November 29, 2006

A Lively Return to the Past

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College students love music; it’s a nearly inescapable fact of life. We listen to it when working, studying, relaxing, eating and partying. We buy it, “obtain” it, share it and take it with us to class. We listen to it in the hockey line. Somewhere in between nights spent reading papers and the wash, rinse, repeat cycles of classes I have found an explanation — it’s our teleporter and recharger; it refreshes us.
And no music does that better or more easily than amazing live albums. The good ones make you feel like you’re actually there instead of trapped in three feet of snow or in an overbooked schedule. So here’s a list to get you started on discovering some great recorded live music — for when you can’t be there in person.

Blues Traveler – Live from the Fall
This double-disc album is Blues Traveler played for Blues Traveler — a far cry from Four, but containing the essence of their sound, expanded in beautifully emotional and driving songs like “Alone,” “But Anyway,” “The Mountain Wins Again” and “Gina.” Live From the Fall is full of mature and jam-oriented material, new interpretations of existing songs and memorable digressions. Popper produces a range of sound you didn’t know a harmonica could make and sings one of the best covers of Lennon’s “Imagine” ever. Recommended for current fans and casual listening. This is 100 percent Blues Traveler, not from concentrate, with pulp — and a true live gem.

Dream Theater – Live Scenes from New York
A virtuoso, epic rocker featuring Dream Theater playing their hearts out to a fanatical New York crowd who demand, and get, nothing less than perfection. This show clocks in at over three hours and includes a note-perfect version of their entire Scenes From a Memory album and highlights from their earlier Images and Words, Awake, and A Change of Seasons. This show shines above the rest because many of the songs here rival their studio versions and include bonus solos, as the band interacts with the audience and their guests. Do not be mistaken: this is not just progressive metal, but progressive metal done right and by arguably the best in the business. You will want to listen to all of Disc 1, “Metropolis Pt.1,” “Erotomania,” “Learning to Live” and “A Change of Seasons.” This was a special night in New York, and it’s a shame this infamous album (I’ll leave this for the ambitious to figure out) doesn’t get more love.

Dave Matthews Band – Live at Luther College
This is Dave Matthews, unplugged, laid bare and with no backup, save guitarist and friend Tim Reynolds. A completely different sound than any of his other efforts, Dave eloquently picks his way through his repertoire, inserting off hand comments and jokes between songs. This album could have been called An Intimate Evening with Dave Matthews, as the songs are boiled down to their melodic and emotional roots. Even if you “hate” Dave Matthews, you need to put this disc in and give it a spin. This is hands-down one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard. A perfect album for chill gatherings or quiet evenings, this release will find you listening in a hush (with the rest of the audience) to “#41,” “One Sweet World,” “Satellite,” “Dancing Nancies,” “Seek Up,” “Say Goodbye,” “Ants Marching” and … well, you’ll listen to it all in fact. It’s that good.

Grateful Dead – Barton Hall, May 8, 1977
Famously known as “Barton Hall ’77,” this is a legendary recording, a blast from Cornell’s past. In their heyday, the Grateful Dead visited Ithaca, N.Y., and played some of the best versions of their songs. You can hear older Cornellians in the crowd and almost imagine the evening. This is jam rock from THE jam-band, and it is an essential for every Cornellian to hear at least once. It’s a perfectly mellow album for background play and works just as well if you crank up your speakers. Highlights are a 25-minute version of “Scarlet Begonias Fire on the Mountain,” “Estimated Prophet” and “Morning Dew”. This is what The Strokes were referring to at their recent concert in Barton, and this is what today’s bands imagine when they think of Cornell University and Barton Hall.

Metallica – Monsters of Rock in Moscow (1991)
Let me set the stage: 500,000 rock fans gather on a Russian airfield, days after a failed coup to restore Communism, to listen to Pantera, Black Crowes, Metallica and AC/DC. Playing songs from their recently released Black Album and Ride the Lightning, Metallica steals the show from AC/DC. Rumored to be Metallica’s favorite show, you can’t help but feel a chill go up your spine as James Hetfield incites 500,000 fans to scream “Die, Die, Die!” during “Creeping Death.” This concert rocks in such a hard way, you can feel the band and crowd responding to each other. Three songs, “Enter Sandman,” “Creeping Death” and “Fade to Black” are enough to seal the deal.