Recently and somewhat out of the blue I decided to listen to Pink Floyd’s Pulse. Both discs. I almost never listen to Pink Floyd anymore (despite still owning all of the band’s albums). And I almost never listen to both discs of a double, or more than one disc in a box-set. But, I put on Pulse – and really enjoyed it – especially disc two’s live rendition of The Dark Side Of The Moon. I like the previous Floyd live album, The Delicate Sound Of Thunder, because I really liked the “comeback” album A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. But Pulse is (in most people’s opinion) better.
A few days later I sat and listened all the way through Santana’s Lotus – one of my all-time favourite albums; and probably – since I’m inventing the category for consideration – my favourite ever double live album. Lotus has everything you could want from a double live album: a decent array of hits from the band’s career, some extended jamming – constantly walking the fine line between innovative and interminable. And there’s a drum solo that is amazing – and ridiculous (aren’t all good drum solos?) – and will likely be described by all non-drummers as being 20 minutes long (when in fact it’s around five minutes).
This got me to continue my thinking about double live albums. There are no decent double live albums from post-1980s pop and rock bands. Do they not have the material? Or is it more a case of us, as listeners, not having the patience? I can’t imagine I would buy a brand new double live album these days. I might shrink down the hits as an Mp3 file. Might. But, that would be for hip-hop and dance acts most likely. I cannot imagine a decent double live album coming from a modern rock band. I own that rather awful Guns’n’Roses gig document, Live Era: ’87-’93. And I never listen to it. But can’t seem to bring myself to move it on.
Please don’t write below telling me that Ben Harper’s Live From Mars is great. Because, let me save you the time for making a case for that album, you are wrong. It is rubbish. Ben Harper is boring, his preaching is insulting. His hackneyed charlatanism is a joke that has gone on two decades too long.
So I am left to trawl back through the double live albums from the 1970s. Obviously there are classics like Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same, Queen’s Live Killers, Deep Purple’s Made In Japan, Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! and Kiss’ Alive! All are as famous for their excess and pomposity as they are for any musical innovation or sonic flair. But, outside of nostalgia, are there any double live albums that still stand up?
Well I love the Van Morrison album It’s Too Late To Stop Now from 1974 and rate that as one of the best gigs committed to tape. On a similar note, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen would have to rate highly.
I have discovered a few old double live albums in recent times, thanks to the remastered, extended editions – taking the original double-vinyl and reproducing it on to two CDs rather than cramming the best of it on to one compact disc. The Deluxe Edition of The Allman Brothers’ Live At Fillmore East is a classic example. Yes, there are 30-minute jams and it’s not something you’d want to listen to every day (or even every month) but it is great to hear Duane Allman outside of the searing slide playing on Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs. When he was jamming with the family band he was at his best; and this is a reminder of how exciting he was as a player.
There are a bunch of safe but sprawling live albums that I remember from my childhood and have occasional pangs of nostalgia for. I know they are not that great, in terms of being major classics, but I still won’t get rid of Eric Clapton’s Just One Night, David Bowie’s Live, Peter Gabriel’s Plays Live, Dire Straits’ Alchemy, Wings’ Wings Over America and The Rolling Stones’ Love You Live.
Neil Young releases a live album far too often – in terms of his double live ones, Year Of The Horse is not a patch on the Jim Jarmusch movie of the same name, but the earlier Weld, recorded in support of the Ragged Glory album is still a favourite for me. White noise played with garage-band panache. And I love it. His recent Earth, replete with bonkers-honking-and-barking-real-actual-animal-noises is, surprisingly, quite good!
With Metallica’s S&M being bad enough I dread the thought of double live albums from the likes of Foo Fighters and Green Day. Look out when we get to the point where Linkin Park (who has already released a bad-enough single live disc) releases a two-disc live set! And the less said about the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ entry (Live In Hyde Park) the better.
No, I’m happy with my hippy stuff like the Grateful Dead’s Without A Net, Paul McCartney’s Tripping The Live Fantastic and Back In The U.S. concert collections and – once a year (never more!) – The Eagles’ Eagles Live.
Other live double albums that I like a lot include James Taylor’s (Live), Alison Krauss and Union Station’s Live, Joni Mitchell’s Shadows & Light, Slayer’s Decade Of Aggression: Live, Tom Petty’s Pack Up The Plantation: Live!, The Ramones’ It’s Alive!, Brian Wilson’s Live At The Roxy, The Velvet Underground’s 1969: The Velvet Underground Live, Frank Zappa’s Make A Jazz Noise Here and Zappa In New York and Ween’s Paintin’ The Town Brown: Ween Live ’90-’98.
Listening to a double live album – all the way through – is a big commitment. Finding a double live album that you want to listen to all the way through (and preferably more than once) is a struggle. What double live albums can you tolerate? And what ones do you love?