As my music collection steadily grows I thought I'd take a moment and praise my top ten live albums.
Dream Letter: Live in London, by Tim Buckley
This is one of my favorite albums, period. Tim Buckley was a folk singing troubadour who is here captured at a decisive moment when he was mixing folk with jazz and rock. His band is minimal and his voice soars. If you are only familiar with his son Jeff Buckley's work I highly recommend this album as an introduction to the father.
Live at the Apollo, by James Brown
Many consider this the greatest live album of all time, and it is easy to see why. Brown whips the crowd into a frenzy with long jams and pleading medleys. The material is from Brown's earlier catalogue, and is a perfect showcase for 'the hardest working man in show business.'
At Fillmore East, by The Allman Brothers
For those who love the electric guitar Duane Allman was one of the undisputed masters. This collection of their best pieces from the last Fillmore concerts before closing highlight Duane's amazing technique in extended, but not repetitious, sessions.
At Folsom Prison, by Johnny Cash
Even more so than 'Apollo', this performance has the best crowd interaction. The inmates at Folsom Prison "roar their approval" as Cash presents a bill of songs about prison, love, standards, and some songs even written by the prisoners in the audience. Cash's songs, empathy, and humor makes the whole album excellent.
Carnegie Hall Concert of 1938, by Benny Goodman
This was the first time, ever, that jazz would be played in a venue like Carnegie Hall. The idea was new, but the best possible band for the job ensured that this would not be Carnegie's last jazz concert (see the great Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane live album at Carnegie, for example). The best big-band swing sound keeps the audience clapping through the amazing finale of 'Sing Sing Sing'.
MTV Unplugged in New York, by Nirvana
Okay, so Cobain was actually secretly amped. Still. This set was done in one marvelous take with a selection of some of Nirvana's lesser-known material and covers by Bowie, the Meat Puppets and other bands you may not have heard of. It is, to my mind, a vocal performance. Cobain's raw and passionate voice is the draw.
Live at Leeds, by The Who
The Who could create a great studio album, but this offering shows their legendary live prowess. Covering their classics ('Magic Bus', 'My Generation') and a long section of 'Tommy' they turn up the amps and start to forge what would become arena rock.
Live at the Regal, by BB King
BB King seems to disagree with most people that this is his best live work. As a blues set goes this short recording packs an amazing punch. King is in great form as a singer and guitar player, and the crowd is wildly enthusiastic.
Europe '72, by The Grateful Dead
The Dead had to make an appearance on any 'live album' list. This collection taken from a few different venues and countries on their European tour is a great collection of classic Dead jamming and covers some of their best material.
Ellington at Newport, by Duke Ellington
This live album rejuvenated the band leader's career. For many years this 'live' album was actually a studio cut made to sound live. Recently the original live tapes were found and now the two cuts, live and studio, come packaged together. The Newport Jazz festival boasts many classic jazz shows and artists, but for pre-Miles jazz this is an excellent show.
Honorable Mentions: Highlights from the Plugged Nickel, by Miles Davis; Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall; Live at the Harlem Square Club, by Sam Cooke; Royal Albert Hall, by Cream.