The Best Live Albums of 2010

Eric Allen Been

Successful live albums are challenging things, judged by their ability to adequately portray the power of a performance. 2010 proved that even a strong crop of carefully staged and recorded recent shows could still be overshadowed by legendary sets of the past.

Artist: Kanye West

Album: VH1 Storytellers

Label: Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella

US Release Date: 2010-01-05

UK Release Date: 2010-01-25



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List Number: 10

Kanye West
VH1 Storytellers

At once grandiose, manic, self-reflexive, and, at bottom, an exhibition of a magnificent music-maker, Kanye West’s performance on VH1 Storytellers is a complete embodiment of the artist’s schizophrenic persona. Just when West is making your head shake with his rash claims (“My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live”; “O.J. Simpson, amazing!”; “I get my quotes from movies, because I don’t read”), he throws you through a loop and exhibits genuine heart-on-the-sleeve introspection. For instance, after a riveting performance of “Flashing Light”, West expresses understandable ire for the doctor who performed his mother’s fatal surgery: “Now that my momma’s passed, would she really want me to put myself in a situation for going to jail for killing him?” In one of the most peculiar performances in recent memory, West seems to be one-step from spiraling completely out of control throughout the gig, but leverages himself with the source of all his bravado: a catalog of astounding songs.


Artist: Mogwai

Album: Special Moves

Label: Rock Action Records

US Release Date: 2010-08-24

UK Release Date: 2010-08-23



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List Number: 9

Special Moves

Recorded during a three-night residency in April 2009 at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, Glasgow’s post-rock vets Mogwai touch on their entire six-album catalog on Special Moves, from fan favorites “Mogwai Fear Satan” and “Like Herod”, to new cuts like “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” and “I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School”. Playing out like a greatest hits release, Special Moves is a commendable introduction for the Mogwai newbie and a sonic snapshot of what the band does best: quiet/loud juxtapositions, oddly-shifting time signatures, otherworldly soundscapes, and multilayered guitar assaults. After 15 years together, the testament heard at the outset of Mogwai’s first LP -- “If the stars had a sound, it would sound like this” -- continues to serve as the band’s aesthetical objective.


Artist: The Stooges

Album: Have Some Fun: Live at Ungano’s

Label: Rhino

US Release Date: 2010-11-22

UK Release Date: 2010-11-22



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List Number: 8

The Stooges
Have Some Fun: Live at Ungano's

It’s been a glorious year for Stooges fans, one in which the band hit the road with Raw Power guitarist James Williamson, the aforementioned 1973 classic was reissued and remastered as a box set, and they finally received a criminally overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But buried beneath the accolades, tour and reprises was the late-year release Have Some Fun: Live at Ungano's. A sonically muddled hot mess, it’s a recently unearthed reel-to-reel tape recording of a Stooges show during a four-night residency at the Ungano’s nightclub in New York City. Recorded just after the release of Fun House, the band rips through every cut from the album except “L.A. Blues”, and it is also contains a previously unreleased “10-minute-plus psychedelic, freak out jam” entitled “Have Some Fun/My Dream Is Dead”. Though it’s not anywhere near as essential as the band’s first three studio albums, Have Some Fun is nonetheless a rousing artifact of one of the most intensely ripped-off live acts in rock’s history.


Artist: LCD Soundsystem

Album: London Sessions

Label: DFA

US Release Date: 2010-11-05

UK Release Date: 2010-11-05


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List Number: 7

LCD Soundsystem
London Sessions

Eight years after the release of “Losing My Edge” and without one major misstep, James Murphy has not only established himself as a recording studio maestro, but also as the ringleader of a world-class live band. Thankfully, LCD Soundsystem has finally documented their live-act strengths, releasing a John Peel-style in-studio performance they recorded in one day in London. Sounding tight, self-assured, and passionate on every single song, the performance runs through highlights from all of the band’s studio albums, along with the B-side gem “Yr City Is a Sucker”. From a rocked-up “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”, to the ESG-esque “Pow Pow”, to the goose-bump inducing “All My Friends”, London Sessions is a wonderful mesh of the band’s reference-heavy sound. But as fantastic as London Sessions is, it’s also a heartbreaking reminder that the proposed retirement of LCD Soundsystem as a band is a bit of a pop culture tragedy.


Artist: The Jackson 5

Album: Live at the Forum

Label: Hip-O Select

US Release Date: 2010-06-29

UK Release Date: 2010-08-02


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List Number: 6

The Jackson 5
Live at the Forum

Live at the Forum brings to light two previously unreleased Jackson 5 live shows from the Los Angeles Forum, with one from their first national tour in 1970, and their triumphant return to the venue in the summer of 1972. In both shows, Michael Jackson and his band of brothers come off as loose, exuberant, and down right funky. On display are surging performances of all the hits: “I Want You Back”, “I’ll Be There”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save”, and “Never Can Say Goodbye”. Also weaved into the fold are wonderful covers, including of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”, Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright”, and James Brown’s “There Was a Time”. And when Michael declares at the outset of “Who’s Lovin’ You” that “don’t nobody have the blues like I have”, your heart will sink with its foreshadowing of the King of Pop’s final years. For those that always written off the Jackson 5 as nothing more than a banal boy band, Live at the Forum proves that the brothers were the upper crust of 1970s pop.


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