When the live album has to do ya.
I’m old enough to remember bootleg cassettes.
“Dude! It’s a 2nd gen FOB on Schoeps with a 3db rolloff—best source on this show and it’s killer!”
Pre-internet you depended on friends who knew people. And you aspired to be as high in that tape tree as you could get.
Listening to those hissing tapes today—it’s shocking the impact they had. I mentally filled in all sorts of gaps and had no problem listening past the artifacts, pops, awkward audience conversations, drunk dudes whooping, and missing midrange of most of these recordings.
For some bands, this was as close as we could get to seeing a show. I was never old enough to see the Smiths. Early Bob Dylan is magical. Phish had some really special shows early in their career—one of a kind experiences.
The internet made all this less special. First came the mp3 sharing sites. The quality nerds quickly settled on a lossless option by shortening the files and distributing sets as .shn files. Pre-broadband, you’d set up the modem and hope that you didn’t lose the connection overnight.
All of a sudden, it didn’t matter who you knew—you could get anything you wanted whenever you wanted.
As music embraced streaming, YouTube became live, and everyone could watch any band live any time they wanted, the only real live experience became an actual live, in-person, experience.
I’d argue that this was always the case. The internet simply made finding and listening to a live set in your living room a lot less special.
This year, though, is different.
In 2020, we’re quarantined. We don’t go to live shows. The musicians don’t have a live audience. Most of the livestreams feel stilted and forced. We yearn more for the true live experience—like we did pre-internet.
Today one of the best live bands released their first live album. And it returns me to the night when I saw them the very first time. And it fills a little of the hole in my heart that’s been growing since I’ve been locked out of my favorite venues.
If you’ve never heard the War on Drugs, you’re in for a treat. I’m not going to try to describe it—but if you like Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, psychedelic rock, and love a good groove, this very well could be your next favorite thing.
It’s cathartic, reach for the sky crescendos over metronomic drums building past grooves that feel as well worn and timeless as that pair of corduroys your partner begs you to throw out.
In a live setting, these songs take on a life of their own. Bouncing along with the sweaty masses, lip synching guitar solos, the tension and release is perfectly timed, the band never letting you go once the hook snags your soul.
It’s this conversation between artist and audience that comes across on this album. It’s a powerful thing and so rarely caught on tape.
This is a perfectionist’s set. Each track is from a different show—favorites of the band in a mixtape of live moments to remember.
If you only listen to one track off this album, let it be Under the Pressure. It seethes with the dark energy so singular to this group and sweeps you along to a peak for the ages.
And it’s as close as I’m going to get to live music for probably another year. It’ll have to do.