MGMT Are Right – Let’s Give Bootleggers The Privileges They Deserve

Had you blinked you may have missed it, but in the later stages of last week, a blog post went up on MGMT’s website and MySpace page, declaring that “audio recording is allowed at the shows”.

It was swiftly removed (doubtless by hyperventilating record company executives still reeling from the unmarketable psych-puddle that is ‘Congratulations’), but the damage was done. Put something up online for even two seconds, and it exists forever: pretending it never happened is pointless.

“In each venue there will be a taping section,” continues the post, now preserved on and about 34,235 other websites. “You must record the show from this section and not outside of it. This section will be located by the soundboard. In reserved seating and other unique situations you will be asked to keep your microphones at head level. There is no special taper ticket needed.”

Now this seems to me to be a FABULOUS idea. In this day and age, when everyone carries around a digital recording device to make phonecalls on, the struggle to stop people making ‘audience recordings’ is more fruitless than ever. Give them the optimum position to tape in, and at least the recordings will sound good.

Plus, MGMT have expressly stated that they “do NOT allow any videotaping, only audio.” Even better idea! Death to all the fucking morons who spend entire gigs with their shit camera phone held up, obscuring my/your view of the band and making videos that – at best – they will giggle at once on the bus home with their mates. Like this one.

No, if you’re going to bootleg, take it seriously: your attitude should be that rather than being there to have a good time, you are in fact a historian, who’s duty it is to document proceedings accurately. Do this, and you deserve your premium viewing point, a) so you don’t disturb others (plus – more importantly – so they don’t disturb you) and b) because you are doing music fans around the world an invaluable service.

Bootlegs – the name originating from the two places where one might conceal a tape recorder from security – are and always have been an absolutely vital part of rock and roll. Since the late-’60s, despite the best efforts of labels, they’ve been providing exciting, rough-around-the-edges takes on songs that are sometimes infinitely superior to the sanctioned studio releases. This version of ‘Street Fighting Man’, from celebrated Stones bootleg ‘Get Your Leeds Lungs Out!’ (taped at Leeds Uni in 1971), springs immediately to my mind.

Official live albums are often largely pointless. Firstly, because in general they are mixed and mastered in much the same way as normal albums, and thus lose all the rawness they are supposed to represent. Secondly because, nine times out of ten, the artists concerned know they’re being taped, and thus try too hard. What you want is to catch a band off their guard, losing their inhibitions in the middle of nowhere after a year of being cooped up in a splitter van and not getting enough sleep. That’s when the magic truly, truly happens.

MGMT are not the first to recognize this. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead once famously declared of his band’s live shows: “Once we’re done with it, it’s theirs”, and actively encouraged fans to spread the word through unofficial live albums. In the ’90s, Pearl Jam took the initiative and began making their own recordings of every single show available.

Many artists like them have turned a similarly semi-blind eye, and the reason for this is simple: if you’re confident in your abilities as an amazing live act that provides something special every night of the week, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. Witness Bruce Springsteen, who at a show at LA’s Roxy in July of 1978, with his burgeoning reputation as one of the greatest live acts ever seen, yells “Bootleggers, roll your tapes!” And then delivers this quite astonishing version of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

Like so many bands over the years, Springsteen’s studio albums only tell half the story. From Led Zeppelin (check this ten-minute demolition of ‘Communication Breakdown’ off the celebrated ‘Live On Blueberry Hill’) to My Bloody Valentine (check the version of ‘Soon’ at ULU in 1989), to – one of my personal favourite albums ever – Spiritualized ‘Acoustic Mainlines Live At Union Chapel 2007’, right through to The Drums (whose studio take of ‘Best Friend’ in my eyes will always pale in comparison to this), great live acts have always been done a massive service by bootleggers, and those determined souls thoroughly deserve the couple of quid they may have made out of it along the way. In giving serious concert recorders all the facilities they need to do their job properly, MGMT are doing themselves, their fans and ultimately music a great, great service.

So, in the interest of getting the usual rabble-rousing debate going, here is a list of ten bootlegs I love (some of which I’ve already mentioned above, and quite a lot of which are from the early ’70s, for obvious reasons). They are presented in no particular order.

1. Spiritualized – ‘Acoustic Mainlines Union Chapel’ (2007) Maybe the most beautiful album ever/never made.

2. Kraftwerk – ‘Live On Radio Bremen’ (1971) When the early line up consisted of Florian Schneider, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger – Ralf Hutter having left briefly – and they were a guitar-augmented freeform live sensation. Check ‘Heavy Metal Kids’.

3. Oasis – ‘British Lads In Boston’ (1995) At the absolute peak of their garage band youthful powers post-‘Definitely Maybe’.

4. The Rolling Stones – ‘Get Your Leeds Lungs Out! (1971) As discussed.

5. Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band – ‘Live at Bickershaw Festival North West England’ (1972) Awesome voodoo-assault rock, onstage time 4am.

6. The Stooges – ‘You Want My Action’ (1971) Now officially released. Shows from NYC, during the brief period where the line up contained both James Williamson and Ron Asheton. Features Iggy shouting at the crowd “NEW YORK PUSSY TASTES LIKE DOGSHIT!”

7. Electric Prunes – ‘Stockholm ’67’ (1967) Heavy-as-shit live awesomeness from ‘Nuggets’ faves, also now semi-officially released.

8. Verve – ‘Voyager 1’ (1992) Legendary recording from the pre-‘The’ years, when they were drug-fried psychedelic soldiers.

9. Suicide – ’23 Minutes Over Brussels’ (1978) Any live recording where you can hear chairs being thrown at the band has got to be worth owning.

10. Prince – ‘Small Club’ (1988). A Prince obsessive friend of mine gave me this when I was going wild about his O2 Arena shows a couple of years back. Kind of made me feel stupid.