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Rewinding October | The Top Live Albums

David Byrne, James Brown, Robert Gordon & Chris Spedding act in concert.

I saw a ridiculous headline recently that said something like, “Live Albums Are Irrelevant, So Why Do People Keep Making Them?” That was about the dumbest thing I’ve heard since the last time I had a beer with my old Conservative friend. For anyone who’s wondering, people keep releasing live albums for the same reason people keep going to concerts: Because live music rules. Here are three albums that capture concerts I wish I had been at. Click on the cover art to read the whole review and hear the album.

David Byrne
American Utopia on Broadway: Original Cast

WHO IS HE? The former Talking Heads frontman. The most iconoclastic icon this side of Frank Zappa. The quirkiest man in show biz. The singer-songwriter behind hits like Psycho Killer, Life During Wartime, Once in a Lifetime and Burning Down the House. And the onetime owner of a very large white suit.

WHAT IS THIS? The expansive and energetic two-disc soundtrack to his recent Broadway show American Utopia, which combines songs from his optimistic 2018 studio album with reworked Talking Heads favourites.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? An updated version of Stop Making Sense — with more appropriately sized clothes and with a large international cast of barefoot singers, dancers and musicians instead of his old bandmates.

James Brown
Live at Home With His Bad Self

WHO IS HE? Soul Brother No. 1. The Hardest-Working Man in Show Biz. The Godfather of Soul. Mr Dynamite. Mr. Please Please Please. Mr. Excitement. Inmate Number 155413. And yes, His Bad Self. Though I suspect James Brown has also heard a few less-complimentary epithets from disgruntled former sidemen who didn’t appreciate his dictatorial methods, parsimonious ways and onstage fines for flubbed notes.

WHAT IS THIS? A live album that was recorded 50 years ago this month but never released in its entirety. The back story: This Augusta concert features the classic late-’60s lineup that included sax master Maceo Parker and Clyde Stubblefield on drums. But before this double LP could be released, most of that band walked out over a pay dispute — told you — and were replaced by star-powered bassist Bootsy Collins and his guitarist brother Catfish. They drove the band in a heavier and funkier direction with the song Sex Machine, released months later on the album of the same name — which was padded out with excerpts from this show.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? You kind of already know, if you’ve heard the half-dozen previously released cuts. This 70-minute version adds nine previously shelved songs and introductions, along with extended versions of edited tracks, thus restoring the album’s original 18-track set list. Plus it’s been newly mixed and mastered.

Robert Gordon & Chris Spedding
Tear Up the House

WHO ARE THEY? The American rockabilly singer and the British retro-headed guitar slinger who have both crafted long, memorable and productive solo careers — but have never sounded bigger, better and more badass than when they join forces.

WHAT IS THIS? An authorized two-disc collection of 31 excellent live recordings captured over the decades of their on-again, off-again musical partnership that began in 1978 and lasted into this millennium.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? How Elvis might have ended up if he had stuck to music with guitarist James Burton instead of selling out, going Hollywood and languishing in Las Vegas.

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