the top of the world in 1984/85 after the release of ‘Powerslave’ and the gigantic ensuing world tour.  Selling out stadiums and arenas all over the world.  Iron Maiden decided to record a show at the Long Beach Arena in Southern California.  What?!  A live album in LA?!  Never heard of that!  But seriously, it’s a great set covering the bands early work and what many consider to be the peak of their career.  Bruce Dickenson’s voice soars tremendously.  Smith and Murray tear through the speakers.  And frankly, even though it’s the first live document of the band, it contains Niko McBrain’s best drum tone of all the bands live albums.  It also has the best versions of ‘Aces High’, ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’, ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and a particularly energetic version of ‘The Trooper’; before it was played more than ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

Rush – Rush in Rio

Here’s another one that many consider to be the greatest live album of all time.  They’re mostly Rush fans but that’s okay.  It’s absolutely one of the best out there.  A three hour and 10 minute set list, spanning over three discs.  Not only is it known for having a 65,000 plus sized audience that sings along with instrumental tracks.  It’s also known for Geddy Lee’s bass tone throughout the show.  It rained right before the band took the stage which screwed with the bass equipment and Lee’s strings.  What ended up happening what that it sounded phatter and bigger than anyone thought and they kept it in the mix.  It’s only time Rush really sounds this way.  And frankly I love it.  Some think that Alex Lifeson’s guitar gets lost a bit in the mix.  But I think it’s fine.  It’s certainly there.  It’s not like you have to struggle to hear it.  Check out the best versions of ‘YYZ’, ‘The Big Money’, ‘Natural Science’, ‘Red Sector A’, ‘Leave That Thing Alone’ and ‘La Villa Strangiato’.  All of which are in this live document.

Def Leppard – Live…In the Round, In Your Face

This live recording wasn’t actually available in double disc audio format until early August of this year.  And frankly I never understood why.  It’s a phenomenal live album.  The passion, the energy, the crowd, the hits.  It’s all there.  Re-purchasing ‘Hysteria’ is totally worth the live album.  It’s a celebration of triumph against all odds.  It’s the first tour with Rick Allen as a one armed drummer.  The album that the tour represented, ‘Hysteria’, initially bombed until a year later when ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ was released as a single.  Then it blew up and you can feel the gratitude in the live performance.  The audience is so loud.  Plus there’s tons of chicks in the crowd.  Always a welcome sound at a hard rock concert.  Steve Clark and Phil Collin have a rare duel guitar chemistry.  Think a heavier Joe Perry with a Satriani type player.  Good combo.  But the highlight is the sound of Rick Allen’s new drum set.  A half electric/acoustic kit to accommodate having one arm.  And my god does it sound phat.  I thought my rear view mirror was going to fall off when I was blasting the album in my car.  IT’S PHAT!!  Highlights include ‘Stagefright’, ‘Rock ‘Till You Drop’, ‘Gods of War’, ‘Die Hard the Hunter’ and an actual fresh sounding version of ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’.

Cheap Trick – Live at Budokan!

Not only is one of the most legendary live albums of all time, it’s one of the most legendary in general.  Along with KISS ‘Alive’ and Peter Frampton, this is the biggest live album ever to be released.  And like their peers KISS, it took a live album for the band to explode state side.  But before they became a U.S. phenomenon, they were gigantic in Japan.  They got it before anyone else.  Now, unlike KISS, ‘Live at Budokan’s’ success was a total accident.  Simply a bonus album to reward the Japanese fans while the band ground out becoming a hit at home.  But then a radio DJ in the states started playing ‘I Want You To Want Me’ live and the rest is history.  The band blew up.  And the reason?  Because ‘Live At Budokan’ does what a live album should.  It captures an energy, tone, texture and heaviness that simply can’t be captured in the studio.  Once people heard what Cheap Trick really sounded like, everyone became hooked.  And that’s because Cheap Trick are one of the best live bands to ever grace the Earth.  Highlights include ‘Big Eyes’, ‘Auf Widersehen’, ‘Need Your Love’ and ‘Downed’.

Queen – Live At Wembly Stadium

It really sounds like they’re playing their last show.  That’s how passion is in this live album.  Of course, it wasn’t their last show.  But it was their last tour, even though no one (including the band) knew it.  I always thought Queen was a much better live band than studio one.  They’re limited to four instruments and that sort of forces the group to perform the guitar based work such as ‘Tear it Up’, ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ and ‘One Vision’.  Of course, the set list isn’t just comprised of the band’s rockers.  ‘Who Want’s to Live Forever’ gives an emotionally chilling foreshadowing of the years to come for front man Freddie Mercury.  And ‘Love of My Life’ and ‘This is the World We’ve Created’ are very sentimental acoustic moments.  But the highlight of the album lies in the spontaneity that the band has live.  ‘A Kind of Magic’ displays Brian May at his melodic best.  A spontaneously beautiful guitar solo that’s certainly more memorable than anything studio version gives.  You can listen to it over and over again.  And the 100,000 plus sized crowd is with the band at every step of the way.  There’s a reason many consider this to be the greatest live albums of all time.

King’s X – Tales From the Empire (Live in Cleveland: 1992)

I can promise you this.  You’ve never heard a trio, much less and heavy rock band sound like this live.  It sounds like there’s five members of the band to be honest.  What these guys can accomplish in a live performance is almost beyond our 3rd dimension.  And ‘Tales From the Empire’ is the perfect example.  Recorded on the bands 1992/93 self titled tour, ‘Tales From the Empire’ captures a hungry band at its peak.  Bassist/Vocalist Dug Pinnick’s voice rivals only Chris Cornell’s.  Ty Tabor and Jerry Gaskill’s vocal harmonies sound just like they do in the studio.  As well as the band’s three way harmonies.  But again, the heart of the album is in the spontaneous jam sessions.  Particularly on ‘We Are Finding Who We Are’ and ‘Prisoner’.  Guitarist Ty Tabor really lets go and just wails like there’s no tomorrow.  He’s certainly the most underrated guitar player in the hard rock/metal genre.  The solo on ‘Prisoner’ alone says it all.  But other highlights include ‘Fall on Me’, ‘Wonder’, ‘The Big Picture’ and an incredible version of ‘Moanjam’.  In which Ty Tabor punishes all other guitar players and Jerry Gaskill treats us to a rare drum solo.

KISS – Alive

Say what you want about KISS, but it’s their first live album that changed everything in the record industry as far as releasing standards go.  They created a trend of releasing three studio albums and then a live album to truly represent the truth of the band.  That alone gets them a top five slot.  Most lists, including Rolling Stone, have them there.  And many of them have the album at number one.  As everyone knows, the first three KISS albums don’t capture what the band is really about.  Mostly because the production technology wasn’t there and the producers were idiots.  But it was there with live equipment.  And the band, along with original producer Eddie Kramer, understood that and decided to release a live album showcasing the truth of the band.  And even though there were many touch ups in the studio, it does do just that.  Mostly due to Ace Frehley’s lead guitar tone that cuts through the mix like a hot knife through butter.  There isn’t really much else to say about the album.  It revolutionized live albums.  It made them a trend.  There perhaps isn’t a more famous and successful live album out there.  Highlights include ‘Deuce’, ‘Got to Choose’, ‘Firehouse’, ‘Parasite’, ‘She’, ‘100,000 Years’, ‘Cold Gin’ and ‘Let Me Go Rock N Roll’.  And obviously ‘Rock And Roll All Night’.

Soundgarden –  Live at the Paramount (Seattle: 1992)

This is another live album that wasn’t available until the band remastered ‘Badmotorfinger’ a year ago.  I usually don’t understand why a band doesn’t release a live album, particularly when sounds as good as this one.  But with this live album I do understand.  I think if they released it, it could have been career suicide.  Because Soundgarden are from Seattle.  And in 1992 all the Seattle bands were blowing up.  And even though Soundgarden were the first to be signed to a major label, they were the last to blow up due to a lack of a poppy grunge hit.  The bands third album ‘Badmotorfinger’ which was released at the same time of Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ and Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, was completely overshadowed by those two releases.  Mostly due to the fact that Soundgarden, for all intents and purposes, isn’t really a grunge band.  They’re a cerebral heavy rock band that often crosses over into the progressive metal world.  Matt Cameron’s time changes stirred with Kim Thayill’s heavy drop d bluesy, dissonant, progressive riffing mixed with Chris Cornell’s unreal vocal wail sound more like bands such as Fates Warning and Dream Theater than say Mudhoney or Nirvana.  And nothing displays that more clearly than the double disc ‘Live at the Paramount’, recorded on the bands ‘Badmotorfinger’ tour.  But it’s magic.  It’s pure magic.  Because Soundgarden are one of the greatest hard rock bands of all time.  And this live album shows why they were such a phenomenon live.  The guitars eighty million ton heaviness make you want to tear up whatever room you’re in.  Matt Cameron’s drums are think and phat.  Each snare hit sounds like a slap to the face.  Ben Shepherd’s bass will blow out any average speaker.  And my god, Chris Cornell’s legendary vocal wail is in rare form.  He doesn’t miss a note.  He even at times exceeds the intensity of his studio vocal wails.  But why is this album number one, particularly since it wasn’t released until a year ago?  Because of how “on” the band is.  The bands mental communication mixed with all the heavy aspects and raucous crowd.  I have never heard a band this “on” live before, with the exception of King’s X.  It alone is worth the 30$ on i-tunes to get the super deluxe edition of ‘Badmotorfinger’.  Which is the only way to obtain it.  Unless you want to spend 175$ on the hard copy box set that has more gidgets and gadgets than a Mercedes Benz.  It a nice indulgence, but not necessary to enjoy this unbelievable live document.  Highlights include ‘Hands All Over’, ‘Flower’, an insanely heavy version of ‘Gun’, ‘Big Dumb Sex’, ‘Incessant Mace’ and of course, ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ and ‘Rusty Cage’.  A perfect live album.  It’ll leave you feeling like you just had an all nighter of rough sex, lots of booze and plenty of weed.

So what are some of your favorite live albums?  Miss anything?  Let me know in the comments! 🙂



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One thought on “Top Ten – Live Albums”

  1. AC/DC – If you want blood you’ve got it. The best live album ever made with Bon Scott who sounds on his best while Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams keep up the pace with Phill Rudd. Angus Young is jumping around and his solo’s are the best.

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