The Best Live Records

Little beats the adrenaline, excitement and sensory overload of going to see a good gig. Even if the sound quality is shit, the venue uncomfortable and the audience a bunch of inconsiderate and rude pricks, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself.

Usually this experience is far superior to listening to the same artist at home, infront of the computer or out and about on the iPod. But rarely does a live record capture that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes going to a gig so enjoyable.

So I’ll be dedicating a few posts to highlighting what I think are the finest live records out there, that do exactly what they’re supposed to do and in doing as make their studio counterparts surplus to requirements. One record at a time, updated (semi) regularly

Beginning with…

1. Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won

Probably the daddy and most (in)famous of all live albums. This album renders so much of Led Zeppelin’s, already staggering, studio output completely lame and unnecessary. Opening with Immigrant song, Heartbreaker and Black Dog, three of the band’s most renowned and greatest songs the album starts to a breathtaking opening. The furious power and pace that the band sets as they break into a sped up rendition of Immigrant Song, lasts through to the closing notes of Black Dog and is without equal, that I have heard at least, and is the best argument for why Led Zeppelin are one of the greatest bands in history. Since buying this album I have not listened to the studio versions of these songs, they all seem rather tame and – well – pointless after hearing this record.

The rest of the album is not as much of a surefire hit, granted. As superbly as How The West Was Won showcases Led Zeppelin at their thunderous, godlike best, It also reveals the indulgent mess that they are often regarded as in the same breath. The 25 minute Dazed and Confused/Walter’s Walk/The Crunge and 23 minute Whole Lotta Love/Several other blues standards I’m not inclined to list medleys have the same mindblowing musicianship and virtuosity on display, but the tracks are just too long and bloated with unnecessarily proggish distractions to make it worth the wait. 6 minute violin bow solos are headache inducingly ill judged and far too avant garde for a band that has always done immediate and obtuse Heavy Rock better.

The 19 minute Moby Dick suffers from the same problems of bloat. (yes it does feature an 18 minute drum solo and no it’s not that great) But for the majority of it’s run time, How The West Was Won errs on the right side of the superb/indulgent Zeppelin divide. As well as the amazing opening, other tracks such as The Ocean, Rock and Roll and Bring it on Home are all louder, harder, faster and more immediate and just plain better than their studio counterparts. The album also features plentiful amounts of improvisation and invention which ensures the spectre of over familiarity never haunts the record. This reinterpretation isn’t limited to the odd extended solo, of which there are many, but whole songs are spiced up and given new influences and styles which offers the strongest rebuttal of Zeppelin being merely all about cannibaising black blues artists or being irrelevant rock dinosaurs.

All of this is encapsulated in a wonderfully crisp (but not too crisp) recording, which makes sure you enjoy every note as it was, but doesn’t detract from the ambience and mood of the performance. All of which makes it painfully clear why the band are regarded as one of the live greats and why people get so excited about the reunion rumors.

Listening to these tracks you almost feel as if the studio tamed Led Zeppelin too much, as heavy and raucous as they are on record. You get the impression that it’s only live that they truly come alive, the dynamism and intensity of the band is only unlocked when you give them an Arena full of fans and a stage to play on. This album is where I go when I want to listen to the band at their finest and it’s always my first recommendation either when someone wants a great live rock album or an introduction to Led Zeppelin.

MP3: Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song (How the West Was Won version)

MP3: Led Zeppelin – Dancing Days (How the West Was Won version)

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