It’s painfully clear we won’t be able to attend concerts for a long, long time. The possibility of drive-in concerts didn’t quite take off, at least in the United States, though they would’ve been a promising and mostly satisfying alternative to crowded shows. Then there are livestreams, but as engaging as they are, they tend to be fleeting and underwhelming in sound compared to the real deal. But what if there were a way to enjoy the sonic experience created by an in-person concert without the struggles of actually attending one? There is an age-old solution complete with improvised music, loud audience participation and a good ol’ time: live albums.
Live albums have been tiding over fans since the 1940s, starting with jazz shows that were recorded, pressed on vinyl and distributed to the masses. Before concert livestreams and YouTube recordings were a thing, fans who couldn’t make it to shows simply popped on their favorite live albums and were magically teleported to the venue, swaddled in the cheers of disembodied fans and the organic progression of a great set. Nowadays, older live albums are like a time machine back to a band’s prime, an indulgent moment for fans old and new alike.
For a long time, however, live albums were thought to be dead, considered ineffective at capturing the glamour and energy of an in-person show. But the point of live albums isn’t to mimic live shows exactly — it’s to let fans dream a little and conjure up their own concert fantasy set to a pre-made soundtrack.
This is precisely why livestreams leave quite a bit to be desired. Most artists are opting to host one-off livestreams in hopes of somewhat mimicking real concerts. However, artists playing in an empty venue with a scattering of claps from crew members isn’t what live music is about. Sure, you get to see your beloved musicians on stage and get to hear your favorite songs played live — which are pretty much always better than the studio recordings — but the audience members are more than half of the experience. Hearing genuine cheering, clapping and enjoyment around you, even if it’s only through your speakers at home, elevates the experience significantly. Fake cheering during livestreams simply doesn’t do the trick.
But why exactly are live albums superior to livestreams? While there may not be a visual component, live albums tap into listeners’ imaginations and fully transport them to the moment the live track was played. The music is truly able to take center stage. Stellar mixing and sound production, carefully curated selections of only the best songs performed and memorable moments are all broadcast through your speakers into whatever ambience you see fit. Most live albums have selections of songs from multiple shows, so fans receive the joys of multiple concerts packed into a single hourlong record.
Livestreams in the age of COVID-19 always leave something to be desired, whether it’s the lack of electricity from the audience or the fact that you’re watching a performance on a small screen. In no way can live albums replace the thundering of the speakers, the buzzing of the crowd and the overall adrenaline-filled atmosphere that can only be generated by attending a concert in person. But what they can do is create an experience for fans so perfectly composed that they’re basically there in person, building a setting that took place when people actually could congregate in large masses. All that’s missing from that scene is you, and live albums fill in that hole.
Live albums allow fans to live vicariously through past concerts. All they have to do is crank up the volume and immerse themselves in the music. And they can do it again and again and again. Live albums aren’t dead — they’re more alive and necessary than ever. Bands get to hand-pick their best and favorite performances for fans to enjoy instead of the artificial-sounding performances that, no matter how hard they try, won’t have the charm and sonic quality of a true concert.
So, musicians from all walks of life, if you want to give your fans a taste of the past and express your love through music, gift them with a live album. It’ll give both you and them a satisfaction that, given the current climate, can’t be achieved any other way.