Sometimes, you hear a song that just hits different. When it happens to me, the first thing I do is go to Youtube to find a live performance of the song.

Because some songs aren’t meant to be sung, they’re meant to be performed. Expanded on, improvised, embellished, feeding off the audience in a way that only happens with live music. Below is a collections of live performances that I think are vastly superior to the recorded version.

There are some broadly defined trends: punk is meant to be heard live, as is any brass instrument; some musicians are simply too talented to be confined to a studio booth; others are just unique takes on the song that cast them into a completely different light. Watching these performances has a whole new meaning after an acrimonious election and a year of COVID restrictions. I look forward to the days when people can pack close together again in the shared joy of a particular song or artist.

Interpol - “Untitled”

Interpol wrote “Untitled” specifically as the track they would use to open their live shows. They came to see it as their “theme music,” the way that they would introduce their band to new audiences. Seems approriate to open our blog post with this track.

There are other good versions but I like the version below the best. Not only does it have good sound quality, but since the entire set is linked, it’s one of the few videos where you can view “Untitled” the way it was meant to be heard.

Sufjan Stevens, Live at Austin City Limits

This is my favorite hour of consecutive music, full stop. Some of Sufjan’s best tracks with a backing orchestra that lends them an extra punch.

Max Frost – “Roses”

I had heard Max’s music before, so when I went to see him live, I expected enjoy it. What I did not expect, however, is for him to perform all the parts of his tracks: bass, guitar, keys, drums, and singing.

Then he broke out this cover of “Roses” and I was hooked. I am still searching for a cleaner version.

Daft Punk – Alive 2007

An all-time legendary concert, in absolutely astounding quality.

Sure Sure – “This Must Be The Place”

There are a lot of covers of This Must Be The Place, but this is one of the few that I think does justice to the original. Its upbeat nature gives the lyrics an entirely different meaning while matching the original’s level of funk

Jim O’Rourke – “Fast Car”

A fantastic re-imagining of the Tracy Chapman classic made even more impressive by the fact it is the accomplishment of one person, performing live.

Current Joys – “Kids”

If you’re the type of act that performs at underground house shows, your music is meant to be heard live.

DJ Shadow – “Blood On The Motorway”

It’s rare to see anyone spinning actual plates anymore which is one reason I enjoy this performance so much. DJ Shadow is an all-time great, and there’s something about mixing that hits much harder when it’s done live.

Old Crow Medicine Show – “Tear It Down”

OCMS got their start by busking on King Street in Boone, where they were discovered by Doc Watson himself. But once you see them in action, you’ll realize it you don’t need to be a folk music legend to see that Old Crow Medicine Show is special.

Bon Iver – “Blindsided”

The brillance of For Emma, Forever Ago lies in its simplicity. For my money, “Blindsided” most clearly echos the cold and solitary Wisconsin winters where it was written. The live version features a guitar solo that stands in stark contrast to the stripped-down nature of the album.

Portugal. The Man – “Sleep Forever”

A beautiful performance that features the best motifs from Portgual. The Man’s “Evil Friends” and a killer guitar solo.

Andrew Bird – “A Nervous Tic Motion of The Head To The Left”

The strumming of the violin. The whistling. The looping. All the best of Andrew Bird, in one song.

Hilltop Hoods – “Cosby Sweater”

Always good to see an artist who loves to share the limelight. A great example of when the sum is greater than the parts.

The Avett Brothers – “Distraction #74”

I love the contrast of The Avett Brother’s hard-charging, almost punk, folk music with the emotionless camerawork and bland sets so typical of public TV.

The Roots feat. Bilal – “It Ain’t Fair”

The Roots make the incredible seem effortless, and feature some amazing bars from Black Thought.

The Strokes – $2 Bill show

This performance was so memorable, so transcendant, that it gets its own chapter in Meet Me in the Bathroom, Lizzie Goodman’s incomprable oral history of the music scene in NYC between 2001 and 2011.

As one person said, the “feeling of ‘The Strokes, they’re our band, they’re the band of the New York indie kids’ […] it all ended at the $2 Bill show”. This show shows the very moment where a band enters the stratosphere and turn into an honest-to-God Rock Stars.