Currently the longest running concert show on television, Hard Rock Live features bands that are splattered across the musical landscape. So too, then, is this collection of previously unreleased live tracks from 13 artists that were featured on the program (a special “best of” episode that coincides with this release is now being aired). And while the diversity of the program is the show’s biggest asset, it’s also a compilation record’s biggest weakness. When the show airs an artist who is of no interest, you skip it; on a CD you’re stuck with what you get.
That being said, most open-minded folks should appreciate a good portion of the collection and hopefully will be turned onto one or more of the other artists. Jam band fans will certainly like the one-two punch of Hootie and the Blowfish and Blues Traveler, for example, while the Lilith-friendly should zero in on Natalie Merchant, Paula Cole and Lisa Loeb. For me, the riveting performances by Wilco (“Outta Site Outta Mind”), The Pretenders (a scathing “Middle of the Road”) and Fastball (“Sooner or Later”) are worth the price of admission, with Lou Reed’s Keith Richards-like take of “Busload of Faith” the icing on the cake. And since I don’t actually have to watch Natalie Merchant do her third rate Stevie Nicks impression, I can almost tolerate her song if the volume is low enough. Other performers include Ben Folds Five, Soul Asylum, Barenaked Ladies and Ani DiFranco.
Producers Jonathan Paley and Evan Haiman (who produces both the Hard Rock Live and Sessions at West 54th television shows) did a nice job at making 13 separate excerpts sound like a continuous performance. Band information is at a minimum—it would be nice to know who is playing on each track, for example—but the packaging is attractive. Expect to see Hard Rock Live Volume Two and beyond if this catches on.