2020 seemed to us to have been a bumper year for bands releasing live recordings. There’s been plenty of digging around in the archives. Here’s the most successful finds from that exercise.
Lockdown. We hate that word, although we will accept it’s a convenient shorthand to describe the varying degrees of restrictions placed on our day to day lives over the course of most of 2020 and continuing into 2021.
Of course, no gigs, save for a handful at one point in the summer last year. No meeting up inside for the most part, no meeting up outside for some part. Stay at home if you can, don’t go to work, and, generally curl up in a ball in the corner sobbing gently while wondering what might have been.
There’s no denying 2020 produced a rich seam of new music to mine, with some bands having managed, by sheer fluke, to get their recordings done before March and others who were able to adapt and collaborate remotely thereafter, or carry on because they lived together.
But we also noticed another trend that seems to have been a symptom of the pandemic, namely releases of live recordings.
It’s not a scientific study. Quite frankly, we can’t be arsed firing up MS Excel and generating some form of spreadsheet going back over the years inputting the results from searching Google for terms such as “live release”, “live album” and / or “live EP”.
It just seems to us it’s become A Thing recently.
The motives vary. Bo Ningen took the time to have a dig around in the cupboard under the stairs and released a number EPs (for want of a better description) under the collective title of A Found History. Some of these are live recordings, others are early demos or simply previously unheard remixes and studio sessions.
Both Dream Wife and The Fierce and the Dead decided to release live recordings of their last pre-lockdown gigs. In the case of TFATD, bass player, Kev, told us that digging out that recording was an emotional experience, but one the band wanted to do as a way both of keeping ticking over and as a thank you to fans for their support.
The Twilight Sad released two live albums in 2020, the first of which was It Won/t Be Like This All The Time Live, came out on the day they should have been playing a homecoming gig at Glasgow’s Barrowlands.
There’s a few here that were released on a pay what you like basis. Kudos to those who did. No less to those who needed to raise funds.
The recurring theme, for the most part, would appear to be the desire of bands to keep up their profile and at the same time to give their fans something of value even while releasing new music has been rendered more or less impossible, at least for many.
We could debate the merits of live releases as opposed to studio recordings. And, maybe one day we will because it’s a discussion that generates very different views from either side of the chamber. For now, we’ll park that one, but with the interjection that Ramones: It’s Alive is quite possibly one of the best albums ever released by anyone, anywhere. So, fight us!
There is a thing about a live release, though, be it album or EP. They’re not things you can jump in and out of. They’re designed to be consumed whole. A whole gig, a mini gig, whatever. Let’s just shed a little tear and jump around in our living room with this lot while we mourn the absence of the real thing.
So, in no particular order, here is the best of the live releases that fell across our radar over the last few months.
EX EYE – Live at St Vitus
Recorded live in 2017, but released in May 2020, this is EX EYE performing their self titled debut album at St Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, NY.
Commenting on the release on Facebook, the band said: “EX EYE would like to thank everyone who came out to this show, and all those who’ve supported us over the years. Stay safe during these unprecedented and uncertain times, and we hope to see you again in the not too distant future when we can all be together once more to shake the walls and rattle the rafters“
An unashamed fusion of rock, jazz and experimentation EX EYE don’t really conform to anything you may expect.
But, we think if you’re reading this far, then you may like this one.
The Twilight Sad – It Won/t Be Like This All The Time Live and Oran Mor
Largely based on the band’s fifth studio album, It Won/t Be Like This All The Time, but with some extras thrown in, The Twilight Sad released this rock behemoth early on in lockdown, in April 2020. It’s a reflection of the band’s live recordings captured during gigs played in 2019.
Released on what was originally to be the date of the first of two nights at Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom, this album is a belter and captures the band at full power. Apparently, they had been planning a live album anyway, but Covid accelerated that plan.
Still available on Bandcamp on a pay what you like basis, it was a welcome early present at a time when we still had no idea what was to come.
Later in the year, the band gave us another bonus in the form of the Oran Mor acoustic gig, released on 26 December 2020 and also on Bandcamp as pay what you like.
Both albums are well worth your time.
Dream Wife – IRL
Dream Wife followed up their brilliant summer 2020 studio album, So When You Gonna … with this gem in November.
IRL is the band’s last gig of 2020, recorded in London in January, albeit not intended at the time to have seen the light of day.
Notable for the inclusion of what was probably our favourite single, by anyone, of 2020, the band’s Blondie moment, Hasta La Vista Baby and the not previously released, Cheap Thrills.
The War On Drugs – Live Drugs
Live Drugs is not a single gig, but an amalgam of recordings from tours around the albums Lost in the Dream and A Deeper Understanding. As such the band has been able to pick from a pretty large selection, but this means there are no compromises.
The flow, however, may fool a casual listener into thinking this is indeed a single performance and the curation is pretty flawless. Under the Pressure, coming in at nearly 12 minutes, is a masterpiece and that alone shows what a live force this band has become.
If you wanted an intro in The War On Drugs, this is a decent jumping off point.
Drahla – Live in LA
Recorded live in LA for Part Time Punks on 10 October 2019. And then released both digitally and physically as a limited edition item.
The limited edition item is a cassette supplied with components and a technical sheet for self-construction. Yup – that’s right, it came as bag of bits which you had to assemble before you could listen to it. That would be the Drahla way of doing things.
Happily the download was easier to deal with.
We saw Drahla live in spring 2019 and their unconventional, quirky approach to a jazz infused punk was right on the money as far as we were concerned.
Live in LA comprises a similar set to the one we saw (it was, effectively, the same tour) and was a welcome reminder of how good that gig was.
Lonesaw – Live
The band’s debut release and, infamously, recorded at a gig on 31 January 2020, the night the UK crashed out of the EU, this will forever be known as “The Brexit Gig” around these parts.
A sheer cliff face to be negotiated live, Lonesaw are treading the line between industrial and post-punk. Their grotesque cacophony is a mixture of guttural vocals, grinding electronics, pulsating percussion, and double saxophone assault.
And if that doesn’t make you want more, then we’re not sure what else would. Their skill is to orchestrate chaos to the point where you think it’s all going to collapse into a heap and yet, at the same time, keeping it all together.
We were at this gig and this release captures it perfectly. Raw, visceral, full of venom.
This tape was actually put out as a sort of marker. The band did have studio material in the can, but they weren’t happy with it at the time.
The autumn would later see the release of Barbed Wire Church as a stand alone single and they were probably right to wait until they felt it was bang on. But in the meantime, this live recording was a no brainer as an addition to our collection.
The Fierce and the Dead – Live at The Hope and Anchor
Another selection comprising parts of the band’s last pre-lockdown gig.
This was intended to be a warm up gig in preparation for the band playing a festival in Holland at the end of March. But, by then there was nothing doing and the Holland gig got cancelled.
Unable to get into a studio and write new material, The Fierce and the Dead decided to dig out the tape from this gig and re-visit it. The three track EP is a cracking demonstration of the band’s love for a full on guitar riff.
It was, said Kev, (the band’s bass player), something of an emotional experience putting it together and a harsh indicator of how quickly we’ve managed to lose a large chunk of what we had simply taken for granted less than a year ago.
Bombino – Live in Amsterdam
A change of pace, perhaps. But Bombino and guitars were made for each other.
Recorded live at Melkweg in Amsterdam, in late 2019, Bombino’s Live In Amsterdam marks the long-awaited first live album from a man some would argue is the world’s best guitarist. Debatable, obviously, but the sounds he can tease out of a guitar are something else.
We had the chance to speak to Bombino at the back end of last year and he said this release was something fans had been requesting for some time. But then band member Illias Mohamed Alhassane (rhythm guitar, vocals), sadly and suddenly died in September 2020. Live In Amsterdam features Illias in his final recorded performance with his ‘brothers’ in Bombino’s band. May his soul rest in peace.
This is a perfect memorial.
Zola Jesus – Live at Roadburn 2018
Another early lockdown release (May 2020) of an earlier gig, recorded at Roadburn Festival in Holland in 2018.
If you want leftfield, then you’re in the right place.
Zola Jesus is the stage name of Russian American musician Nika Roza Danilova. Her approach is a cross pollination of electronic/industrial, classical, and gothic sounds. All of it coming together as a dark and emotional artistic experience.
She has said she feels like the “odd duck” at festivals, too poppy, or too weird. We’ll run with that, but we like it, too.
Amyl and the Sniffers – Live at The Croxton
Three tracks, taken from their debut LP and coming in at less than 10 minutes this is perfect 7″ material.
No nonsense, get what you pay for and exactly as you think it should sound like, punk. Released on Rough Trade and described by the label as “ball-tearing“, we’d be hard pressed to find a better description. ‘Nuff said.
Bo Ningen – A Found History: Live Recordings
There are two of these live EPs from Japanese crazy psych rock punks along with a few other bits of stuff they found while digging through their piles of tapes.
The first, taken from gigs between 2011- 2013 is an eight track mini LP / EP and described by the band as: “selected memories from the sonic assault across UK, EU and Japan“, which would seem about right.
The second live EP, from 2018, is four tracks, but runs to more than half an hour, finishing with the behemoth that is 14+ minutes of Daikaisei Part 2, 3
A extract from the band’s last UK tour in October 2018. Four songs in four cities, Manchester, London, Leeds and Southampton. “[These] recent live tracks tell how we improve/change and how we exist in this cataclysmic time“.
There are more dubs, outtakes and remixes on Bandcamp should you not have enough Bo Ningen in your life.
Mogwai – 2018
It just kind of dropped. And landed on Bandcamp on a pay what you like basis.
“Next month it will have been a year since we last played a live concert. I don’t think I’ve really gotten used to life without live music, both playing it and hearing it. I hope that this situation doesn’t last much longer for a lot of reasons. Everyone’s health and safety being the biggest concern obviously, but also so that gigs can finally resume. It’s a cliché but you don’t realise how much you miss something until it isn’t there. With that in mind, we thought it would be a good time for us to share with you a new live album recorded on our last tour in 2018. We realise that many people are struggling financially during the pandemic, so we have made it available on a pay-what-you-can-basis. We hope you enjoy it.”
Stuart Braithwaite, September 2020.
Ladytron – Live at London Astoria
This is another one that was easy to miss and, is probably the earliest gig of this round up, being from 2008.
It may be a bit of a cheat, because physical versions of this record have been kicking around in limited editions for a while. But this digital release came as a very welcome early Xmas present in November last year.
Feather Trade – Live from Bristol – The Fleece
Recorded on the tour with Spear of Destiny in 2019, this six track EP is a fine snapshot of a classy rock band.
We can describe them no better than they do themselves: “Break ups with geography. Horses dying at sea. Knives in ceremony. Storms inside a person“
We know exactly what you’re driving at.
Lead image: Bo Ningen: Liverpool 2017