Some of us out here just love live albums. The first live album I ever got was Frampton Comes Alive. Admittedly, my Sainted Grandmother bought it for me… My friend Drummer Blake on several occasions has cited Humble Pie’s Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore as a favorite. Dr. Rock once told me that the J. Geils Band’s Blow Your Face Out was essential listening (he was, as usual, correct). Now, I realize that not everybody feels that way. Here at B&V, the Rock Chick does not like live albums and usually says something like, “Something sounds wrong with this song,” when I play a live track. Matrimony, sigh. Tom Petty once famously drawled, “Live albums are just your greatest hits played faster,” which was a pretty snarky thing to say from a performer whose live music is just phenomenal.
Naysayers aside, there are a lot of us who used to huddle around the radio if the local station was broadcasting a concert. There were some of us who stayed up late on Sunday night (at least here in KC), to listen to the King Biscuit Flower Hour to hear our favorite bands live. I remember hearing April Wine one night. I think every band was on that show at some point. I didn’t have money for concert tickets, hell, let’s listen to a live broadcast. Although I will admit, hearing those concerts on the radio usually had me so jacked up I was a wreck on Monday morning from lack of sleep. The sacrifices we make for rock and roll.
Every great band can bring it live. Every great band usually has a great live album. The Who have Live At Leeds, The Stones have Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!, and the Allman Brothers Band has Live At the Fillmore East. When playing live, bands can stretch out, jam a little bit. It’s always fun to hear a great energetic crowd and how the band feeds off of that – I can’t help but cite B.B. King’s Live At the Regal here as an example. Sometimes it’s just hard for a band to capture the energy of their live performances in a studio. A song that may have been a dud in its studio incarnation becomes an international hit, like say, “Turn The Page” from Bob Seger’s Live Bullet. This post is for all of you who are like me who love a good live album.
I consider Paul McCartney to be one of the greatest artists in rock and roll, ever. Some might say that he’s never really put out a great live album. I would argue that point. McCartney (& Wings, no less) released a 3-LP live album in 1976 from their tour in support of Wings At the Speed of Sound, entitled Wings Over America that I would argue is a great live album. It’s often dismissed as his stab at “arena rock” or a “concert souvenir”… and I say, what’s wrong with that? Arena rock, yes please. I think there was still critical backlash for McCartney with the rock press because he was the one who announced the Beatles had broken up. Move on, people. Anyway, Wings Over America is a sprawling trip through his solo hits, Beatles tracks, and a few odd covers. He even lets other band members sing a few tracks. He even does an acoustic set that takes up one whole side of the album. Very cool, indeed.
Since then, though, the story isn’t as great. Other than his fabulous Unplugged album – which I had in my hands back in 1991 in a record store in Warrensburg and didn’t buy (it was a limited release and I blew it) – his live albums have been spotty. The Stones are in the habit of releasing a live album after every tour. There are some of those live albums I’ve enjoyed but they feel like contract obligations after a while. McCartney of late has followed the same album, tour, live album cycle. Live LPs like Tripping The Live Fantastic or Paul Is Live weren’t great examples of what Paul could do live. Good Evening New York was a little better but none of these improved on Wings Over America.
A short while ago, Paul finally released the full length recording of a show he did in a record store, Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, CA. He’d released Amoeba Secret a 4-song EP excerpt from the show back in 2007 when they recorded the show, I believe as a Record Store Day special. I don’t know why they sat on the entire recording for over a decade, but Rock Stars, what are you going to do? I can’t believe this performance wasn’t more widely bootlegged… The new release is entitled Amoeba Gig (Live) and despite my low expectations it’s a very pleasant surprise.
McCartney was on tour for his then current LP, Memory Almost Full, which is probably my favorite of his late period albums. I’ll be the first to admit that McCartney hit a creative lull in the 80s and early 90s. I have to wonder if the death of John Lennon in 1980 didn’t affect Paul more deeply than anybody realized. It wasn’t until 1997’s Flaming Pie that Paul found his groove again. Every record he’s put out since then has been compelling. Chaos and Creation In the Backyard was a bit downbeat and took a few listens to get into, but even it is a brilliant record. Memory Almost Full is chock full of great songs. As part of the promotion, McCartney and his backing band set up in this big record store and played for a small crowd. Even Ringo showed up for it. Although this must be a pretty big record store, it sounds like a bigger crowd than I’d have expected.
Playing in such an intimate setting, which McCartney describes as “the most surreal gig,” seems to really ignite McCartney and his backing band. I like to call his backing band, the Haircuts, mostly because of Rusty Anderson (lead guitar) and Brian Ray (guitar/bass). Those guys use more product in their hair than Motley Crue. They look like hot soccer moms from my old neighborhood. Although that moniker, the Haircuts is probably unfair as drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr is bald. David Arch on keyboards rounds out the outfit. McCartney plays bass, guitar, keyboards, and I think, ukulele.
McCartney and the backing band tear through a bunch of Beatles tracks and solo hits. They open up with one of my all time favorite Beatles’ tracks, a rollicking “Drive My Car.” What I like about this performance so much is they play a broad selection of songs from Memory Almost Full, including “Dance Tonight,” “Nod Your Head,” “Only Mama Knows,” and “That Was Me.” The then-new material really stands up well. He also digs a little deeper into his solo catalog for this show. He plays “Calico Skies” a deep track from Flaming Pie. McCartney chokes up during “Here Today” from Tug of War, a song he wrote for John, and dedicates it to him, George and Linda. Its rare you see that kind of emotion from a rock star on stage. It’s a beautiful moment. He does the reggae-tinged “C-Moon” which I just loved.
What translates most here was that on this day in L.A., McCartney was having a great time performing. When the Stones play a big arena or stadium, Keith always wants to dig deeper into the catalog and Mick wants to play the well-known tracks as he feels people expect it. Personally, I prefer the deep tracks… McCartney, I think, gets stuck in that Mick-style thinking too. It’s great to hear him kind of play what he wants to.
That said there are great Beatles tracks here. He plays “The Long and Winding Road.” That songs lead to “I’ll Follow The Sun” which was always kind of a sad song, but so exuberant is McCartney it almost sounds happy here. The song I was most thrilled too see on the track list was “I’ve Got A Feeling,” although I’ll be the first to admit you really miss Lennon’s vocal part, taken by the Haircuts here. He does a rocking version of the Carl Perkins’ tune “Matchbox” that almost sounds punky, except for the horns. The show ends on a great version of “I Saw Her Standing There.”
Call me crazy, but the intimate setting, the great album he was touring on, and the excitement in that room all combine to make this a great live album. Its certainly easy to say this is his best live album since Wings Over America. Well, except maybe that Unplugged album, which was also a smaller show in an intimate setting. In these small shows, it’s clear he feels less pressure to please and more freedom to do “his thing,” which paradoxically pleases the crowd more. If you dig McCartney and you like live stuff, this is definitely worth your while to check out.