Friday, September 21, 2012

SDML Instructors Speak: 10 Best Live Albums of All Time!

We'll have an on-going series from SDML certified guitar instructors talking about all manner of music trivia (and non-trivia). Thought we'd start light-hearted but controversial (hahaha!). What "best of..." list isn't? So I asked several of our instructors this question, and I give you lists from Cris, Davey P, JD, Luke, Matt, Paul, Tim, and yours truly below....with wrap-up at the end.

Should be noted that opinions vary greatly...and often! Meaning, most of these guys would have handed me a different list if I'd asked 2 weeks before or if you ask them 2 weeks from now. No worries - nothing in stone and nothing sacred. We march on.....


Christopher Simpson - Top 10 Live Albums. This is the correct list; the others are just subjective. LOL

1. The Allman Brothers Band At Filmore East - The point where blues, southern rock and jazz meet. Duane Allman and Dickey Betts share certain chemistry not matched by a guitar duo since. Oh, and the story about shooting the album cover is interesting too.

Highlight track: “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.”

2. Jimi Hendrix Band Of Gypsys – Miles and Cox gave Hendrix more “funk” than he had with The Experience, and this is the quintessential guitarist just doing what he does best.

Highlight track: “Machine Gun.”

3. The Who Live At Leeds – On the crest of Woodstock and Tommy, this is what a rock and roll album should be, capturing the quartet at the height of their musical, raucous power.

Highlight track: “Substitute.”

4. Led Zeppelin How The West Was Won - If The Song Remains The Same is a self-indulgent slug, this one catches Zep at their absolute peak. As a fellow forumite of mine once posted, “They were young, utterly convinced of how awesome they were, and they were on fire.” Yep, that covers it.

Highlight track: “Bring It On Home.”

5. Little Feat Waiting For Columbus – Lowell George kills it with his guitar playing, and Tower Of Power cooks on this one. Really, what’s not to like?

Highlight track: “Dixie Chicken.”

6. Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison – Great rock albums have chaos, and this sure has it. A raw, rowdy live set, complete with natural reverb (yeah, those concrete prison walls really do bounce the sound around). The prison announcement interruption is an added bonus.

Highlight track: “Folsom Prison Blues.”

7. Eric Clapton Unplugged – Amidst the grunge era, a living legend strips it all back to a Martin guitar. Ahead of all others, this album made “acoustic rock” cool.

Highlight track: “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”

8. U2 Live Under A Blood Red Sky – A young, hungry group a few years before they were world-famous. The flag-raising on “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a defining rock moment (you’ll need the DVD to see that, of course). They miss nary a note or a beat on this one (I forgive The Edge on his “Party Girl” solo), and this album is every bit as explosive as Live At Leeds in terms of straight-up rock and roll presence and power.

Highlight track: “40.”

9. Cream Wheels Of Fire – Mr. Clapton demonstrates how you don’t need to start your solo on the “one” to sound amazing, even if you intended to.

Highlight track: “Crossroads.”

10.Nirvana MTV Unplugged In New York – A real departure for this band and a gem in the songbook of the 1990’s. My friend Wiki says this one was “tense and difficult.” MTV was upset the band had decided to jettison some of their well-known/well-played material in favor of a few covers and obscurities. The d├ęcor in the studio consisted of stargazer lilies, black candles and a crystal chandelier. “You mean like a funeral?” the producer asked as they were setting up; “Exactly,” replied Cobain, “Like a funeral.”

Highlight track: “The Man Who Sold The World.”


 Dave Peterson - My random 10, in no particular order:

1) RUSH Exit Stage Left- amazing collection of old Rush tunes, flawless execution

2) NIRVANA From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah- rude and sloppy in a good way, great album

3) LARRY CARLTON Last Night- one of the most tasteful guitar albums ever, sublime guitar tones

4) JOE SATRIANI Dreaming #11- often overlooked short album of early live tunes, “Memories” is epic

5) RUSH Show of Hands- amazing collection of 80’s Rush tunes, screams “80’s” but still holds up today

6) STEELY DAN Alive in America- such an awesome album, sounds great- Dennis Chambers on drums, great guitar tones

7) FRANK GAMBALE Resident Alien Bootlegs- cool raw recordings of Gambale playing everything from originals to Coltrane

8) PAT METHENY The Road to You- IMHO this album is all about Paul Wertico’s drumming, his flat ride cymbal playing is mind blowing- he makes everything sound so great and unique

9) DURAN DURAN Live at Beacon Theater- guilty pleasure

10) THE POLICE Certifiable- excellent collection of tunes, great playing by everyone, cool “new” version of Wrapped Around Your Finger.


J.D. Wright - Here's my list based on music I own.  There's going to be a lot a variance in the lists you receive, but I am a huge fan of live albums and always have been.  There's just something about "here we are, this is who we are."  My criteria includes obviously bands I like, as well as the sound quality of the recording, and how good of a show I think it would be to see live.

With the exception of the first album listed, these are just how they show up on my iPod, so in no particular order:

 1)  Woodstock I & II (had to group these together as one album)

 2)  Aerosmith - Live Bootleg

 3)  Grand Funk Railroad - Caught In The Act

 4)  Iron Maiden - Live After Death

 5)  Jimi Hendrix - Fillmore East Live

 6)  Kiss - Alive

 7)  Led Zeppelin - How the West Was Won

 8)  Ozzy Osbourne - Speak Of The Devil

 9)  Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive

10) Ted Nugent - Double Live Gonzo

Luke Jackson - Top 10 Live Albums

1. Between The Buried And Me – Colors Live

Now I know I may be committing a form of blasphemy putting this in front of Ellington, Di Meola and Queen. But before you grab the pitchfork hear me out. I make this my number for one simple reason: I was there. This is the only one on the list that I actually experienced firsthand, and it was amazing. They played their magnum opus “Colors” which is truly a masterpiece. Then afterwards they played an entire set of songs hand picked by their fans via their website. If you are at all interested in prog/metal/rock/jazz or anything else (they do it all) then you need to check them out.

2. Duke Ellington – Ellington at Newport
Duke Ellington is one of the most recognizable names in the history of Jazz. Too many musicians to count have cited him as an influence, and in his day everyone was clamoring to be a part of his band. This was somewhat of a comeback show for the band, as be-bop had drained Dukes popularity. This proved not only to be a successful show, but is now known as one of the most famous in Jazz history. At the end of the show it got so crazy that the audience defied security’s attempts to get them to leave and demanded an encore (to which Duke and the band obliged.)

3. Muse – HAARP (Live From Wembley Stadium)

To me, this is the sequel to the Queen album at #6. Aside from them both being recorded at the same location, Muse also draws heavily from Queen’s music down to the zany guitar solos, and absurdly high falsetto notes. It also helps that Muse is one of the best live bands out there, consistently winning awards for their live show, some even going as far to say they are better live than in the studio (which after you see this concert, I think you might agree.)

4. Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paco De Lucia-Friday Night In San Francisco

This one is truly special. To have three amazing guitarists, with three distinctly different styles form a trio and play on the same stage is just an amazing treat. This album in particular is just awesome because it showcases each of their talents, but more importantly showcases as a “supertrio” if you will. And besides, how often can you get three guitarists on one stage without them bickering the entire time over who gets the girl afterwards?

5. Marcin Dylla – Wawel at Dusk

Now this is where I might lose some people. But, if you even have the slightest interest in the guitar at all, then you owe it to yourself to go look Marcin up immediately. He is quickly becoming better known in classical guitar world as a world renowned player. Especially after winning several prestigious competitions such as GFA (Guitar Federation of America) Not just for classical lovers either!

6. Queen - Live at Wembley ‘86

It’s Queen, playing live at one of the most recognizable music venues in the world, to thousands of people, on a 2 disc set… So yeah, it’s good. Also it has been recently remastered (in 2003) and a companion dvd has been released alongside it. Did I mention it was Queen live?

7. Protest The Hero – Gallop Meets the Earth

This is a very interesting up and coming progressive rock/metal band that mixes styles between metal, punk, and sometimes even middle eastern and Spanish vibes. But first and foremost this band is about fun. So if you don’t take your prog too seriously, then be sure to check this one out.

8. Al Di Meola – Tour De Force

One of premier jazz-fusion players on the planet playing live in concert, what’s not to love? Well if that hasn’t convinced you then just go look up the Elegant Gypsy Suite on YouTube and I’m sure it will change your mind.

9. Dream Theater – Live Scenes From New York

If you love rock music, but crave more than your typical three chord pop song, then this band is for you. All of the members are arguably (read: empirically) some of the best in the business on their individual instruments. Playing their arguably (but once again read: empirically) best album from start to finish makes this one an easy choice for my list

10. Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble- Live from Austin Texas

The first thing that I want everyone to understand, is that I am not by any mean the biggest SRV fan. However, this live dvd/cd was my first exposure to the world of guitar. My father bought me this shortly after I picked up the guitar, and it instantly doubled my work ethic towards the instrument. So in my book, it deserves it’s due.


Matt Lef

Sorry this took me so long to get to you. I like the Allman Bros album and Rush, Exit... State Left. There are many that I've listened to but these 2 were head and shoulders my favorites.

Paul Felice - I hate trying to list "best" albums, but I'll give you my personal top favorites:

#1 - Social Distortion: Live at the Roxy

#2 - Nirvana: MTV Unplugged in NYC

#3 - Jimi Hendrix: Live at Fillmore East

#4 - Peter Frampton: Frampton comes Alive!

#5 - Stevie Ray Vaughan - Live at Carnegie Hall

#6 - Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same

#7 - Cheap Trick: Cheap Trick at Budokan

#8 - Clapton: Uplugged
(thought I'm not the biggest fan of his guitar work, this album is near and dear to my heart.)

#9 - Stevie Ray Vaughan - Live Alive

#10 - The Band: The Last Waltz


Tim Fowler - Here are my top pick live albums, in no particular order:

Live On the Double Planet-Michael Hedges   Michael was a true innovator on the acoustic guitar.   Opening with All Along the Watchtower(tuned in D A E E A A!) you immediately realize you are going for a great ride.   Throughout the album Hedges delivers interpretations of songs, with the addition of some instrumentals, including "Breakfast in the Field"

Keith Jarrett- The Koln Concert  One man and a Bosendorfer on stage.   An improvised concert.   I've always loved Jarrett's playing and this concert is a great example of how a solo performer can make themselves completely vulnerable.   Only the encore section was based on a precomposed theme.   Everything else was improvised.   That takes some guts!

Jimi Hendrix-Winterland  This was recently reissued.   THere are a lot of Hendrix bootlegs.   Most of them either are lack in audio or performance quality(they were trip pin…) In Winterland they are absolutely on.   Listen to "Hey Joe"   It is a master class in everything that is good!

Miles Davis-We Want Miles  This was a mainstay of my High School listening.   In the early 80's Mile's band was THE place to be for hot jazz musicians.   With Al Foster on drums and Marcus Miller on Bass, Bill Evans on sax you would have an amazing band.   But add two of the hottest guitarists, Mike Stern and John Scofield, and wow.   Listen to "Jean Pierre" to hear Stern tear it up.

Friday Night in San Francisco-Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin and Paco deLucia.      In 1981 most had heard Al with Return to Forever and John with the Mahavishnu Orchestra.   They joined forces with Flamenco master Paco deLucia in a groundbreaking album.   Not only can these guys play blazing and complex lines together, but that artfully accompany each other while soloing.   Check out "Mediterranean Sundance" and "guardian Angels" for some favorite tracks.

Full House-Wes Montgomery  This album is a "who's who" of Jazz greats from 1962.   If you've never taken time to explore Wes, you owe it to yourself.  "Isn't he the guy who played octaves with his thumb?" you say?   Oh, but there is so much more.   Listen to "S.O.S" "Cariba" and "Blue n' Boogie."    Wes was the only guitar player Coltrane ever considered.    Shouldn't you check him out too?

Live-Shawn Colvin   I love the singer-songwriter format.    Especially when it is one singer and a guitar and they are gifted as poets and players.  There is nothing to hide behind and they have to deliver great performances of great songs.  To me, that's Shawn Colvin.    Check out "Polaroids" and "Diamond in the ROugh"   Her cover of "This must be the place" is spot on.

Live-Alison Krauss and Union Station   Every one of these artists is someone you'd pay to see solo.   But they come together as a supergroup and what you hear is how well they play together.   That is what it's all about in an ensemble.    Every track is a winner here.

The Road to You-Pat Metheny Group   I have always been a huge fan of this group because they have taken ensemble jazz composition so far beyond other groups.  A lot of jazz gets stuck wailing on a simple form.    This music is rich and complex, but very approachable.   And Pat has spectacular chops.    The concepts he plays are sometimes mind boggling, and always put a smile on my face.    Check out "First Circle" and "Beat 70"     You'll never think of Pentatonics or chromatics quite the same...


Me (David "Skinny Devil" McLean) - Top 10 Best Live Albums of All Time (at least right this minute...). 

I should add that when I was perusing my brain, I realized that several of my top can't go in the list because they are bootlegs (quite unofficial and quite illegal - hahaha!). For example, Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock (my bootleg version) has a better set list than the '94 release and a better mix than the 20-whatever re-mix, the official releases don't make the list. Same with several others, including the best Live Prince album ever (from the "Purple Rain" tour, and it SMOKES!).

Soooo, officially released albums (alphabetically):

Aerosmith - Live! Bootleg (1978) - The jacket is designed to mimic an actual bootleg record compete with incorrect track info & coffee stains - hahaha!) and features photos that let you know what a rock star looks like. You can guess at the sound based o this look, and you'd be right. Raw, sweaty, rock-n-roll at it's live best by the coolest band on Planet Earth.

Tori Amos - Live at Montreaux 91/92 (2008) - OK, OK....I had this as a bootleg for years. They finally released it officially, which I assume is as good as my copy. Just Tori and her piano. Hell, yeah....

Jeff Beck - Live at Ronnie Scott's (2008) - Several albums changed the course of my life. Clearly this isn't one of them, but it features "Led Boots" (and more) from the album that did ("Wired")...and soooo much more. Tal Wilkenfield on bass, Vinnnie Calaiuta on drums, Jason Rebello on keys, and guest vocal spots by Joss Stone and Imogen Heap. So much talent that they had to drive (not fly) to the gigs!

Johnny Cash - Live at Folsom Prison (1968) - I came down to a tie with several entries, including Sam Cooke's famous live album, Ozzy's "Speak of the Devil", and several of Johnny's other live albums. This one edges them out. Yes, Sam Cooke sings better. Yes, Brad Gillis' guitar on "Speak" is stellar (and woefully under-rated, falling in the shadow of "Tribute"). Yes, Johnny probably has better live sets. But there is something so damn cool about this his debut live record, it just had to be here.

Ani DiFranco - Living in Clip (1997)
- Just about any live album by Ani is amazing. So amazing she could have taken 5 slots of 10 if I weren't paying more attention! This one is chosen almost (but not quite) at random from her vast collection (she has her official bootleg series - all of it worth every penny). I can't even pick a favorite....from sizzling, string popping, body slapping, finger-abused rockers to her jagged sense of rhythm to her gorgeous ballads.....

Al Di Meloa, Paco DeLucia, John McLaughlin - Friday Night in San Fransisco (1980) - This is among the live sets that changed everything for me. Saw the concert on PBS all those years ago...before the album even hit stores. I didn't know a guitar could do that....times THREE! Stunning then, stunning now.

Paul McCartney & Wings - Wings Over America (1976) - Sir Paul knows how to put a set list together! These guys deliver the goods, and in spades. From the well-known hits from the album to lesser known gems like "Bluebird", with musicians trading instruments faster than you can track, this is how a true musical genius holds court.

Ted Nugent - Double Live Gonzo! (1978) - This album proves why Ted Nugent is even better than his biggest fans think he is, and why his detractors should learn to listen before taking their shots. Brutal rock guitar at it's sweatiest, glory-est best. He does things with feedback Hendrix never managed, and that almost no one has managed since. "Steady, big fella....." And you agree that Daulty's scream from "Baba O'Reilly" is the best in rock history? Well, then you never heard this album, friend.

Sting - All This Time (2001) - The concert for this album was almost cancelled...because it was recorded on September 11, 2001. But they went on with the show. Hugely emotional, musically brilliant. One of the best writers in pop music history backed by some of the best musicians walking the planet, with egos securely checked at the door.

Steve Vai - Live at the Astoria, London (2003) - Absolutely amazing guitar work from one of the world's best players, with a band that clearly is not of this earth. Tony MacAlpine? Billy Sheehan? Dave Weiner? Virgil Donati? Seriously, man - how did the plane NOT go down? My advice - skip the CD and grab the lengthier DVD.


So the wrap-up?

Looks like we agree on very little, but where we do agree, the winner is  the 1980 album Al Di Meloa, Paco DeLucia, John McLaughlin - Friday Night in San Fransisco. Also of note, Led Zeppelin also had 3 mentions (but split between 2 albums) and Jimi Hendrix was mentioned more than anyone, but not one album.

Now, what are YOUR favorite live albums? Tell us in the comments section below!

If you'd like to support my work...


  1. Double Live Gonzo. Wow. forgot about Uncle Ted on that one. A childhood fave for sure. Glad to see another vote for PMG "The Road to You." Paul Wertico was definitely amazing(Saw that lineup twice...)

    Some great picks that I'll definitely go check out!

  2. 1) Allman Bros - Live at the Fillmore East
    2) Jeff Buckley - Live at Sin-e
    3) The Band - The Last Waltz
    4) Muddy Waters - Newport 1960
    5) Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Steven Stills - Super Session
    6) Cream - Wheels of Fire
    7) Nirvana - Unplugged
    8) The Who - Live at Leeds
    9) Albert King - Saturday Night in San Francisco
    10) Bruce Springsteen - Asbury Park

  3. Top Ten-ish, in no particular order...

    1.) Cheap Trick - At Budokan
    2.) KISS - Alive
    3.) Rush - Exit-Stage Left
    4.) Bob Marley & The Wailers - Live!
    5.) Jeff Buckley - Live At L'Olympia
    6.) Judas Priest - Unleashed In The East
    7.) Aerosmith - Live! Bootleg
    8.) Sting - Bring On The Night
    9.) Jane's Addiction - Jane's Addiction (Triple X)
    10.) Al di Meola, John McLaughlin, & Paco de Lucia - Friday Night In San Francisco

  4. 1: Live ... In The Still Of The Night ~ Whitesnake
    2: If You Want Blood (You've Got It) ~ AC/DC
    3: One Night At Budokan ~ Michael Schenker Group
    4: Live Killers ~ Queen
    5: Tribute ~ Ozzy Osbourne
    6: Unleashed In The East ~ Judas Priest
    7: Swallow This Live ~ Poison
    8: MTV Unplugged ~ Kiss
    9: Live ... In The Heart Of The City ~ Whitesnake
    10: Live At Donnington ~ Iron Maiden

  5. G.T.Cundiff's top 10 live

    hard to nail down just 10... but here we go...

    #1 Al Di Meola, Paco DeLucia, John McLaughlin/A Friday Night in San Fransisco

    #2 RUSH/Exit Stage Left

    #3 Led Zeppelin/The Song Remains the Same

    #4 Joe Satriani/Dreaming #11

    #5 Steve Vai/Live In Minneapolis - Where The Wild Things Are

    #6 Cheap Trick/Live At Budokan

    #7 Iron Maiden/Live After Death

    #8 KISS/Alive

    #9 The Talking Heads/Stop Making Sense

    #10 Yes/Yessongs

    all of these influenced my playing in one way or another.

  6. No particular order, just stuff I like. Probably dating myself.
    1. New York City, the Ramones
    2. From Here to Eternity, the Clash
    3. Live Rust, Neil Young and Crazyhorse
    4. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Live at the El Mocambo,(DVD)
    5. Zappa, Live in New York, Frank Zappa
    6. John Mayall, Live Behind the Iron Curtin, John Mayall and the Blues Breakers
    7. Diz and Bird at Carnegie Hall, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker
    8. Live at the Harlem Square Club, Sam Cooke
    9. James Brown, Live at the Apollo, James Brown
    10. Canned Heat '70 Concert Recorded Live in Europe, Canned Heat.

  7. 1) Allman Brothers Band- Live at Filmore East:
    My favorite album, live or otherwise. Blues, rock, and jazz all coming together in a transcendent, telepathic style that the band would later call "Hittin' the Note." Highlighted by the incendiary playing of late, great Duane Allman and my favorite song of all time, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed."

    2) Woodstock Soundtrack:
    Santana's "Soul Sacrifice," Sly Stone's "Want to Take You Higher," Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" are historic performances.

    3) James Brown-Live at the Apollo Theater:
    Attended a James Brown concert as a teenager and as one of the few white faces in the crowd in the racially tense late 60s. Once the music started, though, there were only dancers and James Brown lovers. Gotta move when James speaks. And sweat.

    4) Eric Clapton-Unplugged:
    Helped make acoustic guitars cool again for rock music. Spawned numerous innovative unplugged arrangements of previous works, as well as new songs with acoustic guitars in the forefront.

    5) Joe Cocker-Mad Dogs & Englishmen:
    Ensemble of huge talent including band leader Leon Russell, played loose and rockin', featuring Joe's always soulful vocals. "Delta Lady" --the nickname I gave to one of my early cars, an enormous '65 Plymouth Fury--is a highlight.

    6) John Coltrane-Live at Birdland:
    Definitive version of my favorite Trane cover, Afro Blue.

    7) CSN- Four Way Street:
    Meshed both acoustic songs of great beauty, harmony and powerful lyrics with a cacophony of rock guitar sounds from Stills and Young. Very underrated live album, if you ask me. "All Along The Lee Shore/Triad" sequence from Crosby always gave me chills from it's simple beauty.

    8) Pulse- Pink Floyd:
    An outstanding "Wish You Were Here" and a dark, haunting, powerful performance of "Comfortably Numb."

    9) Cream- Wheels of Fire:
    Both live and studio material, but any album that contains this live version of Clapton playing "Crossroads" has to be on anyone's list of best live performances. Still is a jaw-dropper for me after all these years and should be a lesson to the shredders out there that focus on speed and and not on soul.

    10) Rolling Stones- Get Yer Ya-Yas Out:
    Stones approaching their prime, with the recently added Mick Taylor now in as necessary foil for Keef that will propel them through their golden period.

    Honorable Mention:
    The Who-Live at Leeds: Doesn't stand the test of time well, but was influential for it's raw power at the time.
    Lynyrd Skynyrd- One More For the Road: Yes, I'll admit it. I loved original Skynyrd.
    Hendrix- Band of Gypsys: Live Hendrix is always a mixed bag, but I'll go with this early one.
    Bob Seeger- Live Bullet: Did anyone ever have more fun playing live rock and rolll than Seeger?
    Peter Frampton- Frampton Comes Alive: Frampton sold a BUNCH of these. I bought one too.

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  10. Wow, with the numerous live albums out there, you were able to choose only ten? I certainly would not be able to do that! Anyway, these choices of yours are good and are quite near to my own personal picks. Let us just raise our glass to great music!

  11. I'm happy to see U2's "Under a Blood Red Sky" mentioned. That group provided the initial spark for serious musical interest in my heart and mind. I've been listening to that record since my middle school days. X) ... As for the live record which I play continuously nowadays- I've recently developed a great interest in electronic music, partially thanks to Daft Punk's "Alive 2007". Six years after their groundbreaking "Discovery" record, the band playfully melds together a decade's worth of great electro dance music. The songs are knitted into one great luminescent quilt of momentum which moves the fourtunate souls underneath of it. It's good fun to listen to & imagine that you're part of the audience... Boy, I sure do wish I could see them live. I guess you could say that the people in the audience... *puts on sunglasses*... Got Lucky

  12. Johnny Winter And: Live, Black Uhuru: Tear It Up,Bob Marley: Live, Crosby Stills Nash and Young: 4 Way Street,Neil Young:Unplugged, Cream: Wheels of Fire,The Band: Rock of Ages,Rolling Stones: Get Yer Ya Yas Out,Led Zepplin: How The West Was Won and Allman Brothers :Live At Fillmore.