I think shows and records are the two chief outputs of a band (I suppose I’m ignoring minor things like t-shirts, dvds, merch, etc.). There are a lot of bands that make awesome records but don’t pull through in the live show. Sometime the problem is the band plays the songs kinda sloppy live and they can’t really reproduce anything close to their recorded sound in a live setting. Other times the problem is that the band doesn’t offer any energy or spectacle at the show; they just kind of play their songs and leave, pretty much the same experience as listening to one of their albums.
I wanted to highlight some of the bands who have a live show which is an experience onto itself, bands that approach playing live as a unique medium. These band do more then just play their recorded songs live, they create something memorable. I don’t mean for this list to be a definitive “Best Live Bands of All-Time” kinda thing, just wanted to list some bands that I think really shine on the stage. I left out the huge rock bands who put on an entertaining show by using smoke machines, fireworks, or whatever else. Band like Alice Cooper, The Who, AC/DC, Greenday, or The Darkness. I wanted this list to be about bands that can do something special with just a plain dirty crowded stage, no props.
There’s something about their early material that just works so well with every member of the crowd singing along to every word. Learning the words to every song is worth it. Their first few releases were all solid, every track was special. Everytime the band would launch into a song you would be excited that it made the set. You just felt so connected to the random strangers you bumped into on the floor singing along, “Everyone would leave with the memory that there was no place else in the world. And this was where they always belonged”.
When Mic first showed me this band’s album I liked it, but I don’t think I truly understood until I saw them play. The maintain their melody while bringing an intensity to the stage that I didn’t hear so much on the album. A lot of their songs have great sing-a-long parts, like the outro to “Our Love Will Make the World Go Round”.
I saw Teenage Bottlerocket play with the Cobra Skulls and the Roman Line. As soon as they went into their first song the crowd lost it, bottles smashed on the floor, everyone (dressed in a leather jacket Ramones uniform) rushed the stage pushing from the back. The energy kept for the entire set. I think it’s the energy of their songs and how they translate in a live setting that makes their show stand out to me.
I’ve only seen Allie Hughes and her band play once, at Sneaky Dee’s during Canadian Music Week. Her band was in costume, the set had a “plot”, it was a mixture of theatre and rock music. It was funny, weird, creepy, and good all at the same time.
The bombs have a quirky weird stage presence (outlined here) that kinda contrasts with their classic punk rock sound. Duane Peters doing headbutts off the cymbals, dressed up in some crazy costume is always a fun time.
Their live shows sounded like 50 Ramones hit shot at you by a machine gun. No breaks, the songs were faster then their recorded counter parts, and almost as soon as you realized what was happening the song was over and it was time for the next one. The experience really comes through on their live albums, some of the few live albums actually worth seeking out.
I can’t think of any other band that took a more revolutionary approach to the live show than Fugazi. It’s hard to separate what is mythology and what really happened. They often played unusual venues like: school gymnasiums, abandoned industrial buildings, outdoors. The didn’t write set list, they improvised or “felt out” the set. Every show was different, a thing of it’s own. They had strict rules about shows being all ages, ticket prices being $5, and no slam dancing that was dangerous or alienating to people.