Tuesday, March 15, 2011
After every live show, Pearl Jam give audience members a code to download a bootleg of the concert they saw online as a souvenir. They are produced respectably and are excellent time capsules for those few hours. Live on Ten Legs, the live album that has been released in conjunction with the twentieth anniversary of the release of the band’s debut album, Ten, sounds like one of these bootlegs. Which is fine, because the album is a decent recording of the group at their high consistency, playing a set that they could have played anywhere, split evenly between deep cuts and reworkings of old hits and closing with the one-two punch of “Alive” and “Yellow Ledbetter.” However, Live on Ten Legs does not sound like the live commemoration of my favorite album of the 90’s. The instrumentation, the audience and Vedder’s voice, which, after twenty years of torture, can still scream the “RHINESTONES” line in “Unthought Known” with particular vigor, are great. But I don’t see the point of Live on Ten Legs if it’s mixed with the purpose of being just another live album to be listened to by people who probably already own something very similar to it (not to mention the fact that only two song in the set are from the album it’s honoring). The only significant value in Live on Ten Legs is that the band plays a few songs from Backspacer amiably, but, with a career as consistent and lively as Pearl Jam’s, the group can afford to be less modest. B
Matisyahu is probably the only modern artist that got started through a live album. Released in 2006, Live at Stubbs took the assured music of the Hasidic rapper’s debut and put it in a setting where it sounded distinct and better, and reached widespread attention from many, myself included, as a result. Four years later, and with two more albums under his belt (the abysmal Youth and the underrated Light), Matisyahu returns to Texas to bookend this chapter of his career, and it sounds pretty good. The set is evenly distributed between his three albums and the guy and his dub trio perform it energetically. He references the first Live at Stubbs by taking some of its most notable rhymes like that of “King Without a Crown” and “Aish Tamid” and injects them into newer songs, to good effect. My only complaint is that, although the Youth songs sound better in this context, they are still ham-fisted and overwrought. Their presence drags Live at Stubbs Vol. 2 down from excellent to still very good. Fans will like it for the performances of new songs like “Youth” and “One Day”, but I would still suggest the first Live at Stubbs for an excellent introduction to the man’s work. B+
Jònsi - Live at the Wiltern
Your enjoyment of Live at the Wiltern is under the assumption that you have not heard Jònsi's other live album, Go Live, which was released less than three months before Live at the Wiltern. If you have, Live at the Wiltern is useless, because both live albums feature the exact same setlist and feature extremely similar performances. The only reason I’m talking about this and not Go Live is because I dropped the ball on listening to Go Live and Jònsi was kind enough to give me another chance to rate a Jònsi live album. Those looking for new interpretations of Jonsi’s material from his debut, Go, will be disappointed, as Jònsi partakes in almost no stage banter or experimentation throughout his hour and a half long set. Those looking for a rousing field test of Go will also be disappointed, as Jònsi makes its songs even more pensive, “Animal Arithmetic,” the second half of “Around Us” and the bass drum at the end of “Icicle Sleeves” being the only exceptions. More than anything else, Live at the Wiltern stands as proof to naysayers that Jònsi's performance on Go was not all auto-tune and studio finickry. I don’t know if it convinces me to see the guy live anytime soon, but Live at the Wiltern is a pretty good representation of an excellent album, which should more than satiate the live album’s intended audience. B
Bob Marley - Live Forever: The Stanley Theater, Pittsburgh, PA, September 23rd, 1980
Much has been written about the sonic change Lykke Li has made since her 2008 debut, Youth Novels. Where her first album was a set of quiet, unobtrusive love songs, Wounded Rhymes, her newest, is mostly raucous and rousing. Its backdrops are filled with romping shakers and toms, creating a sound that is primal, slinky and sexy, adjectives that few would have used to describe her work on Youth Novels. The interim between albums has yielded some significant image changes for Lykke as well. Her performances in support of Wounded Rhymes feature her in a black leather poncho with matching shorts and boots, her dark hair pulled back behind her head to look like a masculine crew cut. It would appear that Lykke’s transformation from shy songstress to boisterous vixen has been drastic, but organic. However, although Lykke may have made all the right moves in tweaking her appearance and her songs, something just doesn’t seem right to complete either picture. For however Lykke may try to extricate herself from the image of her first album, her vocal presence on Wounded Rhymes is still suited for the soft and calm, and, more often than not, her attempts to betray that are off-putting and awkward.
It’s unfortunate to say, because, basically, I am accusing Lykke Li of evolving as an artist. But, time and time again, when she moves out of her comfort zone, Wounded Rhymes comes off as just that: uncomfortable. The danceable toms and circus organ riff in first track, “Youth Knows No Pain,” provide excellent scenery for the image Li attempts to convey on the album. And it works right up until she takes the mic for the verses and chorus. When that occurs, though, her innocuous croon drags the song down more than if it were performed by a singer with a more dynamic voice. “I Follow Rivers” is a great song, Lykke notwithstanding, but it suffers from the same problems. Lykke’s accompaniment is convincing, but her voice doesn’t sell it past that vital last stretch. Much ink has been used up on the “I’m your prostitute / You gon’ get some” line in “Get Some,” but, when Lykke sings it, it sounds just about as evil as if the ETrade baby sang it.
The good news is that Wounded Rhymes is split evenly between the new and old Lykke. Where her sexuality may be forced in songs like “Rich Kids Blues,” her turns in quieter contexts are minimalist and sincere. In a song like “I Know Places,” she sounds more confident with just an acoustic guitar supporting her than all the maladroit posturing on Wounded Rhymes combined. When she evokes sadness as a lover in “Sadness in a Blessing,” it comes off as mature and heartbreaking, especially at the ending of the chorus, when Lykke concludes, “Sadness, I’m your girl.” These songs all deal with crushing amounts of disappointment and loneliness (“All my love is unrequited” goes one song’s chorus) and their brilliance in silence make the bloated songs of Wounded Rhymes sound more like overcompensation than fun.
In her song for the Twilight soundtrack, “Possibility,” Lykke Li embodied vulnerability with little more than a piano and some brooms, and, two years later, Wounded Rhymes proves that she can still pull off moments of such beauty. All the album’s quiet songs are excellent and the ones that strike a middle ground between that and the brashness of “Get Some” are good as well. Wounded Rhymes isn’t so much a misstep as a great album with a few songs that jump the gun. Lykke Li is one of those artists whose moderation suits them best, and, although I can respect the polarizing tracks of Wounded Rhymes, none of them appear without some unfortunate consequence.