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Live music. I've seen my share. The list is exhausting to compile. Strap in…
Huey Lewis and the News (2)--my very first concert actually, although I like to cite this next one as my first:
Looking at this list, I now know why my mother threatened to ground me that summer before I turned 17. Holy crap. Some of these shows were pretty memorable, too. Todd Rundgren, for example, refused to stop playing that summer night until the onstage temperature measured 105 degrees. He stuck a garden thermometer above the drum kit, and god help us, it hit 105 in that fucking club. I was almost trampled and tossed off of the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge to the Esplanade in Boston, MA at a free Green Day show, the summer “Longview” broke big. I told you about KISS last week. Pop Will Eat Itself rendered me totally deaf for two days. Some of these shows have sucked, beyond description.
After hearing all that great music live, I can safely say, I hate live albums. Inevitably, they never live up to the actual experience of sweat, and pushing bodies, and bass amps in clip. However, certain live versions of songs have been able to transcend the studio version and become something magical.
On Ani DiFranco’s second album “Imperfectly”, there is a song entitled, “Every State Line”, an a capella number sung in a slightly too-high range for her, and very quickly. A song, on first listen, you’d totally dismiss. In fact, I forgot it was even on the album, until I heard it live. For the live performance, she slowed down the tempo to a foreboding dirge speed, and put a somber, looping guitar riff and a harmonica intro that sounds like old west tumbleweeds and an ill wind. And suddenly, the lyrics become clear, and the sinister undertone worms its way to the front of the song, and it chills you to the bone. She draws out the pauses between the verses to enhance the effect, and the rhythm section pounds in after her percussive, “FUCK you very much.” It changed EVERYTHING about the song, from a throwaway little ditty to a challenge to authority and a warning to the crowd.
It’s moments like that that keep me going back to live shows. And it’s moments like that which are almost never captured when a sound engineer tries to record them. Once in a while, you get lucky. But they’re never a substitute for the real thing.