Judging by the number of live albums appearing in the last weeks of 2020, it felt as though musicians were worried about stimulus checks arriving and hoped for quick revenue. Not that many were superfluous. For The War on Drugs, Live Drugs (Super High Quality) represented the first non-bootleg recap of Adam Granduciel’s touring in 2015-17 with a six-piece band that tried to put more depth into his retro-1970s sound. One also finds a certain necessity behind Okkervil River’s A Dream in the Dark (ATO), a weighty four-LP box covering 20 years of the Austin band’s live sets led by Will Sheff.
Other live offerings might be overkill. The Arctic Monkeys have given the world live sets before, but Live at Royal Albert Hall (Domino) comes from a 2018 show that leverages newer songs from Tranquility Base and other albums. Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian have been documented in many BBC and concert-hall sets, but What to Look for in Summer (Matador) focuses on a 2019 tour and ocean cruises the band sponsored, showing a more polished side of Belle and Sebastian than many know.
The most fun recordings, though, are limited-release quasi-bootlegs, including Hamilton Leithauser’s Live! at Café Carlyle (Glassnote), Margo Price’s Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman (Loma Vista), and Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires’ Live at The Bend (Southeastern/Bandcamp). While fans of the first four bands may appreciate the elaborate packaging and arena ambience, the latter three LPs are simple, single-disc affairs documenting how smaller artists made it through the pandemic. Purchasing any of the live albums might help some worthy artists weather a serious slump.
Also New & Noteworthy
Ela Minus, Acts of Rebellion (Domino) – Colombian electronica artist Minus set out to describe small everyday acts of resistance from common people, though her songs with longer titles often can get lost in overthinking. The single-word “Dominique” and “Tony” tracks, with deep beats and individualized storytelling, are the ones where Minus can convince us that we all can make a difference, provided we remember to dance.