Monday, January 08, 2007

Concert Albums 2: Being a Post in Which I Take Back Almost Everything Previously Stated About Concert Albums

How lame am I? Shortly after posting an inane little item about my general dissatisfaction with in-concert albums, I remembered the first Amy Grant "live" albums from 1981. And then I remembered the video I have (VHS, of course) of Amy Grant's "Age to Age" concert from 1983. And then I realized that my theory was all shot to hell, because both of these have a freshness and spontaneity of the real thing that I found so lacking on her recent offering, Time Again . . . Live. So, maybe the problem is with the bigness of this concert recording, when I have usually seen Amy Grant in concert in much smaller, more intimate settings.

Another factor, too, might be the stage of her career in which the live albums and video were recorded. In the early 1980's, Amy Grant was still a very young gospel singer, whose music appealed to a much smaller demographic. Every song she sung was an earnest attempt to communicate the truth she had come to know. In the most recent live recording, Time Again, Amy Grant is a seasoned pop star, and many of the songs have the tired, worn-at-the-edges feel of someone just going through the motions. The highlights of the album come from her newer songs.

To top off my cluelessness, Jason and I were listening to Louis Prima and Keely Smith's Live From Las Vegas CD yesterday, and -- WOW! I'd forgotten how electric those two are together. Add Sam Butera to the mix, and you have an experience so exciting and alive, that it must be at least pretty close to the real deal. The cozy nightclub setting contributes to the great, off-the-cuff tone of the whole album.

Now, Louis Prima and Keely Smith were not trying to communicate any particular timeless truths with their music, but they were certainly having a hell of a lot of fun. There is something so elemental about hearing them together -- so fitting and right and complementary -- that really comes through on this album. Though it was recorded to be offered as an album for sale, they had sense enough to retain all the false starts and rib-poking and mild swearing that must have been an integral part of their act. Thank goodness they did, because, for someone like me who will never get to see their Las Vegas shows, I can catch the essence of what it meant to be in a smoke-filled room in Sin City in the 1950's at 2 AM, listening to Butera's wailing sax, Prima's swinging trumpet, and Smith's soaring vocals. It's pretty sweet.

So, I was wrong. Very wrong. Sometimes, sometimes artists get it very right with their in-concert albums. If they can shed any sense of self-consciousness and perfection and just go for it, the result is often stunning. I think, too, of Keith Green, whose every recording was practically "live," as he recorded his vocals with his music. No one can beat Keith Green for that immediacy of sound -- that in-your-face urgency that pours out of his songs. In fact, Keith Green in concert cuts is pretty indistinguishable from Keith Green in studio cuts. There is such a rawness in his music -- it is an awesome thing to witness.

I hope that if Carolyn Arends ever decides to record an "in concert" album that she retains the same sense of intimacy and in-the-momentness that makes her concerts such a treat. I hope she retains the jokes and the banter with Spencer and every wrongly-fingered chord that may come. That would be something to treasure for years.


Joelle said...

Hmmm...seems like all your examples are of older albums. Maybe it's a case of there being no good newer live albums?

Thinking, thinking....


I very much enjoy Steven Curtis Chapman's live worship album. It was better than his studio one. So I guess it's just a case of having to dig to find the good stuff.

At least you are able to admit when you're wrong. ;)

Justine said...

At least you are able to admit when you're wrong. ;)

I've always been pretty good about admitting when I'm wrong. Guess that comes from having been wrong so often in my life -- practice makes perfect! :-)

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