Which Bands Are Better Live Than On Record?

Gossip singer Beth Ditto announced this week that she didn’t expect fans to shell out their hard-earned cash on the albums unless they’d been left gobsmacked by one of their gigs. In an interview that was no doubt accompanied by the sound of palms-hitting-faces in her record label’s marketing department, she admitted: “I wouldn’t buy our records if I hadn’t seen us live first.”


There are lots of people who wouldn’t buy the Gossip’s records even if they had seen them live, but we’re much too polite to dwell on that. Instead we’ll acknowledge that Ditto raises a decent point. There are plenty of bands who just don’t make any sense unless you’ve breathed their air, smelt their sweat and been punched in the face by their over-protective security. (That last one isn’t strictly necessary).

Whatever the size of the show, the venue has a huge part to play. Sometimes it’s being squashed into a tiny box-room that makes a band come alive, while other times it’s the fanfare and fireworks of a stadium set that makes a band seem extraordinary. The impact of a floor-shuddering sound-system shouldn’t be underestimated either.

For me. it tends to be the bone-crunching gigs that really transform a band. I rarely stick on a Pulled Apart By Horses record while I’m already battling a grey Thursday but they’re just so viscerally righteous in the room that it’s hard to leave their shows without a chunk of your heart forever pulled apart.


Equally, it can be tough for a band like Pond to find a place on my stereo when they’re competing with the perfectly good Big Brother & The Holding Company and Captain Beefheart records residing there, but the Australian’s psychedelic-party-band show has to be seen to be believed, preferably under blazing sunshine while twisted out of your mind.

Obviously bands who are both great live and on record are too plentiful to mention, but perhaps this is the time to pay tribute to those acts who manage to pull off the considerable feat of being brilliant live, but sounding nothing like their records. Last night’s Chromatics show at London’s Village Underground was punctuated by wildly reworked versions of tracks like ‘Back To The Grave’, while bands like Eels seem to be chronically allergic to simply reproducing their records each night on tour.

So who are the bands whose live shows won you over after their records left you cold, and what made the difference: their stage banter, the sound-system or just the way the bassist fluttered their eyelids?