My recent column on Phish’s “Baker’s Dozen” run of shows at Madison Square Garden included a long digression making the case for live music to take greater precedence in how artists are discussed and assessed. Here is the gist of my point:
For many listeners, conversations about music are centered exclusively on recordings — who has the best singles, the best albums, and the best overall discographies. These are the stock debates that fans and critics wage on a nearly daily basis, perpetuating a bias for recorded music that is so ingrained that it’s hardly ever questioned. And yet, many of those same people are also reluctant to actually spend money on recorded music. It’s a weird paradigm, in which recorded music is valued above all else aesthetically while also having little worth monetarily. Live music, on the other hand, has high monetary value — consumers spend more annually on concert tickets than streaming — but is usually overlooked as an actual art form on par with laboring in the studio.
After writing this piece, I started thinking about my favorite live albums. Given how commonplace live recordings have become online, the traditional live album has become somewhat of a dying format. But I’ve always had affection for live albums like The Who’s Live At Leeds and Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York and dozens of other classics and semi-classics. I decided to call up my friend (and friend of the pod) Rob Mitchum, as he’s one of the only people I know with strong opinions about live records. Together, we came up with a list of our 10 favorite live albums that exhibit all of the things we love — the energy, the rawness, the rhythmic clapping by thousands of drunk people.