Back in the day, live albums were seen as a hallowed marker that you’d made it as a band. For some artists, their live releases would go on to be considered some of their best ever, overshadowing some of their work in the studio.
But that was quite a while ago and yet, as we are about to entire the second decade of the 21st century, some acts are still putting out live albums. Just today (October 17), IDLES announced the release of their very own show on wax, recorded at Paris’ Bataclan last year. But why? Who genuinely wants to listen to a live album anymore? Why did anyone ever?
Live albums are pointless. You might argue they let you remember a great gig or experience one you didn’t get to go to. The latter is sheer masochism – why force yourself too find out exactly what you missed down to every squall of feedback and pay £20 for the pleasure? If you’re being honest you’re only going to listen to it a handful of times at best – at BEST – and you’ll get precisely none of the same thrills as if you were there. Meanwhile, the former is just nonsense. Why do you need a physical souvenir of something to remember it? Do you even want to remember every part? Even that bit where you spent an entire song quietly fuming cos some dickhead in front of you was filming the whole thing but not even paying attention? No. You don’t. You’ll only make yourself angry again.
A lot of artists might be Very Good at that whole playing their songs live thing, but a lot of them are less adept at the part where they need to address a room full of people. No one, least of all them, needs a reminder of their attempts at scintillating banter and just how flat it fell. What else could possibly be the appeal of a live album, if not something that would differentiate it from the studio recordings (other than it being, you know, not as good quality)? Being able to relive which song got the best reaction? Pointless!
Most days, I would willingly sell my own family to see The Strokes play right there and then, yet I would not spend even a penny on a live album from Jules and the gang. I love watching Lorde live and the joyous, giddy high that brings, but I would bet all my future earnings (don’t get too excited, I’m a music journalist after all) that a live album from her ‘Melodrama’ tour would not have anywhere near the same effect.
In a band and have a great gig that just so happens to be being recorded? Great, you’ve got yourself a nice little memento of something you personally did! Just please don’t ask anyone else to pay for a proper release of it, with either their money or their attention. No one needs it and, if we’re all really honest with ourselves, most of us don’t want it either.