Five Essential Live Albums

Scott Wallace
17th Feb 2015

Live music is swiftly becoming the backbone of the music industry. Who among us isn't familiar with the crushing disappointment when you can't attend a concert by your favourite artist, or when you see that tickets have sold out before you even got the chance, or when the tickets are too expensive to afford in the first place. Luckily, live albums have also been a staple for decades, and the best ones aren't that far behind the real thing. Here are five of the greatest live documents ever put to tape that will make you feel like you're really there.

Etta James - Etta James Rocks the House (1964)

What's so exciting about Etta James is that she howled and screamed and rocked in a time when female pop stars didn't really do that. She was a throwback to the blues belters that came before, but also a bright portent of the future of women in music. "Ohhh sometimes I get a good feeling..." Those are the first words that Etta James sings on this incredibly raw recording, captured in Nashville, Tennessee. James' version of "Something's Got a Hold on Me," is only the first of eleven dynamite performances that make up the record, showcasing everything that made her a legend. With both unbridled feeling and carnality ("I Just Want to Make Love to You" closes the set by not just rocking the house, but burning it down) and tender, soulful ballads ("All I Could Do Is Cry" might make you do just that) this is the essential Etta James disc.

Iggy & the Stooges - Metallic K.O. (1976)

Have you ever been to a live show where the band kind of sucks, but you're really, really into it anyway? Iggy Pop and his band of Stooges never got by on musical virtuosity, but on sheer volume and passion, making them the true godfathers of punk. Compiled of live recordings from both 1973 and 1974 at Detroit's Michigan Palace, these shambolic, careening performances are the epitome of what made The Stooges great. At times, the audience is openly hostile, reportedly pelting the band with food and objects, and frontman Iggy Pop fires right back. Perhaps the centrepiece of the record is a cover of The Kingsmen's notorious classic "Louie Louie" with Pop drunkenly slurring his self-created, vulgar version of the lyrics. Recording quality purists will hate this one - the drums sound like cardboard boxes and the guitars whine rather than roar - but what shines through is The Stooges' unstoppable raw power.

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense (1984)

Purists will say that to listen to Stop Making Sense without Jonathan Demme's (director of SIlence of the Lambs and Philadelphia) accompanying visuals is heresy, but you're not going to put an entire concert film on your iPod, are you? Stop Making Sense the concert film is great - there's no denying that - but the audio-only version is just as good. Beginning with just lead Head David Byrne and a boom box playing a rudimentary beat, he busts out a stripped down version of "Psycho Killer" that almost beats the original. As more and more band members come on-stage, including extra hands on percussion and keys, the band brings the funk. The version of "Burning Down the House" included here actually does outstrip the studio version. Both cerebral and irresistibly catchy, Stop Making Sense proves that in their prime Talking Heads had it all.

Life Without Buildings - Live at the Annandale Hotel (2007)

Life Without Buildings are a little-known Scottish band that released only one studio album and existed for only three years; they burned bright and died quickly - a musical supernova. Live at the Annandale Hotel was recorded in 2001, but didn't see the light of day until 2007, when the band's star had long since faded. That didn't stop the accolades from rolling in. Live at the Annandale Hotel is here not just because it is a brilliant representation of one of Sydney's finest live music venues, but also because everything we can get of this weird and wonderful band is a treasure. From the thumping, sturdy backbeat, to the warm, locomotive chug of the guitars, to frontwoman Sue Tompkins' rhythmic, repetitive talk-sung vocals, Life Without Buildings were a musical event that will probably never be repeated.

Daft Punk - Alive 2007 (2007)

You might be surprised that a techno act like Daft Punk would release a live album, but in fact, this is their second one. Ten years on from Alive 1997, this full double disc recording of a live show in Paris proved that robots know how to have fun too. Mashing together songs from all across their career, the duo manage to completely transform their back catalogue into a rolling, sweeping, unending barrage of pulsing beats and earworm melodies. Songs that you think you knew well suddenly take a left turn - check out the incredible moment when "Television Rules the Nation" turns into album cut "Crescendolls" and back again - and you'll be screaming along with the crowd whose hooting and cheering peppers the entire set. If you seek it out, beware; some versions don't contain the transcendent encore where "One More Time" becomes one with Stardust's "Music Sounds Better with You" to ecstatic effect.