Live in 2009


Somewhere along the way, 2009 became the Year of the Great Live Album.

First, there was Leonard Cohen’s Live in London— a rich, vibrant, and often hilarious album that cherrypicks the best songs from one of the all-time great songwriters, matches them with cheerful stage banter and crisp full-band performances, and ends up being the essential Leonard Cohen album.

Then there was R.E.M.’s Live from the Olympia, a muscular rock and roll set that sticks to lesser-known songs to tell an alternate– but equally fascinating– history of one of our great rock and roll bands.

Just this week, we’re given the late Nirvana and their fabulous Live at Reading set. If you think a new Nirvana compilation is pointless at this point in history, that this new collection couldn’t possibly reveal anything new about the band… well, you’re on your own: According to MetaCritic, the album is currently the fourth highest-rated recording of the decade. I’ll report that it is indeed a highly worthwhile addition to the Nirvana canon, for devoted fans or newbies alike. The performances are vital, and yes, even joyful– especially on Cobain’s end– and the song selection is about as perfect as these things can get.

And the best is still to come. Tom Waits is set to release his exquisite Glitter and Doom later this month, and it’s not just an essential listen– it’s a revelatory one, almost as great a gift to fans as Orphans was in 2006. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any other album from this year that’s as rich in humor, humanity, and inspired weirdness. I’d say more, but the thing is so full of wonderful surprises, I don’t dare spoil any of them. Just believe me that it is indeed the grand, glorious finale of a remarkable string of bang-up live recordings in 2009.


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