As spring sets upon us and we crawl out of our antisocial winter caves, it’s time to break out the good dishes, light a candle, and check for a backup TP roll under the sink as we begin entertaining again. While a charcuterie plate may be impossible to screw up, the music is another story. Having good tunes that are broadly acceptable and appeal to all tastes in music is one of the trickiest aspects of entertaining. While a playlist is only as good as its weakest song, we all have seen the suggestion to “skip to the next track” go over like a cinderblock in a bathtub. Our foolproof hosting cheat is to find a good live album to create a chill and easy atmosphere that allows some crowd noise and some live jams to set the right vibe.
BAND OF GYPSIES, JIMI HENDRIX
Perhaps best saved for the type of host where edibles and microdosing is more common, this album showcases the wild and intoxicating genius of Hendrix. Recorded at the Fillmore East on January 1st, 1970, this is a newer sound for Hendrix as he left his bandmates in the Experience behind. With Brian Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums (who has another terrific live album himself with Carlos Santana) this is a new sound for Hendrix which is much funkier than his prior work. A little jam heavy at times, but this album is a great time capsule for what was happening at that moment in time.
UNPLUGGED, JAY Z
Jay-Z has had a multi-generational spanning career. If you had a first gen Ipod and knew who The Roots were before they took a day job peacocking for a network house band, this album is for you. Jay-Z is backed by Illadelph’s finest in the funky Roots band in this stripped down album which showcases the musicality of all involved, which hasn’t been replicated in an acoustic hip-hop album since. While Hip-Hop is consistently the trickiest live music for a variety of reasons this album was a transition point for artists and media in general. It was the end of an era of bottled, pop video friendly tunes trying to save the dying art of the music video, coupled with a new generation of artists and music that was slipped away from its purveyor, MTV making them irrelevant. Unplugged was a storied pillar of a generation and this Jay-Z album was the pinnacle of what they were both bad and good at.
THE NAME OF THIS BAND IS TALKING HEADS, TALKING HEADS
This elongated album would have been known as a double disc to another generation. While not from one specific performance but collected from a few – both with solely the four member band on the first half, and then additionally with a meatier, deeper musician lineup for the second. This album functions as a tour of their catalogue which was indicative of a New Wave moment, but holds up—unlike a lot of piers from the movement. While not as polished as the more updated sound that recently rocked us in American Utopia, that’s part of the beauty of this album.
LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL, BILL WITHERS/STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN
Both Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers have respectively done iconic live albums from respective Carnegie Hall concerts. Instead of choosing one or the other, do your ears a favor and put them both on. While on opposite sides of the music spectrum, the soul and passion of both of these artists come through in spades on these delightful live journeys. While the SRV album is a little more energetic, and the Withers concert is a bit more talky – both are icons being iconic. Whether you prefer gospel induced R+B or string bending southern guitar rock, you can’t go wrong with either of these visits to 7th avenue.
I MIGHT BE WRONG, RADIOHEAD
Radiohead is easily one of the best bands I’ve ever seen live in the flesh. This album is a short collection of songs from Amnesiac and Kid A, and leaves you wanting more—which means they delivered and did a cracking job with what’s here. It’s a taste of the weird and brainy depth of this amazing band, and everything that makes them so radio unfriendly.