i have little concern, and even less knowledge of, albums of the “Live” variety. Accordingly, i will now tell you about two of my all-time favorites.
The first is odd in that it is typically not my kind of music. Well, it wasn’t when i purchased it at any rate. i had long known of a certain Mr. Peter Gabriel, and having heard no bad reports concerning his output, i still never felt that his stylings would mesh well with the punk rock lifestyle i was trying very hard to craft at the time. What with him being well known and (almost) respectful in certain circles, i just couldn’t see his music as being very much against the grain. As any of you who have heard his work (the earlier bits) know, i was wrong.
The album “Plays Live” first came to life for my ears after i ran across a copy of it in a pawn shop located in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Yes, a pawn shop. Now, i’m not certain why either i or the cassette containing this album were in this particular pawn shop – or any pawn shop for that matter – but there we both were, and after seeing that the cash in pocket met or exceeded the price tag, we left hand-in-hand (hand-in-reel? hand-in-spool? Whatever – we left together). It was my car stereo (residing in that damned light blue Escort that got me everywhere until it’s untimely and inconvenient death, halfway between Jacksonville and NY. And that simply because absolutely no one had felt the need to tell me that cars occasionally need infusions of transmission fluid) that first lent my ears to the sounds of what would become a lifelong friend.
The album starts off quietly, slowly coming into audio view, painstakingly methodic and comfortable – yet looming in a certain sense – it takes a full minute and forty nine seconds before Peter sings the first “Whooooah” on the opening track and you can hear by then the audience is in a fever pitch.
i was as well, and stayed so for both sides of each of the cassettes.
Gabriel had a way of controlling the crowd with a tight set list, one that deliberately took it’s time. Stretching itself over the full length of the concert, it never got too fast, but it never became boring either. Just enough ebb and flow to keep the ear ever-attentive, always waiting for more. If i had to lodge a complaint against this album, i guess the only one i could come up with would be his choice of using “Biko” to end the concert with. i understand the importance of the track, but it feels a bit sour of a way to end the show, especially to one who doesn’t really care for the construct of the song. And truth be told – if i wasn’t so anal about having to always “complete” things, i would normally be tempted to end the album at the much more uplifting “On The Air”.
The second album i like for almost exactly the opposite reasons as the first. With “Live Killers”, Queen also shows off their showmanship – OK, Freddie Mercury’s showmanship – but they do so with much more emotion, speed and well, i guess audio “jiggling”.
From the very beginning, where they re-tool their own “We Will Rock You” from the plodding anthem of the album version into an almost speed metal song (pre, pre-speed metal, of course), you know you’re in for a bumpy, but fun, ride. And much like Gabriel, they don’t disappoint. Except twice. In the first, they make you wait all the way until the second disc to hear “Don’t Stop Me Now”, and secondly, they follow it with the much-to-involved “Brighton Rock” – a song that i would suppose is pure joy to air guitarists (the ones that take it seriously, at any rate) and soundscape enthusiasts alike, but a bit too long and noncommittal for those of us who would much rather have our hearts tugged than of our ears stretched.
Sadly, this particular album was my brothers – Queen being the only band of worth that he ever “discovered” before me – and as such i have no fond memories of obtaining it. i am very glad, however, that my ears heard it then, and can still hear it today. Much like “Plays Live”, it has the ability to take me to an entirely different place of the mind. Not a better place necessarily, just a different one. And that can come in pretty handy when the children are in a mood, or the bills are due, or your in-laws are being, well, your in-laws. Don’t believe me? Next time things are getting out of hand, play “i Go Swimming” (preferably in a light blue Escort full to the hilt with transmission fluid, and preferably LOUD) and tell me how you feel afterwards.
Tell me also please, if there are any Live albums that you simply can’t Live without.