Phospherscent at the 930 Club, January 2014
Time was, live albums meant something, whether it was the commemoration of a killer tour (Get Yer Ya-Yas Out), or just that a record company either was owed an album (Band Of Gypsys) or needed to fill time ’til that epic studio album was done (Live At Leeds.) Weirdly, live albums have accounted for some acts’ big breakthrough (Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick.) Yet as recording technology and digital distribution made it easy to do, some important bands who play great live — Pearl Jam, Wilco — began putting out damn near every live show. Which devalued the category, and in a weird way, their live shows. (Right, if all is available, it loses meaning, and if it doesn’t matter whether it’s live or Memorex, going to the concert is more about getting out of the house than hearing the music.)
We had to wait 16 years after the Clash broke up to get the first collection o’ songs recorded in concert, and both From Here To Eternity and Live At Shea Stadium pretty much suck. The comparative handful of live tracks that have gotten out from Dylan’s Never Ending Tour tease us, as we know there must be a future Bootleg Series release in which the motherload will become available. The point here is that official live albums now are a bit like filler, they no longer really excite, they usually just feature different versions of songs that likely sounded better in a studio minus the adrenaline and improvisation that comes from that band you love capturing on tape the magic of that show you missed, or better yet, saw.
So why are we so thrilled to hear the new Phosphorescent album, Live At The Music Hall? The simple answer is because Matt Houck has produced some very good albums in the past five years, but none of them has entirely hung together… there has always been a bit too much self-indulgent filler. We were lucky enough to see Phosphorescent live last January, and not only does this record capture the brilliance of songs like “The Quotidian Beasts” and “Song For Zula,” it is perhaps Houck’s first record that hangs together the whole way through. So in this case, the live album adds a coherence to his work that his studio stuff doesn’t. Hail Phosphorescent Live At The Music Hall, in which an important, underrated artist and his amazing live band play his songs the way they were meant to be heard. It’s a little bit like White Fence’s Live In San Francisco: the live album that justifies your patience through the studio albums that never quite got you there…
Ty Segall at the 930 Club, 2014
Ty Segall doesn’t need a live album to tell you anything about him you don’t know from his records, but *his* Live In San Francisco, released a few weeks ago, does offer those poor souls not in a touring city a sense of what utter freaking mayhem ensues when the Ty Segall Band hits town. We don’t know the meaning of this album coming out under that name, as the show we saw them play in October was under the aegis of Ty Segall, not the Ty Segall Band. And come to think of it, this live set contains more of Slaughterhouse than any of Ty’s solo (truly solo) recs. But as a snapshot in time, something we will harken to no mater where Ty’s career takes him (the Pantheon, no doubt), we will come back to this, fer the sheer fun of it all.
In the case of Phosphorescent, if we were Christgau and this was a consumer’s guide, we’d say this is the place to invest your hard-earned shekels. With Ty, you just need to go get an extra job and buy everything he has put out since about 2011 — live album included. But this should not, by any means, be the first, essential purchase. (That would be Twins.)
Capsula at The Black Cat, 2013
With Capsula, though, a band that we have previously called The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World, Dead Or Alive is definitely a great place to begin, as it quickly proves we’re right, is an infectious party platter, and truly should be valued for the way it points you to their best studio albums (2006’s Songs & Circuits, with 2011’s In The Land Of Silver Souls being a close runner up.) It gives longtime fans the joy of listening to these amazing musicians without having to travel to Bilbao, where the Argentines now live.
Capsula’s live album fills the role of a great many previous live albums: having put out seven excellent records, in English and Spanish, including a note-perfect (that was the problem) version of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, a live album was an inevitability, a notch in the belt, an artifact needed for the formal record. Capsula is a great live band, and this proves it. And if you’ve never heard them before, start here. Unlike Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, this is not the Capsula album we’ll be playing in 45 years. But as a glimpse of what a powerful sonic machine they are when they get going, yeah, it’s a good ‘un.