Since I spent my year talking about live recordings I thought it only fitting to wrap it up with a handful of my favorite live albums of 2013. No bootlegs this time around, only stuff you can buy from your local record store (or from the Zappa family through their website). Alphabetical order, with an arbitrarily awesome Deep Purple tune because they were top of the bill.
Deep Purple – Perfect Strangers Live
When the classic Mark II lineup of Deep Purple got back together in 1984 folks were stunned. The falling out had been public and hurtful, and no one expected these guys to work things out. But they did, and Perfect Strangers became my introduction to all things Purple that weren’t “Smoke on the Water”. However, like most 12-year-olds, I didn’t get the chance to see this revitalized band take it to the stage. For nearly 30 years I’ve heard stories of their live prowess; now, with the release of this Australian show, I finally can experience it myself. It’s a great set, and the band even lays off the interminably jammy 30 minute versions of “Space Truckin” and “Child of Nature” to add more fire and concision to the show. It’s not the definitive Deep Purple live record (that’s still Made in Japan, despite the aforementioned interminable jams), but it’s the one I’ve waited to hear for years.
Bob Dylan & The Band – Live at the Isle of Wight Festival, 1969
Another live disc thrown into a stupidly expensive box set (this is part of The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)), and another one I’ve heard thanks to streaming services. While tracks have appeared here and there over the years, the entire show has been unavailable outside mediocre bootlegs. It’s not a revelation, but instead is the sound of a man getting his sea legs back under him. He always had great rapport with The Band, and they were the logical choice to back him on his first show after a three year absence. The big draw of the Wight night is hearing their interpretations of songs from John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline; it’s an alternate history, where he took them with him from the fabled Woodstock basement instead of using session pros and Nashville regulars. It’s a “what if” I’m glad never happened, but the glimpse into that possibility is a fun one.
Humble Pie – Performance – Rockin’ the Fillmore: The Complete Recordings
I’ll have more to say about this later, but for now let me tell you that 4 full slices of primo Pie are worth it despite them all being basically the same thing. Humble Pie were a band that made compromises in the studio to appease the disparate styles of Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton, but live they found a better balance. They also used space in a way few others did, dropping to dead silence when necessary to let the music breathe. Well worth the time to listen attentively; the more you give them the more you receive in return.
The Velvet Underground – Live at the Gymnasium
Released as part of the new deluxe White Light/White Heat swanky box set, the Gymnasium show is one of the best examples of the John Cale-era Velvet Underground I’ve ever heard. And though I’ve had a boot of it for years, it does sound a bit better and have some tracks (like a live instrumental version of “The Gift”) that evaded the bootleggers for one reason or another. I’ve only gotten a chance to hear it through the legal streaming services, so if some kind soul wanted to send me the box set that’d be cool.
Frank Zappa & the Mothers – Road Tapes Venue #2
By late1973, Frank Zappa & the Mothers were rounding into what would prove to be his finest form, as captured on the studio records Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe(‘), and the live album Roxy & Elsewhere. This band is surprisingly well documented, with dozens of quality boots and youtube clips, as well as Zappa’s own “official bootlegs” (Piquantique and Unmitigated Audacity) and appearances on the live compilation series You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore. It makes yet another live set seem unnecessary. In all honesty, it probably is. But this is the era of Zappa I love; the band is loose but razor sharp, Frank’s misanthropy merely present and not yet virulent, and they all appear to enjoy being on stage together. So to hear an uncirculated recording, crafted from two Helsinki shows that didn’t even have known set lists, is a treasure for the fans. This likely isn’t too many folks idea of a must-have, but it sure is one of mine.