YouTube’s Newest Title: Killer Of The Live Album

Jun 27th, 2008 // 7 Comments


There are people out there who must get excited for live albums, since there have been so many of them over the course of rock history. There have been a few great ones (Live At Leeds, Live At The Apollo, Johnny Cash at San Quentin, all those awesome Rush discs), but don’t expect any new ones in the future. According to The Independent, the era of the live album is over.

The argument presented by The Independent doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, especially since Ben Harper’s Live From Mars is somehow an example of the good old days. But let’s summarize it anyway: Why buy a live album when you can watch shaky footage from a camera phone uploaded on YouTube?

There are countless current acts who are brilliant live, but who haven’t released non-studio sets – Amy Winehouse, Kaiser Chiefs, Arcade Fire, The Raconteurs, and Arctic Monkeys for starters. Why not? Perhaps it’s the web, which, in recent years has become an outlet for live sets. There is, of course, the MySpace mush of segments of poorly recorded gigs. And there are also live webcasts, but these are effectively radio, not records. But the big outlet for live recordings today, other than DVDs, is YouTube.

Amy Winehouse may not have released a live album, but there are more than 1,500 clips of her live to view on YouTube. It’s a similar number for Arcade Fire and the Kaiser Chiefs. Search for the Arctic Monkeys, and you turn up more than twice as many. Even Duffy comes up with several hundred. For fans, the clips may work, but most are scratchy grabs from TV or mobile-phone footage that do little to communicate the musical and emotional power of the artist. It’s not only the quality of the clip, either; the quality of the video and audio stream is thin and gutless and chokes the music. Can you imagine if all we had of Johnny Cash in San Quentin was a YouTube clip? One of the pivotal moments in pop music would have been reduced to an internet viral.

Frankly, I’m not sure what the problem is here. Every single act mentioned as being a “brilliant” live act has two albums to its name, and while I’m sure there are a number of Arcade Fire fans who would describe the band’s live show as “great,” what would be the point of releasing a live album? I doubt the band is trying to work their way out of its deal with Merge by dumping a throwaway album on to the racks. And what, exactly, would be added by hearing slightly yelpier versions of their songs on a disc? Not much, even for the diehards.

There’s a big difference between the Arctic Monkeys live in Manchester and Johnny Cash performing for a bunch of rowdy prisoners. Not that lack of ingenuity has stopped bands before, but it helps to have some twist on your studio material ready if you’re going to ask people to pay twice for the same songs. YouTube clips suffice when you just want a hint of what an act sounds like live (hint: in most cases, not much different), but if someone truly has a can’t-miss live show with the music presented in an entirely different way, they’ll never serve as a replacement. Erykah Badu’s live album, for example, is worth a listen in part because the songs are barely recognizable from their original versions. The problem might be that many bands The Independent is hungering to hear live albums from just aren’t as willing to experiment with their songs in a live setting.

Live albums are dead, and music is the loser [Independent]

  1. Anonymous

    The Roots Come Alive is effing great. But they’re so skilled at performing live, it’s almost unfair.

  2. revmatty

    Depends on the fanbase as well. Some artists tend to have fans who want it to sound EXACTLY like the record when they pay $125 for tickets. Others prefer to hear reinterpretations as well as new material. I place myself in that latter category. I can listen to the album at home, I want to hear improvisation, rearrangements, medleys, bizarre cover songs, etc etc. And YouTube is fine for catching performances I didn’t see but I’d rather buy a DVD of an awesome Prince concert than watch crappy cell phone clips of the same concert on teh intarweb.

  3. Lax Danja House

    Wouldn’t this imply that there was an “era of the live album” to begin with? I have a vast memory that stretches back to a time when Youtube didn’t even exist, and live albums have always been the exclusive concern of superfans and perverse people who like watching DVDs.

  4. baconfat

    8 kajillion shitty camera-phone videos of Daft Punk at Coachella didn’t keep people from buying their most recent live album, right?

    To bring this back to a thread from yesterday: Yo La Tengo needs to release a live album, posthaste.

  5. KikoJones

    @baconfat:

    If that live YLT album is anything like the blistering set they played at Prospect Park, 6 yrs ago, bring it on!

  6. Anonymous

    +1 for the live Badu album, she KILLED that on “Tyrone”

  7. cheesebubble

    Live albums can be great and exciting listens. But I feel like some distance needs to be put between the performance and the listener – with regards to time. Live recordings from the 1960s and ’70s are my favourites. Stuff harkening back as far as the 1930s can also produce goosebumps. But only a few relics from the 1980s stand up and, after that, the magic seems lost. I can’t figure out if it’s because the buffer of time’s passage is thin or because the nature of live albums has changed in recent years.

    The advent of internet, incredible changes in technology, the way music is distributed and heard – it’s all altered the music-listening experience. This shift in interaction has caused me to look for the captivating essence of today’s bands in their live acts. If a band can meet or beat in a live setting what they do in the studio, then I want to be there to experience it washing over me. I absolutely love live performances and I prefer to witness today’s performers in person instead of gobbling them up in some detached media format. In this day and age, I think the mystery and magic of a live show separates the wheat from the chaff.

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