Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Five: Top Five Live Albums

So I've been reading Willie Nelson: An Epic Life by Joe Nick Patoski and it naturally made me crave some Lone Star beer, some whiskey, and to hear Willie and The Family Live, an LP that I bought a few years ago.

While listening, I thought of all the live albums that I like, and I thought what better time to bring back a feature I did on my web site a long time ago. So here it goes, the first edition (on this blog) of Friday Five...

Top Five Live Albums

  1. Blink-182 – The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back)

The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show is as much a comedy album as it is a music album. Sure, they perform their particular brand of pop-punk decently. The set list is chock full of their hits up until that point, including “What's My Age Again?,” “Adam's Song,” and their breakthrough hit “Dammit.” But the real standout here is their sophomoric sense of humor. Whether it's one-liners like “This song is about my herpes, it's called “Don't Leave Me” or extended bits like visits from “Satan” or songs consisting of nothing but swear words, it'll have your inner 14-year-old giggling in no time.

  1. The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out

Recorded at Madison Square Garden a month before the tragedy at Altamont, Ya-Ya's finds The Rolling Stones at their bad-assed-est. (I'm sorry, I had to make up a word there.) The band was probably the toughest and tightest we'll ever hear them. From the wicked solos in “Sympathy for the Devil” to the menacing (and extended) take on “Midnight Rambler,” the Stones deliver rock n' roll at it's finest. Mick Jagger reduces the age of the girl in “Stray Cat Blues” from 15 to 13, which makes it even more creepy, but the two Chuck Berry covers and stellar versions of hits “Jumpin' Jack Flash” and “Street Fighting Man” make this live album one of the best.

  1. Willie Nelson – Willie & The Family Live

Willie Nelson the songwriter and Willie Nelson the performer are two different people. One is normally sad and heart-wrenching, the other is upbeat and raucous. Backed by his crack band consisting of his sister Bobbie on piano, right-hand man Paul English on drums, Bee Spears on bass, and Mickey Raphael on harmonica (plus another guitarist, drummer and bassist, because “why the hell not?” has been Nelson's calling card throughout his career), Willie leads us through all of his hits and then some. We're treated to an absolutely searing rendition of “Bloody Mary Morning,” a soulful cover of “Georgia on My Mind,” and two – count 'em – two takes on his traditional opener “Whiskey River” If you're doubting the greatness of this album, one only remember that Willie Nelson's set list remains mostly the same to this day. Why fix what ain't broke, right?

  1. Metallica – S&M

Rolling Stone wrote in their review of this album: “But S&M, the two-CD record of that performance, sounds like an artifact from the faux-satanic, light-and-fog age of classic metal - pompous, humorless and too weighty for even James Hetfield's considerable presence. ” I respectfully disagree. S&M just sounds fucking cool. One might think that the mighty Metallica would easily overpower a puny symphony, but somehow they do not. (Insert Metallica is lame/weak joke here) The two forces swirl around one another and jell into one solid unit, specifically on the instrumental “Call of Ktulu.” Metallica roar through all of their best-known songs, including a couple of new ones, and neither they nor the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra disappoint.

  1. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

An album recorded at a prison normally would be destined to crash and burn, but not this time, not under the watchful eye of Johnny Cash. He and the Tennessee Three crackle with energy here, tearing through prison-themed songs like megahit “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Cocaine Blues,” and “25 Minutes to Go.” I think what makes me like this album so much – besides the music – is that it sounds like Johnny genuinely wanted to be there. These were people he understood, and he wanted to make them happy if only for an hour. Somber moments were broken up with humor, whether it was making fun of the water (“They must've run this off Luther's boots”) or the interplay between him and June Carter:

Johnny: I love to watch you talk.

June: I talk with my mouth! My mouth is up here!

At Folsom Prison finds Cash at the top of his game. To hear this album is to hear what Johnny was all about. You can't get much better than that.

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