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Music Review: Live, Liver, Livest! Reissues of Concert Classics

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As a teenager, I never expected much from live albums. I think it was because other than mainstream touring Canadian rock acts, we never got many bands that stopped through our town as they traversed the country on their way from Vancouver to Toronto. Live albums were a bit of a curiosity to me and my friends – at best, a stopgap with some interesting reinterpretations of much loved classics, to keep us happy as we waited for a batch of new songs on the next studio album; at worst, a terrible attempt to reproduce an experience on vinyl that we'd likely never experience ourselves – I mean, really – as if The Sensational Alex Harvey Band was ever gonna get to within a thousand miles of us.

But I've been listening to some classic reissues from the '70s, and many of them have been expanded and sonically remastered in recent years so that they make sense as documents of a band's overall career. But some haven't been much more than a simple conversion from LP to CD format. So here's some oldies and how they compare to their newer editions:

1. The Who – Live at Leeds (originally released: 1970). Originally a single disc of six songs, of which three were covers, this album helped cement The Who's reputation as a powerful live act. Starting with a blistering "Young Man Blues" and concluding with an extended "Magic Bus," it was pretty much the definitive statement of how rock and roll ought to be played at 140 dB's.

But the reissue is chock full of older Who oddities like John Entwhistle's "Heaven and Hell." "And Tattoo." And the mini opera "A Quick One." And the entire Tommy. All of which are fine, but they connect the reissued Live at Leeds more to the 60's version of The Who than the 70's version. In fact, much of this material was dropped by the time they played the Young Vic about a year or so later. In any case, those people who want to remember the live album that promised "Noises OK – DO NOT CORRECT!" should maybe leave this be for a bit.

2. Free – Live! (originally released: 1971). Better sound than the original, and additional tracks for real fans, but like The Who's Live at Leeds, I think the original captured the essence of the performance the first time around.

3. Deep Purple – Made in Japan (originally released: 1972). The reissue has the encores – "Speed King," "Black Night" and "Lucille" – tucked away on a separate disc. It's worth having for those songs alone, but it's also an interesting because it's indicative of a subtle shift of how rock was already becoming a series of niche markets – in subsequent years, Made In Japan was often referred as the Greatest Heavy Metal Album of All Time as opposed to the Greatest Rock and Roll Album of all time.

4. Ten Years After – Recorded Live (originally released: 1973). As far as I know this is just a simple transfer to CD from LP, available as a 2 CD set or a slightly edited single. I still like it better than the Fillmore set that surfaced a few years back.

5. Mott the Hoople – Live (originally released: 1974). Most people know that this album was a cut and paste affair from the start, so restoring (most) of the two sets, one on each disc, was a welcome for most fans. Yep, a must have – a document that shows even without the presence of original Hooplers Mick Ralphs and Verden Allen, the band could still lay a lickin' on most so-called rock and roll bands of the mid-70s.

6. Led Zeppelin – Soundtrack from The Song Remains the Same (originally released: 1976). One of the biggest disappointments in the history of classic rock albums, this recent restoration is the finest example of how a mix can make or break an album. Although the band and most fans agree it was a pretty mediocre performance, the recent remix just shows that even when they were mediocre, Zeppelin could still tap into the fundamental mystique that got them to the top.

Although still not as good as the posthumous live release How the West was Won, the reissued soundtrack to The Song Remains the Same captures enough of the band's magic and power to finally allow it status as an essential part of their recorded canon.

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  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Live At Leeds is the best live album ever, period.

    -Glen

  • JC Mosquito

    Notice, tho’ that these are all Brit albums. There’s a whole other continent worth of 70’s tunes that are also up there with these choices.

    Really, Glen – have you heard the reissued Leeds? It plays like a different album – lots of casual stage patter, with Pete lecturing and Keith playing the foil, and the reverb is different – it feels like a smaller room than the original version. Additionally, I’ve heard what’s purported to be the board tapes – there’s about 1 and 1/2 minutes edited out of Bus where the Who meander through a jam. So maybe it’s not as live as we’d have ever liked to think.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    all i know is that, given the photos in the reissued album, those people in that tiny theatre were probably pinned back into their chairs by the volume.

    a really great album.