From Daft Punk and Beyoncé to the Band: the best ever live albums

Can’t get to a gig? No problem. Here’s a collection of classics that evoke the sweaty euphoria of the real thing

Daft Punk
Alive 2007 (2007)

Stepping into a venue full of sweaty strangers is still a frustratingly distant prospect, so as live music IRL continues to be benched, our only option is to dig into the giddy world of concert albums. Where better to start than with Daft Punk’s relentlessly pumping Parisian electronica party, complete with unbridled whoops of glee and synth singalongs from a rightly jazzed home-town crowd. It’s now tinged with an added wistfulness following this week’s announcement that the pair have split up after 28 years.

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968)

There’s edgy and then there’s playing a song called Cocaine Blues to a room full of hootin’ and hollerin’ convicts. Some 13 years after he recorded Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash finally rocked up at the song’s California namesake, and to possibly the most appreciative crowd of his career.

Nina Simone
Nina at The Village Gate (1962)

You’re in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, dressed like a Queen’s Gambit extra, sipping on a dirty martini and wondering how far the opening act, a young comic called Richard Pryor, might go. Then Nina Simone’s vocals drift out over soul-smacking piano, mixing Nigerian song with US folk ballads and civil rights anthems. It’s the sound of a star being anointed.

Rockin’ bones … Lux Interior of the Cramps.
Rockin’ bones … Lux Interior of the Cramps. Photograph: Kerstin Rodgers/Redferns

The Cramps
Smell of Female (1983)

Scuzzy rockabilly is best served fresh, and what’s fresher than two nights with the Cramps at Manhattan’s Peppermint Lounge? The pioneers of glam garage dive headfirst into 30 minutes of squealing punk. You’re never sure if the crowd are screaming because they’re thrilled or terrified.

Unplugged in New York (1994)

Nirvana’s acoustic set on MTV’s flagship franchise deconstructed their caustic sound to reveal a new side – albeit one that cast Kurt Cobain as far from comfortable with his rock star status. Come for the haunting Bowie and Lead Belly covers, stay for the devastatingly sparse Polly.

LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden in 2011.
Hello, they must be going … LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden in 2011. Photograph: Theo Wargo/Getty

LCD Soundsystem
The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem Live at Madison Square Garden (2014)

Billed as their last ever show – even though they would return five years later – LCD Soundsystem’s 2011 Madison Square Garden swansong is an emotional rollercoaster. From furious electro breakdowns to squeeze-your-mates singalongs, you can see why they couldn’t stay away for too long.

Townes Van Zandt
Live at The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (1977)

Kicking off with gruff directions to the loos from a compere, it’s an aptly ragged start to these recordings of the Americana great’s low-key 1973 appearances at a small Texan speakeasy with a busted air-con unit. If you can name a more fitting location to hear the harrowing Waitin’ Around to Die, we’ll give you a year’s supply of moonshine.

Homeward bound … Beyoncé performs live.
Homeward bound … Beyoncé performs live. Photograph: AP

Homecoming: The Live Album (2019)

Beyoncé’s groundbreaking 2018 Coachella headline set is testament not just to the vision of Queen B but her sheer energy. Who else could maintain such an all-singing, all-dancing thrill ride for two full hours? Marching bands, majorettes, a mini Destiny’s Child reunion and so much more – we’re knackered just listening to it.

The Band
The Last Waltz (1978)

Unlike LCD, the Band’s lavish Thanksgiving 1976 revue really was their final gig. Filmed for posterity by Martin Scorsese, the show’s accompanying album features Mavis Staples nailing The Weight, Muddy Waters stomping through Mannish Boy and Joni Mitchell crooning a perfect Coyote. Yet somehow Neil Diamond steals the show.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Live Rust (1979)

The perfect encapsulation of Neil Young’s sonic Jekyll and Hyde-isms, Live Rust begins with acoustic versions of the tracks Sugar Mountain and I Am a Child before he shifts gear, yelling: “Let’s play some rock’n’roll!” And doesn’t he just, pretty much inventing grunge on the grizzly and feedback-drenched Like a Hurricane.


Leonie Cooper

The GuardianTramp

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