A couple weeks back I was at Schubas Tavern enjoying the backwoods groove and bliss of bluegrass quintet Uncle Earl. Half way through the show they informed the crowd that they were recording the show for a live record so I thought I dip back into history and see just exactly what is the history of the live recording which of course led to a trek all the way back to Thomas Edison and then forward to the birth of the bootleg and then eventually back to 2008 with the advent of clubs putting the importance of the live show and its recording as paramount in the midst of the internet and digital musical revolution.
We can credit French inventor Edouard-Leon Scott for creating the first device that could record sound. His phoautograph, created in 1857, was limited, though, as it could record sound but could not play it back. Then there was the man that we can all collectively give props to for giving us the opportunity to enjoy live music long after the concert is over; Thomas Edison who in 1877 invented the phonograph which could both record sound and play it back.
Fast forward about ninety years through several inventions which include Les Paul’s 3-track mixer, the 8 track, the cassette tape and then you have the advent of the bootleg circa 1969. There have been thousands of recorded bootlegs since the late sixties and early seventies, some of the most noted and circulated are Led Zeppelin’s 1970 Live on Blueberry Hill, recorded and release in 1970 and is one of the first commercially distributed bootlegs. The Who’s 1970 Live at Leeds was released as an official recording after the band had numerous bootlegs circulating and Jimi Hendrix’s unofficial Live at Royal Albert Hall is another rare performance that’s never been included with other posthumous releases. And of course we chat about bootlegs without mentioning the Grateful Dead who furthered the Dead culture via the live bootlegs which the band encouraged fans to swap among fans throughout the 70’s, 80 and 90’s but in recent years the remaining members have been indecisive about allowing the bootlegging and swapping to continue.
Of course, digital technology has made the live bootleg much more accessible with the advent of DAT(digital audio tape) which gave way to more compact digital equipment such as pocket-sized flash recorders and wire microphones but here in 2008 when it comes to legal and authorized recordings, the battle continues between fans, venues and the music industry as all struggle to figure out in which direction the next steps will be and where everyone fits in and what the impact will be on live music recording. In a January article, Mix Magazine interviewed owners of the New York and Los Angeles venue the Knitting Factory about their new recording equipment which offers a service for bands to record live or give record labels an option to view live showcases via internet streaming. Reading this article made me think of the local Chicago venues like Schubas, Metro, Double Door, Subterranean, etc. and how they are evolving as the music industry experiences massive technology growing pains. And with the controversy surrounding AT&T’s Blue Room who received bad press for censoring Pearl Jam’s Lollapalooza concert, and a few others, it will be interesting to see if fans will trust the process of taking in a live concert online.
So the questions, for you, live music fan, are; What favorite bootlegs do you have in your collection and how did you get them? With the festival season coming up soon, what are your thoughts on Blue Room censoring a live show? What is your favorite music venue doing with the live recordings of your favorite shows? How do you feel when you’re at a show and the band informs you that they’re recording?