Friday, May 22, 2009

Is it live...or is it dead?

Time now for the bookend piece to my recent Best Live Album countdownthe WORST live album countdown.  I have no doubt there are many others that are worse than these, but I only include those which are either in my collection or have listened to at least once...

Live Peace In Toronto 1969—JOHN LENNON/PLASTIC ONO BAND (1969)  Side One of this album isn’t all that terrible, as JL and Eric Clapton and the boys ran through some old Rock ‘N’ Roll favorites like Carl Perkins’ "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" in an impromptu outdoor concert for the hoseheads up north.  According to legend, Lennon was quite drunk and puking his guts out backstage.  He probably had to get royally ripped to deal with what went down on Side Two—Yoko Ono caterwauling for the better part of 20 minutes.  JL, buddy, with all due respect, if you’re out there in the cosmos reading this, I gotta tell ya, I don’t get the whole Yoko thing.  You were like a brother to most of us, and I’ve tried—I’ve really tried—to understand what you saw in her, but I just don’t get it.  Screaming and hollering incoherently doesn’t require a whole lotta talent—I find it hard to believe you were proud to have your good name attached to such musical excrement.

Just Say Ozzy—OZZY OSBOURNE (1990)  I never quite got why Epic issued this six-song "extended play" CD from Ozzy’s ’89 tour and made it sound like he would never perform old Sabbath songs like "War Pigs" and "Sweet Leaf" again—he still does!  The CD also included three cuts from his most recent CD at the time, No Rest For The Wicked, which I thought was one of his weaker albums, apart from "Miracle Man" and "Bloodbath In Paradise", which both appear here.  It was also most people’s first taste of guitarist Zakk Wylde live in concert, and of all of Ozzy’s guitarists, he’s my least favorite.  His solos are always feedback-laden and too squealy for my liking, and he thinks he’s Ted Nugent, Jr. on-stage.  No human is going to top Randy Rhoads, of course, but I always thought Jake E. Lee did a nice job filling his space before Wylde came along.  1992’s Live & Loud was a bit better performance from Wylde than Just Say Ozzy was.

LIVE: Right Here, Right Now—VAN HALEN (1993)  This one wasn’t such a bad live album, so much as it was just really bland, especially coming from a band I expect a lot better from.  VH all but re-released 1992’s equally-bland For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album here, as Right Here included no less than nine—count ‘em—nine cuts from it.  They barely even touched the OU812 album, which I thought was easily the best of the Van Hagar era, and I would’ve loved to hear live takes on "Mine All Mine", "A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)", "Black And Blue" and "Source Of Infection" instead.  Even on the old favorites like "Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love" and "You Really Got Me", it sounded like Eddie and the boys were just phoning it in.  Sammy Hagar singing David Lee Roth’s trademark "Jump" was downright heresy, and I wasn’t terribly impressed with the VH rendition of The Who’s "Won’t Get Fooled Again", either.  I also hate that headset mic Sammy uses, too—it makes him sound like he’s singing through a CB radio.  Van Halen’s 1986 "Live Without A Net" video was far superior to this dull CD.

One can only hope that somewhere in a vault out there lies the entire 1981 Oakland concert from which the three videos from Fair Warning ("Unchained", "Hear About It Later" and "So This Is Love") were shot so we can someday soon have a full-length classic live Van Halen album when they were white-hot in concert.


10) A Little South of Sanity—AEROSMITH (1998)  As good as most of their studio records are, Aerosmith’s live albums suck.  This one doesn’t even sound very live at all—it certainly doesn’t take you there and make you feel like you’re at a concert.  To make matters worse, there was too much lame ‘90s material on here from when all their songs started sounding alike—"Amazing", "What It Takes", "Crying" etc. "Back In The Saddle" is about the only real highlight here.  I don’t own 1979’s Live Bootleg, but from what I hear, it wasn’t any better.

9) Give LIVE If You Want It (1966)/Still Life (1982)—ROLLING STONES  The Book of Rock Lists (which by the way, was a big influence on the way I write countdowns like these) called Got LIVE "Very muddy tapes of teenagers screaming", and that’s pretty accurate.  There is some excuse, I suppose, since the Stones were still early on in their career and didn’t know any better, but this was not one of their prouder moments.  There was no such excuse for the stillborn Still Life, which was lifted from one of the Stones’ more triumphant tours—1981’s Tattoo You sojourn.  You’d think they could’ve found some better performances than this (like from the film Let’s Spend The Night Together, for instance), and it just sounded like they were going through the motions on the old hits like "Satisfaction" and "Shattered".  For as great as these guys are live in concert, they could never seem to put out a decent live album, apart from 1969’s Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out.

8) Caught Live + 5—MOODY BLUES (1977)  This album was merely contractual obligation fodder, featuring a 1969 concert that was poorly-recorded and didn’t do the group justice at all.  The Moodies also pulled a Kiss Alive II by adding five new studio tracks (hence the +5), but unlike with Alive II, they were quite bland and weren’t the album’s salvation.

7) Who’s Last—THE WHO (1983)  It’s very rare that I rip on The Who, but this was definitely NOT the way to go out, if indeed this was to be their last album.  Lifted from various shows on their so-called 1982 "Farewell Tour", they should’ve just used the audio from the video of the final concert in Toronto (now itself available in its entirety on CD, btw) for Who’s Last instead—it was far superior in terms of sound and content.  Other than a "We’d like to carry on…" from Roger Daltrey, there was none of the usual between-song stage banter from him or Pete Townshend on this album, and the performances were generally very flat, even for The Who.  Then again, Townshend pretty much feigned enthusiasm throughout most of that tour, so it was up to Daltrey and John Entwistle to keep things from getting totally boring.  I think we all knew back then that this wasn’t the end, anyway, but that’s no excuse for this half-assed assembly-line like record.

6) Live…In The Raw—W.A.S.P. (1987)  Speaking of assembly-line, this album appears to have been totally manufactured in the studio with crowd noise tacked on.  When I first bought it, I thought the album was legitimately live, but when I heard a live-as-it-happened radio broadcast of W.A.S.P. a couple years later and was appalled at how awful they sounded, it roused my suspicions that Live…In The Raw wasn’t so live after all.  The music just sounds a little too clean for live W.A.S.P., especially the drums and bass.  W.A.S.P. made some great studio LPs back in the day, but this one and their subsequent "live" release, Double-Live Assassins don’t sound very live at all.  Nice try, Blackie, but it’s not nice to fool Sir Rant-A-Lot!

5) Alive II—KISS (1977)  It pains me to pick on my boys here, and when this album first came out, I really thought it was the cat’s ass.  I remember staying up late to hear it for the first time played in its entirety on the old "Midnight Album Hour" on KY-102 (remember that, kids?) and when it was released, I bought the record literally the second it hit the shelves at the old No Records in Raytown (remember them, folks?) as Kissteria was sweeping the nation.  It sounded awesome to me back then, but Alive II hasn’t aged well at all, as its many flaws revealed themselves to me over the years.  First off, I can’t believe this album was produced by the same guy who did Alive!, the ubiquitous Eddie Kramer (who also worked on the Woodstock soundtrack), because the difference is like night and day.  The crowd noise is amped-up far too much (even worse than on Cheap Trick At Budokan), and as we came to find out later, a couple of songs that were supposedly part of this August, 1977 L.A. Forum concert were actually done in the studio, namely "Hard Luck Woman" and "Tomorrow And Tonight".  The rest of the album sounds awfully doctored-up too, especially the vocals.  Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I don’t understand why Kiss didn’t just use the audio from the Houston Summit shows done a month later that now appear on the Kissology DVD series, or even the April ’77 Budokan concerts from Tokyo—there were some mistakes here and there, but those shows are a whole lot better sonically and mix-wise.

The only saving grace on Alive II was the fine five-song studio side that included Paul Stanley's "All-American Man", Gene Simmons' "Larger Than Life" and Ace Frehley’s "Rocket Ride".  Kiss might’ve been better served to record four or five more new tracks in addition to these and put out a new full-length studio album in the interim before the infamous Kiss solo albums came out in the fall of ’78.

4) Absolutely Live—THE DOORS (1970)  Might wanna get a second opinion on that title, because they sounded positively dead in places here.  Jim Morrison was an erratic performer even on his best nights and he tended to dog it sometimes, so I imagine it was difficult to find really stellar live performances from him in one entire concert.  Absolutely was recorded after Mr. Mojo’s infamous indecent exposure incident in Miami, which he makes reference to by saying "Tonight you are in for a special treat…" before introducing "Close To You" (no, not the Carpenters song), which was sung by keyboardist Ray Manzarek.  I use the term "sung" loosely, as Brother Ray sings about as well as I Riverdance (or about as well as Fredo Corleone handled a firearm).  Another song took up an entire album side here—I hate that!  They might’ve been better served to tape some lives shows in ’67 or ’68 before Mojo got too pretentious and self-indulgent.

3) Black Sabbath—Live Evil (1982)  Sabbath lost the 1982 live album competition to Ozzy’s Speak Of The Devil quite handily with what I like to call Live Vile.  Actually the post-Ozzy stuff on here wasn’t so bad, especially "Neon Knights" and maybe "Mob Rules", but Ronnie James Dio singing Ozzy’s songs was every bit as ludicrous as Hagar singing DLR’s "Jump", especially on "N.I.B", "Iron Man" and "Paranoid".  Dio’s and Ozzy’s vocal styles are just so radically different and are hardly interchangeable.  Musically, this album sounded really flat too—go with the 1999 Reunion CD if you want to hear some balls-to-the-wall live Black Sabbath.

2) The Song Remains The Same—LED ZEPPELIN (1976)  Live Led Zeppelin has always been a dicey proposition.  I’ve heard more crappy live Zep than good live Zep over the years from various sources, although some better stuff has surfaced on their recent double-DVD release a couple years ago.  The best Zep live recording I ever heard is one I taped off the radio from circa., 1971 where they opened with "The Immigrant Song" and it sounded great.  Too often though in Zeppelin shows, Jimmy Page’s guitar always sounds woefully out-of-tune and the band goes off on these long tangents in the middle of some songs.  Song Remains featured a lackluster 1973 performance from Madison Square Garden and the show commenced with "Rock And Roll", which came off really flat, pretty much setting the tone for the entire gig.  The album is full of LZ’s typical self-indulgent jams—fifteen minutes to do "Whole Lotta Love" and damn near half an hour to play "Dazed And Confused"?  Come on!  Oddly enough, a couple of the songs they filmed but omitted from the soundtrack actually came off better, like "Black Dog" and "The Ocean" (which appears on the new DVD set).  This was a monumentally-disappointing album.

1) Intensities In 10 Cities—TED NUGENT (1981)  Nugent’s biggest career mistake, one which I’ve chronicled a couple other times already on this blog.  Being the smart-ass that he is, Ted thought it would be cute to put out a live album of ten all-new songs, each one recorded in a different city on tour—hence the title.  Ted forgot to include one crucial ingredient—the actual intensity!  Whereas 1978’s Double Live Gonzo! was Nugent’s tour de force live album, Intensities packed all the intensity of a Sunday morning TV fishing show.  I was anticipating this album to be Ted’s Alive II, so to speak, to include material from Weekend Warriors, State of Shock and Scream Dream (and maybe Free-For-All, which was snubbed on Gonzo!), but instead we were treated to mindless drivel like "The Flying Lip-Lock" and "My Love Is Like A Tire Iron" and a silly rendition of Wilson Pickett’s "Land of 1,000 Dances" that Ted had no business singing.  About the only decent tracks were "Heads Will Roll" and the instrumental "TNT Overture".  Luckily in 1997, Epic Records saw fit to re-issue Nugent’s 1979 appearance on "King Biscuit Flower Hour" on the Live At Hammersmith ‘79 CD, when Sweaty Teddy’s intensity was still legit.


Mr. Mike said...

I think you nailed Van Halen Right Here Right Now pretty good, though I have nice memories of it because it was the tour I saw them live the first time. A classic DLR live Van Halen dvd would be great, it might need a bit of editing though because Roth tended to forget words or give random speeches during songs, at least on the bootlegs I've heard.

Brian Holland said...

That's true--DLR was notorious for mangling up the lyrics or forgetting them altogether, but VH was so good live back then that I can forgive a few of Dave's pecadilloes (sp?) to have a full-length concert video from that era.