With the touring circuit open again, live albums are enjoying a resurgence. ADRIAN THRILLS rounds up the current crop — both new and vintage…
FLORENCE + THE MACHINE: Dance Fever: Live At Madison Square Garden (Polydor)
The fates weren’t kind to Florence Welch in 2022. As frontwoman of Florence + The Machine, she delivered an impressive fifth album, Dance Fever, inspired partly by how much she missed touring in lockdown.
Then, when she finally returned to the UK stage last month, she broke her foot at London’s O2 Arena and — despite hobbling on to the end of the show — saw the rest of her homecoming tour postponed until next year.
Her first live album, recorded in New York in September, underlines the cruel timing. Described by Welch as her ‘full circle moment’, it captures her sheer joy at singing in front of a crowd again.
Out now digitally (and as a two-disc vinyl LP in April), it combines tracks from Dance Fever with old favourites such as Dog Days Are Over.
Florence + The Machine, delivered an impressive fifth album, Dance Fever, in 2022
‘As you can imagine, it’s still a pretty crazy time for live music,’ she says, opening the show with all the zest of a former Glastonbury headliner. As pop’s greatest drama queen, she builds a sense of grandeur with ornate arrangements and a voice that switches from a fluttery, operatic warble to a rock and roll roar. For all her theatricality, though, a defining characteristic of a Florence gig is her ability to nail a hypnotic groove and stick to it, a trait associated more with dance music than rock.
The Dance Fever songs transfer smoothly to the live arena. Free is all pulsating electronics, My Love a swirling anthem. Of the ballads, Daffodil is a twangy, country-blues number that whets the appetite for her next return to the stage.
SAM FENDER: Live From Finsbury Park (Polydor)
Sam Fender’s songs are also built for big arenas and the man dubbed the Geordie Springsteen cemented his position as the UK’s brightest new rock star with a spectacular summer on the road. He supported The Killers, wowed Glastonbury — and played his largest headline show to date in front of 45,000 fans in July.
That gig, in London’s Finsbury Park, is celebrated on his first live album, out on vinyl, and as a bonus CD on the deluxe edition of 2021’s Seventeen Going Under.
Backed by a propulsive guitar band, he’s in his element onstage. Beneath his gregarious spirit, Fender, 28, tackles challenging topics: youth suicide on Dead Boys; his difficulties in chatting openly with his dad on Spit Of You.
The show finishes with a mass singalong that continues long after he’s finished playing. ‘This is a milestone for us,’ he says. Expect another when he plays hometown shows at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park next June.
Sam Fender has cemented his position as the UK’s brightest new rock star with a spectacular summer on the road
A London’s Finsbury Park performance celebrated his first live album, out on vinyl, and as a bonus CD on the deluxe edition of 2021’s Seventeen Going Under
TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS: Live At The Fillmore (1997) (Warner)
Classic gigs of a different vintage are the focus of a mammoth new Tom Petty box set. Documenting his 20-show residency with The Heartbreakers in San Francisco in 1997, Live At The Fillmore is a joyous, feel-good listen that Petty, who died in 2017, called ‘the highpoint of our time as a group’.
Out as a 2-CD box (£14), 3- LP vinyl set (£42), 4-CD box (£56) and 6-LP deluxe edition, it features a mix of covers and originals. With songs by Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan rubbing shoulders with Petty’s American Girl, sung acoustically, and Free Fallin’, it feels less a concert and more a potted history of rock and roll.
With the setlist changing nightly, the 4-CD and 6-LP editions stretch to 58 tracks. The Heartbreakers pay their respects to the British invasion of the 1960s by covering the Stones (Time Is On My Side, Satisfaction), The Zombies (I Want You Back Again) and The Kinks (You Really Got Me).
They’re also joined by The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, who duets on Eight Miles High, and bluesman John Lee Hooker. A sense of the whole shebang as a brilliantly-preserved time capsule is summed up by Petty’s aside about the era’s emerging technology: ‘We’re live on the internet tonight … whatever that is.’
JOAN ARMATRADING: Live At Asylum Chapel (BMG)
Five decades on from her 1972 debut album, Whatever’s For Us, Armatrading is still capable of conveying intimate, emotional sentiments with a soulful pop song. This live set, recorded last year in London and out on CD and digitally, captures a performer who, dismissing any thoughts of retirement at 72, continues to chart her own course.
Hits such as Love And Affection and Drop The Pilot feature beside tracks from 2021’s Consequences. Highlights from the latter include the love song Already There and the reggae-tinged Better Life. Empty Highway, from 2007’s Into The Blues, is a powerful ballad the equal of anything from her chart heyday.
Joan Armatrading is still capable of conveying intimate, emotional sentiments with a soulful pop song
RINGO STARR: Live At The Greek Theater 2019 (Roccabella)
Ringo’s second live album from LA’s Greek Theater features some illustrious pals. Among his All-Starr Band are Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Santana co-founder Gregg Rolie, Men At Work’s Colin Hay and Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, all of whom provide sterling support as the ex-Beatle sings solo hits and Fab Four favourites with unfussy charm.
Yellow Submarine and With A Little Help From My Friends are unsurprising inclusions, but a few of his lesser-known vocal performances are brought into the spotlight, too: the country-ish Rubber Soul number What Goes On; rockabilly track Act Naturally, from Help!; the White Album’s Don’t Pass Me By.
With the show (out on CD, DVD, Blu-ray and vinyl) structured like an old-school soul revue, his guests perform three songs apiece by their own bands. Rolie shines on Oye Como Va, Lukather leads the way on Rosanna and Africa, and Hay sings Down Under. All well and good. . . though a little more unadulterated Ringo wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Ringo’s second live album from LA’s Greek Theater featured Yellow Submarine and With A Little Help From My Friends
THE SMILE: The Smile At Montreux Jazz Festival (all streaming platforms)
Formed last year by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood — with the addition of funky jazz drummer Tom Skinner — The Smile are starting to feel less like a side-project and more like the main event. This digital-only live album follows the trio’s first studio effort, A Light For Attracting Attention, and it’s an urgent tour de force.
With complex time signatures to the fore, its eight songs won’t have fans humming in the shower, but there are throwbacks to classic-era Radiohead on Free In The Knowledge, which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Bends, and The Opposite, with Greenwood deploying his full range of guitar heroics.
TERRY HALL: A TRIBUTE
Seeing The Specials for the first time not only got me dancing. It sparked my imagination, changed the way I dressed (in came loafers and mohair jackets) and broadened my music taste. The multi-racial Coventry band combined the energy of punk with the upbeat rhythms of Jamaican ska — and became the most influential group of their generation in the process.
At the heart of their appeal was droll singer Terry Hall. While his accomplices were leaping about, crazily criss-crossing the stage, he was the embodiment of cool. But, as Liam Gallagher could testify, standing still doesn’t necessarily prevent you from being a compelling frontman.
Hall, who died this week at 63 following a battle with cancer, was a hugely significant figure in British music. He sang of unity and tolerance at a time of heightened racial tension.
When The Specials fell apart after 1981’s Ghost Town, he began Fun Boy Three, formed The Colourfield, who released the delightful Thinking Of You, and provided vocals on the Lightning Seeds’ Sense.
British singer Terry Hall died this week at age 63 following a battle with cancer
But it’s for his pivotal role in The Specials — who reunited in 2008 and topped the albums chart for the first time in 2019 with comeback LP Encore — that he’ll be most fondly remembered.
One inspired early show stands out for me. Playing the Bilzen rock and jazz festival in Belgium, they found themselves sandwiched incongruously between The Cure and AC/DC. Despite an inauspicious afternoon slot — and with Hall providing a typically deadpan foil to his bandmates — they blew everyone offstage. It wouldn’t be the last time.