Just Play with Me

Some of my co-workers and I started sharing some of our favorite music. We’ve been doing it for a while, but now we’re actually reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another.

This week, we decided to share live albums, partly because one of the songs I shared last week was a live version. I think live albums should be held to a greater standard than a studio album. The studio albums are there for me to familiarize myself with a band’s music and enjoy them when I can’t see them live. But the point of a band is not to put out great studio albums. It’s to be great entertainers, and that really means putting on a great live show. If all a band is going to do is play their songs just like they were on their studio albums, I’m going to be disappointed. At least improvise your solos. Of course there are examples of bands taking it too far – Dave Matthews Band will jam on one song for 20 minutes, and while the band might be having fun, it doesn’t always translate into fun for the crowd. Unless you’re so high a Hootie and the Blowfish concert sounds good. But the point is live concerts should give you something you can’t get from a studio album, otherwise what’s the point?

These are a live albums, so there’s some language between songs, etc. If that kind of thing offends you either A) find an edited version or 2) don’t listen to it all.

Also, all of these except one are double albums, so give yourself plenty of time to enjoy them. I didn’t listen to a single album straight though except for Chris’ suggestion. I listened to the first half of everyone’s, then the second half. It was a nice way to break it up.

Here’s how I rate things. If I give something one star, it means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.

Queen – Live at Wembley Stadium (1986)

I was sure Tim was either going to share Kiss’ Alive! or this. So I wasn’t surprised.

Most of the songs off this album I had heard before. Some of them though, were nice new introductions. Songs like In the Lap of the Gods (which is so like most of the stuff off A Night at the Opera/A Day at the Races, I’m surprised I haven’t heard it before), Tear it Up, Impromptu, and Brighton Rock were new to me. Well, the covers on the second half of the album were also new to me, but I haven’t heard the original version of those, so I have no reference on them as covers or as live versions. Well, whatever (also, that was a sweet run-on sentence).

But in the songs I did know, it didn’t seem like there was a lot that was different from the studio albums. There was some cool bass stuff in One Vision and May used some different, jazzier chords in A Kind of Magic that I may have liked better. Under Pressure was also not quite the same without David Bowie, but I may have liked the live version better, too. It was fun to hear them obviously playing around on that and Another Bites the Dust, especially with the scat vocals. The harmonies on the chorus of Radio Ga Ga are pretty sweet, too.

I have always loved Who Wants to Live Forever. Especially since I’ve didn’t discover Queen (or really any rock band) until after Freddy Mercury had already died, so that song had a different meaning to me right from the get go. Never mind the fact that Mercury didn’t know he had AIDS until a year after this concert. And Hammer to Fall was another song I felt was better live than in the studio.

But on this album more than the others, you could hear the crowd clapping off-beat from the band. That’s something that really bugs me. And more than once, you can hear Queen readjust their tempo, which is a natural tendency, but I still don’t like it.

All in all, it’s pretty good. 4/5.

Gypsy Sun and Rainbows – Live at Woodstock (1969)

As a musician, I’m really bothered when a whole band gets referred to by one guy’s name. Obviously if the band is Dave Matthews Band, then that’s one thing. But when the band is called Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, but everyone just calls them Jimi Hendrix. There was a Jimi Hendrix Experience band. But that was a trio. Gypsy Sun and Rainbows was a bigger band. Sure it was pretty much a one-off, so it’s a little more understandable, but just called them all Jimi Hendrix doesn’t do them all justice. The announcer at the show got it wrong, and Jimi corrected it on stage. Obviously (as evidenced by the album art) the record company doesn’t care. So I’m doing my little part by calling it what it is – the only Gypsy Sun and Rainbows performance/album I know of.

I know a little about Woodstock, but admittedly not a ton. What I do know can be summed up in this documentary:

 

Ok, on to the performance.

Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a Hendrix fan. I guess if there was one live show to listen to, it would be Woodstock. The reason I haven’t really been a Hendrix fan is because while I can handle some psychedelia, everything about Hendrix is the epitome of psychedelia. At least that’s what I’ve been told. That being said, I really enjoyed this. It was a lot less psychedelic than I expected. In fact, I was surprised how blues-based Red House was.

I found myself rockin’ out to Spanish Castle Magic (which is mislabeled on the album) and Lover Man (which has a great bass part during Jimi’s face-melting solo). But I think my favorite was Fire. Maybe it was the fact that Jimi had less of a solo section than other songs, but I just thought that song was absolutely great.

I think this album more than any of the others this week was a pleasant surprise. I’ve never listened to this much Hendrix all at once. And I think I can it boil down to the fact that Hendrix isn’t a great vocalist. And possibly because he was usually pumped full of drugs, but while he’s a good guitarist, he plays sloppy, all-over-the-place solos that aren’t super musical. Combine those with the fact that I think the only two Jimi songs I’ve ever heard on the radio are Foxy Lady and Purple Haze (which aren’t good examples of either his singing or clean solos), and I’m starting to see why I have the opinion of Jimi that I had. 4/5.

U2 – U22 (from the 2009-2011 U2360° tour)

I’m really surprised it has taken Phil this long to share something from U2. And no, the album name is not U2 two (like I assumed at first). It’s U 22, because there are 22 tracks on the album. I think I had previously heard studio versions of seven of them.

Let me get this out of the way right now: I got into (and out of) U2 in junior high and early high school when I was playing bass in classic rock inspired bands. So of course I was listening to stuff on the radio and trying to pick out the bass line. My beef with U2 is that many of their bass lines are boring. Especially when I grew up listening to The Beatles. I will grant you that comparing anyone to Paul McCartney probably isn’t fair. That also means I wasn’t really paying attention to much else; I wasn’t listening to the songs as a whole. So I’m going to do my best and listen to this as a whole experience.

If you are a member of U2’s fan club, they send out these exclusive albums all the time. This one features tracks voted on by fan club members and users of U2.com. It’s apparently a pretty standard playlist from one of their shows, although Phil said live performances of Zooropa, One Tree Hill and Ultraviolet (Light My Way) are pretty rare. He also described this as not “what you would call a typical live album.” It’s more of a “best of” live album. They took different performances from the tour and have melded them into one super show. So if you’re looking for this album out there somewhere, don’t be surprised if you don’t find it.

I may have been a little harsh on U2. While I still don’t get why they’re such a huge deal, I do think they are better than average songwriters and musicians. They may never be my favorite, but they can rock.

I’m familiar enough with Mysterious Ways that I could tell the vocals in the chorus were different, and I really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the flugelhorn in I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which gave it a different, jazzier feel.

I wasn’t really a fan of Until the End of the World. And Bono’s slaughtering of Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night didn’t help. Phil said live performances of Zooropa are rare, and based on this one, I’m okay if they keep it that way. I wasn’t a fan.

This album wasn’t bad. And it help change my opinion of U2, but it was still just ok. 3/5.

Daft Punk – Alive 2007 (2007, duh)

I haven’t really listened to Daft Punk much. I know they did the music for Tron: Legacy, but I haven’t seen that yet. I would have liked to have seen it in theaters, but I don’t really have an excuse as to why I haven’t seen it.

Apparently the last time they toured was when this was recorded. And this was the only time they toured since the ’90s. The reason this is called Alive 2007, even though the year isn’t noted on the cover, is because there’s an album of theirs called Alive 1997. I thought the only Daft Punk song I know is Faster, Higher, Stronger. No, wait, that’s the motto for the Olympic games. Their song is called Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. But it turns out I also know Around the World and Da Funk. The point is that other than expecting generally electronic music, I’m not sure what a live show of theirs would be like.

As it turns out, I like it. Maybe not enough to buy it, but I never felt like turning it off. So, I’ll give it a 3/5. While often times repetitive, I did find myself really enjoying some of the tunes. But none of them really stuck out. This is stuff I’d listen to in a mix or as background music when I need to focus on writing or editing something and can’t have words in my music.

Metallica – S&M (1999)

I picked this album because last week, Chris shared a Metallica song and I realized I hadn’t shared any Metallica yet. And while I like a lot of their stuff, I’m not sure which studio album I’d share. So I’ll share their best live album. Off the top of my head, I know those sensitive to language might want to shy away from Master of PuppetsFuelWherever I May RoamOne and Battery.

The title of the record is actually Symphony and Metallica, the symphony here being the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, but is written as an abbreviation to first make you think of sadomasochism. If you don’t know what that is, go ask your mom. This album is essentially Metallica in concert backed by a full orchestra, who sometimes echo what Metallica is doing and sometimes play original backing material written by Michael Kamen, who also conducted the orchestra.

Michael Kamen is most famous for his film scores (Mr. Holland’s OpusRobin HoodThe Iron GiantBand of Brothers, and some James Bond), but has also worked with rock/pop bands before, providing backing orchestral arrangements for studio albums. He worked with Pink FloydQueen and had even provided some arrangements for Metallica before.

The first track doesn’t actually feature Metallica in any way, really. It’s Ennio Morricone’s L’Estasi dell’Oro from Sergio Leone’s Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). You may be asking why it’s on this album at all. If you had never been to a Metallica concert before, you might not know it’s what they use as intro music for pretty much all of their concerts since 1983, although I’m not sure they ever covered it until 2007. So since they have a full symphony orchestra at their disposal, it seemed appropriate to allow them to introduce the band and play something on their own.

The whole concert was actually their late bassist, Cliff Burton’s idea. He loved classical music, especially Bach, and wrote in very classical-inspired melodic bits into their music until his death in a bus accident in 1986. It’s fitting then that the first song played is one of Metallica’s instrumentals, which were mostly composed by Burton.

Most of the album is everything you could wish for from a blending of these two worlds. The orchestra does a lot to help build tension in the songs, and then help resolve it at the appropriate time, like in Hero of the Day.

To be honest, I’ve always felt like live albums tend to have track listings like greatest hits albums – they’re not necessarily an accurate view into a band’s whole career, just the highlights. While most of the songs are some of Metallica’s greatest hits, some fan favorites are missing simply due to the fact that they couldn’t write, arrange and actually play acceptable orchestra parts. Or – as in the case of …And Justice for All – the band hadn’t played it in a while and didn’t feel comfortable with their rusty performance. Apparently, they were also going to do The Unforgiven and The Unforgiven II which are two of my favorite Metallica songs, but they didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.

There are also two brand new songs, which have never been re-recorded by the band: No Leaf Clover and -Human.

If you don’t know any Metallica, I feel like this is a good way to get into them. Although you might feel like something’s missing if you go back and listen to their studio albums. I dunno, maybe you’ll find you like some studio songs better. Frankly, I like the studio version of Battery better than the S&M version, but that’s just me. That being said, I’d still give this album a 5/5.

Here’s what my coworkers thought:

“This album was so fresh and exciting for me. I like, just like Metallica. But the way they arranged their music to fit seamlessly, seamlessly!, with their sound was truly amazing. There were times that I forgot what the song should have sounded like, and thought that was the original sound. I know I said at the beginning [of the week] that for me experimentation with a song isn’t what I would pay for, but this is different. This isn’t trying out new keys or chords, or pace, this is taking something good, breaking it down to its core elements, and creating something inherently new. The audience obviously enjoyed it too, and Metallica did a fantastic job of playing to that, and including them in the experience. There are few performances that have happened I wish I could have been at, and this is one.” 5/5 -Tim

What about you? What are your thoughts? On Metallica, your favorite live album, or anything else? Let me know in the comments.

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