…In which I recommend 3 live albums based solely on the audiences therein.
Originally recorded in 1964/65, ‘The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl’ wasn’t released until 1977, as several engineers and producers felt the sound quality was inadequate. In terms of the commercial viability of a posthumous Beatles release, they were right; the Beatles’ performance can barely be heard through the din of thousands of screaming teenage girls. But the clamor for an official live Beatles recording was intensified by the rise of bootlegs in the 70’s, and Capitol finally relented with a George Martin-mixed version of the Hollywood Bowl tapes. Compared to other live rock albums of the era (B.B King’s 1965 ‘Live at the Regal’, James Brown’s 1963 ‘Live at the Apollo’, etc), ‘The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl’ is a mess. For all intents and purposes, it’s a field recording of 18,000 hysterical adolescent females. The feeble attempt at musical accompaniment provided by the Beatles pales in comparison to the never-ending onslaught of near-white noise intensity provided by their fans. The band, performing without stage monitors and recorded onto just 3 tracks, soldier through the chaos, at times sounding tentative, at other times, terrified.
If, however, you view ‘The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl’ as an historical document, it’s incredible. If later generations should ever struggle to recall exactly what ‘Beatlemania’ was all about, they need only spin this record for a reminder. As a snapshot of an important time in music history that can never be repeated, it’s indispensable. And as the only official live album by the biggest and most important rock and roll band ever, it’s a perfect artifact of the frenzy they created in this country. It truly has to be heard to be believed. Incredibly, this album has never been released on CD, despite its having reached #1 in both the US and the UK. Somebody get on this.
On July 17, 1982, an unsigned blues trio called Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble walked onto the stage at the Montreux International Festival. It was the first time an unsigned band had ever played the prestigious European event. Double Trouble were booked on an all-acoustic night, and as the unknown band began their very electric set, the audience let its displeasure be known. Loudly. Three years later, Stevie Ray and his band returned to the Montreux International Festival a conquering hero. And the audience greeted him as such.
Both shows were recorded. ‘Live at Montreux 1982 & 1985’ was released as a 2-CD set in 2001 and provides a ‘you are there’ perspective on both shows. The 1982 disc shows the band burning through their early material despite the open derision of the festival audience, heard loud and clear in between songs. No attempt was made during production to minimize the impact of the audience’s overwhelmingly negative response throughout the 1982 show, and if you’re a musician or performer of any kind, it’s not easy listening.
All things considered, the 1982 show is the better of the 2 shows presented here. Both the performances and the recording quality are better here than on the 1985 disc. The band is crackling with nervous energy while Stevie plays his ass off, trying to prove himself and shut the naysayers up… while the booing just gets louder and louder as the band progresses through the set. There’s a DVD version of this release that also presents both shows, and the final shot from 1982 showing Stevie walking off the stage, head down, is heartbreaking.
Thankfully, the 1985 Montreux performance is also part of the package. While the performances and recording quality on the 1985 disc are subpar, it still provides the perfect antidote to the underlying creeping dread of the ’82 show: the roar of the crowd welcoming him back. Pop this baby in just for the first 30 seconds, and hear Montreux’s apology to Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble.
February 9th, 1974; The Michigan Palace in Detroit: The setting for the not-quite-historic last gig by Iggy and the Stooges. The show was recorded by a fan and later given to Stooges guitarist James Williamson, who later turned the tapes over to the French bootleg label Skydog. ‘Metallic K.O.’ was released a few years later, in 1976. As an ‘Official’ live album, it’s a disaster. No legit label would have ever touched this; only Williamson’s involvement keeps it from being classified a ‘bootleg’ release. But over time, ‘K.O.’ has become a valid and important piece of the Stooges legacy because it presents Iggy in all of his confrontational, audience-baiting glory. This important element of the Ig oeuvre that had never been captured on the Stooges studio records.
The excerpt below is taken from a 1974 essay by Lester Bangs, and describes his experience attending the show that immediately preceded the one recorded for ‘Metallic K.O.’
The audience, which consisted largely of bikers, was unusually hostile, and Iggy, as usual, fed on that hostility, soaked it up and gave it back and absorbed it all over again in an eerie, frightening symbiosis. “All right,” he finally said, stopping a song in the middle, “you assholes wanta hear ‘Louie, Louie,’ we’ll give you ‘Louie, Louie.'” So the Stooges played a forty-five-minute version of “Louie Louie,” including new lyrics improvised by the Pop on the spot consisting of “You can suck my ass / You biker faggot sissies,” etc.
By now the hatred in the room is one huge livid wave, and Iggy singles out one heckler who has been particularly abusive: “Listen, asshole, you heckle me one more time and I’m gonna come down there and kick your ass.” “Fuck you, you little punk,” responds the biker. So Iggy jumps off the stage, runs through the middle of the crowd, and the guy beats the shit out of him, ending the evening’s musical festivities by sending the lead singer back to his motel room and a doctor. I walk into the dressing room, where I encounter the manager of the club offering to punch out anybody in the band who will take him on. The next day the bike gang, who call themselves the Scorpions, will phone WABX-FM and promise to kill Iggy and the Stooges if they play the Michigan Palace on Thursday night. They do (play, that is), and nobody gets killed, but Metallic K.O. is the only rock album I know where you can actually hear hurled beer bottles breaking against guitar strings.
The record is a harrowing listen, and not for the faint of heart. It’s performer vs. audience, and the hostility is palpable from both sides. Bangs is not exaggerating about the exploding beer bottles; ice, light bulbs, glasses, even eggs can be heard impacting the instruments, PA equipment, and the musicians themselves. Iggy provides a running commentary through his responses to the crowd’s attempts to derail the band’s performance (which was already seriously off-the-rails from get-go). Iggy is clearly getting off on the audience interaction and feeds it with non-stop threats, taunts and verbal abuse until it’s clear the band are in serious danger at the end of the set. An aura of imminent disaster permeates ‘Metallic K.O.’ It’s a miracle no one was seriously injured, or even killed. But to Iggy Pop, it isn’t rock and roll if it’s not dangerous.