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Posted on Sun, Apr. 18, 2004

Scripps Howard News Service

Bob Dylan just released “Live 1964: Concert at Philharmonic Hall,” arguably one of the last great live albums

Musical dinosaurs

Career-defining live albums are becoming extinct

Bob Dylan’s new “Live 1964: Concert at Philharmonic Hall” might look like just another compact disc. But it’s actually a dinosaur on the verge of extinction: the last of the great live albums.

That’s not to say the live album is dying. Between Internet file-sharing and Pearl Jam and other bands selling CDs of every show they play, more recorded live music is in circulation than ever before.

What is gone for good are the iconic, career-defining live albums that thrived in the 1970s. The Who’s “Live at Leeds,” Cheap Trick’s “At Budokan” and “Frampton Comes Alive” were signposts of an era and all its gatefold-packaged, drum-solo glory.

“There were a lot of acts that broke through with live albums in the ’70s,” says Jim Henke, chief curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. “(Peter) Frampton, (Bob) Seger, Humble Pie, the Allman Brothers, Cheap Trick. You’d have a history of touring to build up a fan base, then put out a live album ... All those fans went and got it, and you were selling platinum. The two-record live album became almost standard … It was like a rite of passage, a defining moment in a band’s career.”

Dylan is one of the few acts that rates more than one definitive, historically important live album. “Concert at Philharmonic Hall” was recorded on Halloween night, 1964, capturing one of the last moments when he was still the darling of the 1950s folk revival. Soon after, Dylan’s move away from folk and into electric rock ’n’ roll would get him branded a “Judas.”

But “Concert at Philharmonic Hall” depicts an affable night, with a four-song cameo by Joan Baez and an unusual amount of banter between Dylan and the audience. Even though it’s only now seeing an official release, collectors have treasured bootleg recordings of this show for years. One of them is Jacob Larson, a University of Michigan graduate student. Larson already had the “Philharmonic” bootleg, but pre-ordered a copy of the CD because he wanted the better-sounding remastered version.

Larson is an avid live-music collector who owns about 2,500 concert CDs of acts from Dylan to Phish. He recently started a Yahoo online group called Vinelist to help other collectors trade live recordings, and to build his own collection.

“It’s not a superior feeling, exactly,” Larson says. “But I do feel like I know more about music than people who aren’t into live recordings.”

Larson bought live Metallica for his wife, but “she never listens to them because they just duplicate the studio sound. She’s also really into rap, and there’s no point to live rap, I don’t believe."

At the other extreme are the jam bands Larson collects. They have flooded the market by recording and releasing virtually every show they play. Partly, that’s a defensive move. A band such as Phish is so widely bootlegged that live recordings of every show are going to circulate whether the band likes it or not.

“You can get a pretty respectable digital recorder that’s the size of a cigarette pack,” says Dennis McNally, spokesman for the Grateful Dead. “So every show is taped no matter what a band thinks – unless you want to strip-search the audience. If you want any show badly enough, you can find it.”

Actually, the Grateful Dead had a lot to do with the death-by-drowning of the live album. The Dead was one of the first bands to record all of its performances, and it has tapes of about half the 2,500 concerts it played in its 30-year run. The Dead was also the first band to allow audiences to record its concerts, with “taping tickets” to segregate tapers behind the soundboard.

“A lot of bands cater to the fact that they’re taped every time and change up their shows a lot,” says Tony Stephens, a computer drafter at North Carolina State University who collects live jam-band recordings. “Every show is unique, and they try not to repeat anything, whereas someone like Britney Spears does pretty much the same show every night.”

Two other music milestones came along in the early 1980s that contributed to the live album’s eventual demise. One was the introduction of the compact disc in 1982, which led to the eventual death of vinyl – a medium that offered the perfect size and heft for live albums.

The other major contributor was MTV, which debuted in 1981 and dramatically sped up pop music’s half-life. Acts exploded overnight and sold more records faster than ever before. The tradeoff was that they didn’t last as long, and didn’t work as live-performance acts.

Yet even if the live album’s mystique is gone, live recordings aren’t going away. The latest wrinkle is the authorized live album you can buy at the show. Last year, Clear Channel Entertainment introduced its “Instant Live” program and did a test run with an Allman Brothers’ concert in Raleigh. It was a success, with 800 three-disc sets sold to a crowd of about 6,200.

Clear Channel will extend the program this year, although it might be a few years before it’s standard at every show.

http://www.fortwayne.com/mld/journalgazett...ing/8461302.htm

Edited by desdemona
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Speaking of great Live albums. If you like Deep Purple.....How bout their Made In Japan lp?

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Good piece. Thanks desdemona. :D

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well of course I'm going to say "filmore east - live" the allman brothers band, but csn&y 4 way street was a great live album that must have gone platinum too.

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Rush's "All The World's A Stage" is one of my favorites!!

Yes it is a good one. I just happen to have that one too.

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I think the Allman's Fillmore East album was the greatest live album I've ever heard, with the Frampton album ( and I don't even care for his music but this was a career changer) a distant third. In between those, slip The Who's Live At Leeds. C,S & N or C,S, N & Y all lost vocal points live....those harmonies weren't as tight.

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