The Setlist: Live Versions of Songs with Tom Tom Club, Snail Mail, & more

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By Kenneth Cox

The live album is a staple of any music listener's library. From bootleg copies of Grateful Dead shows to professional recordings of stadium tours, live recordings can help to enhance the listening experience of any artist. Here are five incredible live versions of songs.

 

"Genius of Love" - Tom Tom Club

It’s almost impossible to talk about live music without bringing up Stop Making Sense, the live album by Talking Heads from their 1983 tour. But one of the best moments of the album isn’t even by the band at all. Tom Tom Club is an offshoot group of the band consisting of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz. The two take the already iconic track, speed it up, and make it even more danceable and groovy. “Psychedelic and funkadelic, uh-huh! And everything is just jumping out of sight!” yells Frantz halfway through the track, and this line becomes a perfect description for why this live version is so special.

 

"Sour Times" - Portishead

Portishead’s 1997 live record Roseland Ballroom NYC is one of those rare live albums where nearly every track is equal to or better than the studio recording. Known for their signature blend of orchestral arrangements and hip-hop beats, the live album features re-arrangements and incredible performances of the group’s songs. "Sour Times" on the album is a subdued, hypnotic track with singer Beth Gibbons barely reaching above a whisper. However, the live version eschews this for an arrangement filled with roaring, distorted guitars and booming drums. As the song reaches its conclusion, the tempo switches from a dirge to a punk rock riot, with Gibbons practically screaming the lyrics to the song. It sounds unlike anything Portishead made prior, and shows the possibilities for reimagining one’s music when performing live.

 

"J Mascis" - What Else is New?

J Mascis’ band Dinosaur Jr. is known for the roaring distortion and noisy guitars that underlie many of their songs. But at J Mascis’ 1993 acoustic solo show at the legendary NYC club CBGB’s, the noise is stripped away, leaving Mascis’ songwriting to be left bare for the audience to hear. “My first ever acoustic performance, and I’m all freaked out” says Mascis at the beginning of the track, but there's no reason why he should be nervous. It is a wonderful re-imagining of the song, showing there is more to Dinosaur Jr. than the noise. With only Mascis and his acoustic guitar the entire time, the recording perfectly captures the intimacy of the performance.

 

"Jumpers" - Sleater-Kinney

After a long ten-year hiatus, Sleater-Kinney reemerged to release their 2015 record No Cities to Love and embarked on a world tour that fans never thought would happen again. The group released the recording of their Paris show in 2017, and it shows that the band’s ten-year hiatus was worth it. “Jumpers” shows Sleater-Kinney at their best, with members Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss all playing like their life depends on it. The song is one of their loudest, most gripping tracks, and it becomes even more so on the live recording. Tucker and Brownstein sing in almost perfect unison before the song explodes in its final minutes. It gives the listener the intense emotions and feelings of amazement that only a Sleater-Kinney live show can create.

"Slug" - Snail Mail

Baltimore indie rock artist Snail Mail is quickly becoming one of the newest stars of the genre. The Audiotree Live session that singer Lindsey Jordan took part in proves why. “Slug” was already a fan favorite track — a lengthy exploration of identity and mortality written when Jordan was only 16. However, the live version surpasses the recording from her 2016 EP Habit. The tempo is quicker, the instruments clearer, and Jordan’s incredible voice shines through the performance. The track shows a rising star honing in on her talents, and proving why she is one of the most exciting new voices in indie rock.

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