5 Awesome “live” in the studio songs

Live in the studio is one understandable oxymoron; bands with a strong live reputation have a stark choice when they enter the recording studio, namely try to adapt their material to the layered. “produced” style or smash it out in the live room with minimal overdubs in the hope of capturing that sticky floor you-are-there ambience.  Trouble is playing in a room with no audience is not conducive to whipping up the energy of a live gig and to communicating urgency and intensity.  Not to mention the fact that the performance must be tight enough to survive multiple takes.  Some hybrid of the two approaches is the compromise but occasionally a studio recording grabs you by the throat and won’t let go, leaving you convinced it must have been a case of mics up, quick foldback mix (or vocal through PA speakers?) and 1-2-3-4 GO!

Here are five modern productions that sound like that to me (overdubbing didn’t really come to dominate as a technique until the late 60s) and I have gone on how much crackling excitement or sheer personality these give off, rather than just displaying a stripped down or simple sound.  I can’t vouch that they were recorded purely “live” either as I can only go by clues such as minimal panning, extraneous noise and occasionally submerged vocals. These tracks have the unmistakeable emotional punch of real live musicians sweating blood rather than the rarefied pleasure of being presented with a completed 10,000 piece double-sided jigsaw.

Birdland –  Wanted

Much derided bleach blond rockists, Birdland had the misfortune to be plying their trade at the turn of the 80s when acid house ruled and before Oasis or even Nirvana rehabilitated all-out guitar bashing.  This two minute blast was on the B-side of an early single and shows why even the perennially hostile British music press were forced to grudgingly admit they “made more sense live”.  The pace never lets up, the guitars constantly teeter on the edge of squealing feedback but the best touch is the bass which is played at the top of the fretboard in the verses but drops down on the chorus suddenly kicking the song down the stairs with a tumbling crash.  Like a really savage Generation X.

Wolfhounds – Blown Away

Same decade, different tinnitus.  Indie rockers from the East London/Essex borders, Wolfhounds carved out a typically wayward career on small labels growing more like an English Pixies as they went on.  Blown Away was the title track of a EP released in 1989 and bears the telling sign of loud and live in the studio – the vocals disappear into the storm of guitars every now and then.  A strong tune is the icing on the cake as the group build the middle section to a peak of noise-mongering before surging into a final verse.  The sound of a party too widely advertised on Facebook and stuffed with raucous gatecrashers.

George Harrison – Sue You Sue Me Blues

From the dark horse’s otherwise trying second solo album of 1973, comes a dusty blues, defiantly lo-fi and featuring perhaps thankfully obscured lyrics concerning the Beatles legal battles to the death.  Someone in the room repeatedly bumps and pops a live microphone and George wails plaintively, mostly on the left but moving tentatively into the middle towards the end.  He obviously has no close vocal mic as his vocal wavers in and out of focus while the bottleneck guitar stays quite prominent.  Touches of tape distortion garnish a raw as fuck performance that contrasts marvellously with his more polished output.

Bruce Springsteen – Held Up Without A Gun

Left over from the otherwise restrained The River album, 75 seconds of Chernobyl strength power rock.  Once again the lead vocal is near impossible to decipher above the surging cacophonous tide crashing against the lighthouse of the centre spindle on your Dansette.  Great title too.

The Dickies – Paranoid

The crazy LA bubblegum punk band specialised in 1000000000 rpm covers of rock classics, along with equally crazed original material.  Their first album and early singles were produced by John Hewlett formerly of John’s Children, the chaotic mod freakbeat band Marc Bolan has lurking on his CV.  Perhaps this is a case of the blind leading the blind – the frantic thrash sees the rhythm guitar drop out several times from fatigue presumably, a strange pfft! on the vocal track and some bonkers tom rolls.  Even Tommy Iommi himself expressed grudging admiration as to how the band had supercharged the tempo from speedy to sectionable.

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