Does anybody care anymore?

03/07/05- “BW&BK reports: To tide fans over before a new studio release, Velvet Revolver is planning on unveiling a live album and DVD at some point.

“We record everything,” Slash says. “We’ve done a bunch of shows where we’ve full-on multi-tracked and we’re actually mixing the stuff.”

What is going on here? A band has one album and they’re ALREADY talking live album? That’s insane!

There used to be a real spot in rock and roll for live albums. And live albums used to mean something. But now it seems they’re just part of the souvenir packaging available at shows. [Grabbing back, leaning on my cane…] Back in my day all we got was a lousy T-shirt or tour book.. and we liked it!

There was a period when the live album was used to break an artist, to use the energy that a band would feed off of during the live show to drive them to new heights. Of course, a lot of them seem rooted in that mythical time when rock and roll was going through it’s adolescence and not afraid to experiment a little, roughly 1969 – 1976… starting with, oh 1969’s Live Dead by the Grateful Dead and ending with Frampton Comes Alive or [maybe] the Stones’ Love You Live. Think about some of the great live albums in those years:

Allman Brothers – Live at the Fillmore East
CSNY – Four Way Street
Rory Gallagher – Irish Tour 74
J Geils Band – Full House
Humble Pie – Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore
Kiss – Alive!
Lou Reed – Rock N Roll Animal
Rolling Stones – Get Your Ya Yas Out
Johnny Winter And… Live

Wishbone Ash – Live Dates

After this golden period, the live album became a ‘rite of passage’ or a ‘contract filler’…think about mediocre live albums like the Stones Still Life, Aerosmith Live Bootleg, J Geils Blow Your Face Out, David Bowie’s David Live, Fleetwood Mac Live, The Alice Cooper Show, any number of Grateful Dead double discs that could have been cut back to single albums… sure there were a couple great ones like Cheap Trick at Budokahn and Foghat Live, but they became exceptions.

Now it appears that bands are using the live album as another concert souvenir. I blame the Grateful Dead for this mess, but Pearl Jam releasing all those live shows and the Stones, Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney following each tour with a live album set an ugly and dangerous precedent.

A live album does not give the experience of seeing the band from your chair, trying to see around people or trying not to choke on all the smoke in a bar show and the guitar player taking an extra solo because the singer is yelling at the monitor engineer… but it DOES put a part of that experience onto plastic and freezes it like a photograph as compared to a video. Frampton found this out on his next tour following the live album. I remember reading an article in the 90s where he described the next tour as hell because ‘they didn’t want new music, they wanted the live album.’

My point is this: in a mass consumer, instant gratification age, where there is a lot of competition for the dollar, this is just bands taking advantage of people wanting to consume product and being obsessed with bands. Instead of saying ‘Use your dollars to check out some of the people who influenced us,’ I think this is saying [in the words of the Thamesmen a/k/a/ Spinal Tap] ‘Gimme Some Money.’ The Stones, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, etc need more of your dollars for their old age retirement funds.

In recent years there has also been a huge glut of previously unissued live works by ‘Classic Rock’ acts, such as the Live at the BBC series, Live at the Fillmore [Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Janis Joplin… you know Bill Graham also recorded AND FILMED a lot, if not all the acts that played there…] and the King Biscuit Flour Hour series. We’ve also seen additional or expanded live releases by the Who [Isle of Wight, and TWO expanded Live at Leeds packages], Jimi Hendrix [always a target for the questionably legal release, hopefullly the family is getting some $ for these releases], the Led Zeppelin live album that for years the band refused to do [saying The Song Remains the Same would be the only live release… how many Benjamins did it take to change Jimmy Page’s mind?] and the Doors Hollywood bowl appearance [with a rehersal added too! Which do you think Jim was more sober for?] and The Band’s Last Waltz. Again, all these recoding paid for and/or written off years ago. How many of these are truly quality performances? Is there historical significance to any of these performances? Okay, I’ll grant the BBC tend to be very good and the Zep is very good, but I do not have much interest in a lot of this any more; I am looking for something NEW, not rehashing past glories. Is this just the record company’s last grab at the Baby Boomer’s yearn for nostalgia?

This is the same argument I have against endless repackaging of bands. How many Best of the Doors are there? Aerosmith? The Stones? The Beatles? The Who? Record companies issue these because the material is all ready paid for several times over, it’s proven to sell and they usually pay a lower royalty rate on repackaged material. It’s a money grab by the record company!

I have nothing against getting a best of to check out a band you know little about, just don’t get fooled into buying the same song ten different times. And beware of the live album… once you have it you will forget your real concert experience and only remember what you hear on that piece of plastic.