THE BEST LIVE ALBUMS OF 2015.

THE BEST LIVE ALBUMS OF 2015.

The final category in my best of series is live albums. For some reason, live albums seem to divide opinion. While some people love live albums, others loathe them. There seems to be no middle ground. Partly that’s down to how an artist approaches a live album.

It may be that in concert, some artists tend to take a song in a different direction. Some music fans see this as a no-no. Deviating from original song is seen as sacrilege. Instead, they want artists just to play songs as they were recorded. Especially if it’s a live recording by some of the more ‘populist’ artists. They’re expected to the churn out their greatest hits as they were recorded for a live album. However, the more innovative and adventurous artists took listeners on a sonic adventure on a live album.

Anyone who buys a Sun Ra, Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix live album knows that a sonic adventure is about to unfold. Each of legends took the original song as a starting point, and reinvented it. That was the case on their live albums. For the listener, it’s a case of sit back and enjoy the ride. For the more adventurous and discerning listeners, this is why they love and cherish live albums. And during 2015, there were plenty of live albums released.

These live albums came in all shapes and sizes. They ranged from single albums, to double albums and box sets. One live albums was even released on a medium that many modern music fans won’t even remember. And I don’t mean vinyl. Instead, this was a glorious reminder of music’s past. Another live albums came as part of a two for one. It seems, live albums come in all shapes and sizes. Each of the one on my list packs a punch, and would be a worth addition to any record collection. So for the last time in the 2015 best of series, let’s have a look at the best live albums released during the past twelve months.

DION RECORDED LIVE AT THE BITTER END AUGUST 1971.

After being one of the biggest selling artists of the late fifties and early sixties, the hits started to dry up for Dion. He had been one of the most successful artists of the rock ’n’ roll era. By 1971, times were tough for Dion. His last major hit was Abraham, Martin and John in 1968. Since then, times had been tough. However, at least Dion was a popular like act.

This had been the case since 1967, when Dion decided to reinvent himself as a finger picking, folk and blues singer. So in 1971, Dion’s record company decided to record a live album, Dion Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971, which was released by Ace Records.

On Dion Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971 Dion shows his versatility. Seamlessly he switches between covers  of Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business, Bob Dylan’s One Too Many Mornings, Lennon and McCartney’s Blackbird and Leonard Cohen’s Sisters Of Mercy. That’s not forgetting blues like of Sam Hopkins’ You Better Watch Yourself and Sonny Williamson’s Don’t Start Me Talking.  While Dion is just as comfortable playing the blues, he’s not above throwing in a few of his greatest hits, including Abraham, Martin and John, The Wanderer and Ruby Baby. They prove popular choices. Closing the show, was one of Dion’s own song, Harmony Sound. Then after seventeen songs in fifty-five minutes, Dion  leaves the stage to rapturous applause. It’s a fitting response for a captivating performance from Dion. A reminder of that spellbinding performance Dion Recorded Live At The Bitter End August 1971,  which features Dion the musical chameleon.

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HARMONIA-DOCUMENTS 1975.

Before the Harmonia box set Complete Works was released by Grönland Records in October 2015, I received something that I hadn’t seen for years…a cassette. On that cassette, Documents 1975, were four unreleased tracks Harmonia had recorded during 1975. This included  a version of Tiki-Taka that for forty years, had been feared lost. Both tracks had been recorded at Harmonia’s legendary Forst studio. The other two tracks were live tracks, and showcases Harmonia’s live sound. Any music fan would’ve been licking their lips. Luckily, I still had a cassette deck and didn’t have to use the download code. This meant I would be able to listen to this delicious reminder of Harmonia in their heyday.

Soon, I was enjoying four tracks from one of the most innovative, inventive and influential groups in the history Kosmische musik, Harmonia. Documents 1975 was however, an amuse bouche.

In October 2015, Grönland Records released the Harmonia box set Complete Works, one of the five vinyl albums was Documents 1975. It sat proudly alongside Musik Von Harmonia, Deluxe, Tracks and Traces and Live ’74 in what was a luxurious and lovingly compiled box set. Complete Works stood head and shoulders above every other box set released during 2015. However, the cassette version of Documents 1975 was tantalising taster reminder of another musical age, and a group how defined it, Harmonia.

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JOHN MARTYN-LIVE AT LEEDS (D ELUXE EDITION). 

Just a month after the release of John Martyn’s eighth studio album Sunday’s Child, John Martyn and his band took to the stage at Leeds University on 13th February 1975. That night, the concert was recorded. For a while, Johh had been contemplating releasing a live album. This he realised, would allow the record buying public to experience what John Martyn live sounded like. So, with the tapes about to get rolling, John Martyn and his band took to the stage at Leeds University on 13th February 1975. That night, John was accompanied by a small, talented band. This included his bassist, and longtime confidante, Danny Thompson. They worked their way through the six tracks that would later feature on the original album version Live At Leeds which was released during 2015 by UMC. 

When John Martyn took Live At Leeds to Island Records in 1975, they refused to release, the album. This would prove costly. John resorted to selling signed copies of this future legendary live album from his home. 

Since then, Live At Leeds has become one of the legendary live albums. Forty years and five reissues of Live At Leeds later, and still, John Martyn fans haven’t tired of his classic albums. While some purists prefer the original version, that John sold from his house, which is now a collector’s item, the expanded 2015 Deluxe Edition of Live At Leeds  is a very welcome reissue. It features one of John Martyn’s legendary concerts, and for his legions of fans, is a reminder of a musical maverick live in concert.

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LITTLE BOB STORY-OFF THE RAILS PLUS LIVE’78.

Back in October 2015, I reviewed Ace Records’ reissue of Little Bob Story’s albums Off The Rains and Live ’78. They had been released on one CD complete with five unreleased tracks recorded in 1978. For music fans old and new, this was  perfect opportunity to discover Little Bob Story’s unique brand of high energy rock ’n’ roll.

Off The Rails was released in 1977, and by then, Little Bob Story was a popular live act on both France and Britain. Night after night, he played to packed houses. A reminder of Little Bob Story live can be found on Live ’78. It was recorded at 

Dingwalls in March 1978, and Little Bob Story fuses blues rock, pub rock and rock ’n’ roll. There’s even a nod to punk. Mostly, though, it’s blistering, hi-energy rock ’n’ roll. Little Bob Story’s turbo charged sound is like a musical dervish on both Off The Rails and Live ’78. This is the perfect introduction to Little Bob Story.

Not only will veterans of Little Bob Story’s music enjoy the opportunity to rediscover their music, but a new generation of music fans will be able to discover an iconic French group from the seventies. Little Bob Story went on to enjoy commercial success across Europe. Especially when Little Bob Story played live. They wowed huge audiences, with their unique brand of hi-energy brand of rock ’n’ roll, which can be heard on Little Bob Story’s sophomore album Off The Rails and Live ’78.

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MAGMA-KOHNZERT ZUND.

The Köhnzert Zünd box set is a welcome reissue for fans of Magma, and is the perfect companion to the Studio Zund twelve disc box set. When Studio Zund was released in 2009, Magma fans wondered why there was no live material in the box set? Now they know. Even back then, it looks like plans were afoot to release the definitive box set of Magma’s live material. So, what can be found in the the twelve-disc Köhnzert Zünd box set?

One can’t help be impressed by the sculptural quality of the Köhnzert Zünd box set. It’s akin to a mini work of art. A great deal of time and effort was put into the design of Köhnzert Zünd. It puts many of the cheaply made box sets to shame. Jazz Village deserve to be congratulated on the design of Köhnzert Zünd box set. Without doubt, Köhnzert Zünd features Magma’s best live albums, and a bit more. However, copies of Köhnzert Zünd are limited

Fans of Magma will have to be quick.The Köhnzert Zünd box set is a limited edition release. Only 5,000 copies are available of the definitive retrospective of Magma’s live career. Köhnzert Zünd  is the perfect companion to the Studio Zund box set, and shows why after forty-six years, twelve studio albums and countless changes in lineup, that Magma are still one of France’s progressive rock Kings.

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MILES DAVIS AT NEWPORT 1955-1975-THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOLUME 4. 

Miles Davis’ hard bop era had finished in 1954, and 1955 was the start of a new era. It featured Miles Davis’ first great quintet. As Miles played trumpet, the rhythm section featured drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Paul Chambers. They were augmented by pianist Red Garland and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. This all-star lineup was would become part of jazz history. However, this wasn’t the band that took to the stage at the second Newport Jazz Festival on 17th July 1955.  Excerpts from this performance feature on Miles Davis At Newport 1955-1975-The Bootleg Series Volume 4, which was released as a four disc set by Sony Music in 2015. It documents the first twenty years of Miles Davis thirty year association with the famous festival. 

Miles Davis was associated with the Newport Jazz Festival until 1985. Their relationship had lasted thirty years, and during that period, Miles Davis continued to reinvent his music. Continually, he innovated and pushes musical boundaries. That was the case right up until his death in 1991. His career had spanned five decades, during which Miles Davis released forty-eight studio albums. This include classic albums like 1957s Birth Of The Cool and ’Round About Midnight, 1959s, Kind Of Blue  and 1970s Bitches Brew. Tracks from each of these albums feature on Miles Davis Live At Newport 1955-1975-The Bootleg Series Volume 4, which document and celebrates the first twenty years of Miles Davis association with the Newport Jazz Festival.

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P-FUNK ALL-STARS LIVE AT THE BEVERLEY THEATRE IN HOLLYWOOD.

By 1983, George Clinton had a new band up-and-running. Just like before, George Clinton was using a variation on a theme. Whereas previously, there was George Clinton and The P-Funk All-Stars. they had metamorphosed into the P-Funk All-Stars.

1983 would be a big year for George Clinton’s new band. They released two albums that year. The first came in April 1983, when the P-Funk All-Stars took to the stage at the Beverley Theatre in Hollywood. That’s when they recorded the ten tracks that became P-Funk All-Stars Live At The Beverley Theatre In Hollywood.

After the recording of P-Funk All-Stars Live At The Beverley Theatre In Hollywood in April 1983, those who had attended the concert awaited the release of the live album. So did those that hadn’t been fortunate enough to get a ticket. They had a long wait. Seven years passed before P-Funk All-Stars Live At The Beverley Theatre In Hollywood was released in 1990. By then, music had changed. Some remembered Parliament and Funkadelic’s glory days fondly. Others remembered just their greatest hits. However, for many people, P-Funk was a footnote in musical history. So when P-Funk All-Stars Live At The Beverley Theatre In Hollywood was belatedly released, it failed to find an audience. Since then, very few people have heard P-Funk All-Stars Live At The Beverley Theatre In Hollywood. That changed recently.

P-Funk All-Stars Live At The Beverley Theatre In Hollywood was reissued by Westbound Records, an imprint of Ace Records during 2015. The reissue is a reminder, if any was needed of how good George Clinton and Co. were. Live they were legendary, and often, played three hour shows. That was the case with Parliament, Funkadelic and the P-Funk All-Stars, whose live album P-Funk All-Stars Live At The Beverley Theatre In Hollywood makes a welcome return twenty-five years after its initial release.

SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE-LIVE AT THE FILLMORE EAST-OCTOBER 4TH AND 5TH 1968. 

For whatever reason, Bill Graham didn’t see what other people saw in Sly and The Family Stone. Initially he wasn’t won over by their unique brand of dance music. As a result, he was reluctant to book Sly Stone and his band. Eventually, though, Bill Graham was persuade to go and see Sly and The Family Stone live. Having seen Sly and The Family Stone in full flight this changed his mind. 

So much so, that Bill Graham booked Sly and The Family Stone to open for Eric Burdon and The Animals at four concerts and the Fillmore East in October 1968. These four concerts were recorded, but never released. That’s until  Live At The Fillmore East-October 4th and 5th 1968 was released by Sony Music as a four disc box set during 2015. It’s a reminder of what Sly and The Family Stone once were.

They were one of the most successful bands of their generation, releasing five albums, which sold over ten million copies. This run of commercial success and critical acclaim began with Stand, which was certified platinum, and ended with Small Talk, which was certified gold. In between, Sly and The Family Stone were one of the most groundbreaking groups of the late sixties and early seventies. Their music influenced several generations of musicians, and much of it is timeless.

 

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SUN RA ARKESTRA UNDER THE DIRECTION OF MARSHALL ALLEN-BABYLON LIVE.

2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of most enigmatic and innovative musicians in the history of music, Sun Ra. So, last year, Marshall Allen decided to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Sun Ra’s birth by taking the Sun Ra Arkestra on the road, choosing the setlist can’t have been easy. Literally, Marshall Allen was spoiled for choice. However, when the Sun Ra Arkestra reached the Babylon Club, Istanbul on 21st May 2014, the concert was recorded. Eight of the eleven tracks feature on Babylon Live which was recorded by the Sun Ra Arkestra Under The Direction Of Marshall Allen. It was released on the German label, In-and-Out Records.

Babylon Live was recorded at the Babylon Club in Istanbul, Turkey on the 21st May 2014. That was always 100 years to the day that Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount. Little did anyone realise that, that day, one of most enigmatic and innovative musicians in the history of music was born. He combined Egyptian history and space-age cosmic philosophy with freeform jazz. Some felt that Sun Ra hid behind his newly adopted personal. Throughout his life, he remained an enigmatic figure. So much so, that  many people referred to Sun Ra as Mr. Mystery. Despite being an enigma, he was one of jazz music’s great innovators. 

Sun Ra’s approach to music was unique. He combined Egyptian history and space-age cosmic philosophy with freeform jazz. Over a career that spanned nearly forty years, Sun Ra and His Arkestra pushed musical boundaries. He was a perfectionist and a relentless taskmaster. Continually, he surrounded himself with some of most talented, inventive and adventurous musicians of their generation. They became the Sun Ra Arkestra, who celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of their founder, the man born Herman Poole Blount.

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THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE-FREEDOM: ATLANTA POP FESTIVAL.

On the 4th of July 1970, Jimi Hendrix journeyed 100 miles south of Atlanta. His destination was the second Atlanta International Pop Festival. It was being billed as the second Woodstock, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were about play a starring role.

When the Jimi Hendrix Experience arrived at the Atlanta International Pop Festival, they were greeted by a crowd estimated to be between 300,000-400,000. What is now remembered as the “last great rock festival” was an unlikely event for Jimi Hendrix to appear at. Byron, in Atlanta was in the heart of old the Deep South. This was Klan country. Racial tensions were always threatening to bubble over. The organisers of the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival were well aware of this. So they made the conscious decision that the star of the show should be someone who appealed to everyone. This was Jimi Hendrix, whose performance that day, features on the Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival box set.

That day, The Jimi Hendrix Experience wrote heir place into music history by playing a starring role in what’s now remembered as the “last great rock festival.” Jimi had united a region that had been divided. His message of unity, universal love and Freedom had him friends on both sides of the racial divide can be heard on the Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival box set. It features one of the most influential and innovative guitarists of his generation, Jimi Hendrix. 

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THE VELVET UNDERGROUND-THE MATRIX TAPES BOX SET.

For a while, The Matrix had one of The Velvet Underground’s favourite venues on The West Coast. It seemed to bring out the best in The Velvet Underground. So there was no better place for The Velvet Underground to record a live album. These two nights at The Matrix featured The Velvet Underground at their very best. However, until late 2015, only some of live at The Matrix album has been released. 

Only five tracks from live at The Matrix featured on Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes when they were released on 2001. Despite this, many critics felt this was the finest live recording of The Velvet Underground. It was, they felt, a shame that The Matrix Tapes hadn’t been released in all their glory. Some of The Matrix Tapes made their way on one of the discs on the recent Velvet Underground Loaded box set. Again, it was a tantalising taste of this musical pandora’s box. Little did anyone know, that a couple of weeks later, that The Matrix Tapes would be released by UMC as a four disc box set. At last, this legendary recording is available for all to hear and enjoy.

The two nights at The Matrix, are documented on The Matrix Tapes box set. This four disc box set, features forty-two tracks. There’s Velvet Underground classics, and hidden gems like New Age on The Matrix Tapes. It’s regarded by many critics as as the definitive Velvet Underground live album. Especially now, that it’s available in it entirety. That’s never been the case before. That’s despite The Matrix Tapes being recorded forty-six years ago. Somewhat belatedly, this legendary live album can be heard in its entirety, and features one of the most innovative and influential bands in the history of music, The Velvet Underground. They’re in full flight, reinventing classics and hidden gems on what’s considered a legendary live album The Matrix Tapes.

That’s almost my list of the best live alums of 2015. However, there’s a but. There always is in life. On many of the albums and box sets I’ve released during 2015, there have been live tracks, even some live albums. 

This includes Harmonia’s legendary Live ’74 album. It featured in Grönland Records’ Complete Works box sets. Live ’74 is a stunning live album, and features musical pioneers Harmonia, at the peak of their powers. Hopefully, Live ’74 will be reissued sometime soon. However, Live ’74 is just one of many live albums that could be found in box sets during 2015. 

Another was The Doobie Brothers’ 1983 Farewell Tour. Although not a classic album by a long stretch of the imagination, it’s a welcome makeweight in The Warner Bros. Years 1971-1983 box set. Similarly, the America box set, The Warner Bros. Years 1971-1977 features America Live. It was released in 1977, and although America Live isn’t a classic; is a welcome addition to The Warner Bros. Years 1971-1977 box set. The same could be said of Van Halen’s 2012 live album Tokyo Dome Live in Concert, which was part of the Deluxe box set. Tokyo Dome Live in Concert featured a hard rocking Van Halen feature on two discs. Hawkwind go one better on  their This Is Your Captain Speaking…Your Captain Is Dead box set. It featured a trio of live albums.

This Is Your Captain Speaking…Your Captain Is Dead featured four studio albums, a greatest hits and the three live albums. The Greasy Truckers Party The Space Ritual Alive and The 1999 Party (Live At The Chicago Auditorium) showcase the space Rock pioneers  live take the listener on a sonic adventure. For Hawkwind fans, the three live albums were a welcome addition to the box set. That was the case on so many of the live tracks on other albums and box sets released during 2015.

On the A Love Supreme-The Complete Masters three disc box set, John Coltrane strike gold on disc three. It features the John Coltrane quartet playing A Love Supreme in its entirety, live in Juan-les-Pins, France. This performance has entered jazz folklore, and is a very welcome addition to A Love Supreme-The Complete Masters. Fans of many other artists and bands will be saying the same thing.

A case in point is a live recordings of Fotheringay on Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay. It’s a glorious reminder of Sandy Denny’s other group. So are the live tracks on the four disc The Jimi Hendrix Experience box set. People said the same when some of the tracks from The Matrix Tapes featured on The Velvet Underground’s Loaded box set. Then just a few weeks later, The Matrix Tapes box set was given a welcome release. However, with other reissues released during 2015, the addition of live tracks were meant to entice music fans.

Sometimes, these live tracks were a welcome addition. Especially  on reissues by Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson and The Rolling Stones, to name just four. These tracks allow the listener to enjoy rock royalty live. Sometimes, it’s like listening to history being made. 

That proves to be the case with several albums on my list of the best live albums of 2015. From Harmonia and John Martyn, to Miles Davis, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Velvet Underground each of these artists made musical history on the albums that feature on my list of the best live albums of 2015. The reissue of these albums allow record buyers to eavesdrop as musical history is  made.

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2 Comments

  1. We love live albums in Vinyl Connection land. And we love lots of the music in this post. Terrific stuff. But that Harmonia cassette. Wow.

    • Hi there,

      Glad you enjoyed the article, and enjoy the music on the list. 2015 certainly was a good year for live albums.

      Sadly, the Harmonia cassette is really hard to find now. Copies were for sale on Amazon. Not any more. They’ve sold out. Discogs still have a few copies for sale. However, If you have the Harmonia box set Complete Works, you already own the album. It was great to see a cassette again. They’re a reminder of another era. having said that, they’re back in fashion in a big way, with Cassette Day.

      Regards,
      Derek.

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