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Top 25 live albums in 2012

Classic rockers on stage


It is live performing that sets the really good artists apart from the others. There are no re-takes, no overdubs, no post-production digital surgery. That's a big part of the appeal of live performance albums and videos. You hear it as it happened, with the extra chemistry between performers and live audiences.

A large crop of live performance albums, featuring concerts both recent and vintage, contains some outstanding examples of the sound and feeling that you just can't create in a studio.

1. Led Zeppelin - 'Celebration Day'

Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day

Celebration Day is Led Zeppelin's 2007 reunion at London's O2 Arena, before an audience of 18,000 of the 20-million people who tried to get tickets. Surviving original members John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were joined by Jason Bonham (son of Zep drummer John Bonham) for a 16-song set.

2. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - 'Live at Berkeley'

Jimmy Hendrix Experience - Live at Berkeley
Sony Legacy

In 1970, Jimi Hendrix could have (and often did) fill all of the seats in most any stadium, arena or outdoor festival you can think of. But for a set of two Memorial Day concerts on the evening May 30 of that year, he wanted to enjoy the interaction with a small (for him) audience in the relatively intimate setting of the 3,500 seat Berkeley (CA) Community Theatre. Although the album / CD isn't new, the technical enhancements and the additional material that has been added make this reissue sound better than you've ever heard it before.

3. Big Brother & the Holding Company w/Janis Joplin 'Live at Carousel Ballroom 68'

Big Brother & the Holding Company w/Janis Joplin - Live at Carousel Ballroom 1968
Sony Legacy

This previously unreleased live performance was recorded by "Bear" Stanley, who also supervised the mastering of this release. The release of Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968 comes a year after Stanley died in a car crash. His widow, Sheilah, writes in the dedication of the album to her late husband, "Care was taken to preserve and ensure the integrity of the music as well as to present an accurate snapshot of the masterful talent of one of the greatest singers of her generation [Janis Joplin] and one of the hottest live bands [Big Brother & the Holding Company] in the San Francisco scene. This is Bear's vision how he heard the band live, and how he wanted to transmit that to you ... this truly is Bear's presentation of this phenomenal band and inspirational music."

4. The Doors - 'Live at The Bowl 68'

The Doors Live At The Bowl '68
Eagle Rock Entertainment

In a nutshell, this may not have been The Doors' best live performance, but this new digitally restored version of Live At The Bowl '68 makes them look and sound really good delivering it. In addition to the dramatic video and audio quality enhancements, recording engineer Bruce Botnick (who engineered the original release) has managed to restore three songs which a mic problem had rendered unusable on earlier versions of the album and video. So, this release is the first one that has the concert in its entirety.

5. Emerson Lake & Palmer - 'Live in California 1974'

Emerson Lake & Palmer - Live in California 74
Shout! Factory

Live in California 1974 is the first official release of this concert at California Jam in Ontario CA. Says ELP guitarist/vocalist Greg Lake, "The band was at the very pinnacle of their performing powers, the event was of biblical proportions and the performance itself was almost flawless." More than 200,000 people were in the audience, and the performance was broadcast on network television.

6. Allman Brothers Band - 'American University 12/13/70'

Allman Brothers Band - American University 12/13/70
Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band have their blues faces on in this vintage performance from a 1970 Washington DC concert. ABB's Chicago blues-infused Southern rock is on display in songs they were just beginning to feature in live performance, like "Whipping Post" and "You Don't Love Me." Traditional blues standards are also in evidence, like "Statesboro Blues" and "Trouble No More."

7. Hot Tuna - 'Live At New Orleans House Berkeley, CA - 9/69'

Hot Tuna - Live At New Orleans House Berkeley, CA - 9/69
Relayer Records

Hot Tuna came into being in 1969 because members of Jefferson Airplane who wanted something to do while vocalist Grace Slick was undergoing and recovering from throat surgery. By late 1969, Hot Tuna has become the opening act at Jeff Airplane concerts. Live At New Orleans House Berkeley, CA - 9/69 was originally released in 1970. The 2012 remaster has outtakes and alternate versions being released for the first time.

8. The Knack - 'Havin' a Rave Up: Live in Los Angeles 1978'

The Knack - Havin' a Rave Up: Live in Los Angeles 1978
Omnivore Recordings

Havin'a a Rave Up: Live in Los Angeles 1978 is one of The Knack's earliest live performances, coming before they released their first album (Get The Knack) in 1979 which went to #1 and stayed for five weeks, topping Meet The Beatles, released 15 years earlier, as Capitol Records' fastest selling album. The first single, "My Sharona" became the band's signature song.

9. Todd Rundgren's Utopia - 'Live at Hammersmith Odeon '75'

Todd Rundgren's Utopia Live at Hammersmith Odeon '75
Shout! Factory

Utopia's first UK concert has been a bootleg staple for years, but is only now being made available in an official commercial version. The 1975 lineup included guitarist-vocalist Todd Rundgren, keyboardist Roger Powell, bassist John Siegler, and vocalist-drummer Willie Wilcox. Future R&B solo artist Luther Vandross is heard on backup vocals.

10. Ten Years After - 'Live Performance 1975'

Ten Years After - Live Performance 1975
IMV Blueline

Blues rockers Ten Years After were riding high between their formation in 1966 and their breakup in 1977. They had eight albums in the Top 40 on the UK charts, and a dozen in the US. They were among the featured performers at Woodstock in 1969. This live performance was recorded at the peak of their initial popularity, in 1975. (The band reformed in 1988 and remain active today.)

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