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Live! Live! Live!

All this talk about music lately got me thinking about what my favorite album is right now. To tell the absolute truth, I can’t say. I don’t have a favorite drink, I don’t have a favorite color, I don’t have a favorite car. If I won the lottery tomorrow, how would I pick myself some pimpin’ new wheels if I don’t have a favorite manufacturer, model, or color? Whatever tickles my fancy at the time, I guess; and that’s what I usually expect from my CD collection.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the top five I picked a few days ago, no theme. And despite the fact that she didn’t even get a mention in that post, one album from one artist keeps floating to the top whenever I look for an absolute favorite: Sarah McLachlan, Live from the Perth Concert Hall. It’s a bootleg of the concert I went to last year. Not a particularly great recording, but what makes it special is that I was there for it. I lived it. The between-song banter, the atmosphere, the pure joy in the voices of the crowd as they sing along to Ice Cream at the end of the show — it’s locked in my memory, and listening to the show puts a smile on my face all the same.

A record like this, despite its poor quality and dubious legality, is the only thing that can make a deep and lasting connection with a cynical music lover. Pearl Jam knows this, they’ve been releasing ‘official bootlegs’ of their shows for years and are enjoying great rewards from it. It makes them money (buckets of it: since it’s impossible to make good money on a studio album, bands earn their real living on tour selling tickets and the associated merchandise) and it brings their core fans even closer to them. It’s not a “Live CD” of some show in Podunk they never saw, it’s a memory distilled, and it can turn someone who wasn’t previously a real big fan into a devotee.

So why aren’t more bands doing this? It’s different, for one. It messes with the status quo, puts the performing artist under more pressure than usual, and it costs money that just might not come back. They can’t know for sure. Pop stars could never do it: they have enough trouble performing live as it is, and don’t need to release permanent records of how terrible they sound without a studio behind them. Britney Spears, Ashlee Simpson? Don’t even go there.

But what of the rest? What if I had a recording of the NOFX show I saw the year before last? What if I could skip a few tracks and hear Dave and me, pushed up against the front barriers, singing along as Fat Mike blurts out a short rendition of Bad Religion’s Do What You Want as the rest of the crowd remains quiet (big surprise, the kids at the show had never heard of it). What of the Garbage concert the same year? I want to hear the girl from the back of the crowd scream “We love you Shirley!” as Medication comes to a close. I want to hear Adam Jones play the final chords of Reflection for a full five minutes while the rest of Tool leave the stage for intermission before coming back to lead into Triad (Update: got it, snap). These are moments in time that weren’t captured, but should’ve been. These would be my favorite CDs, but they don’t exist.