I'm not sure if it is due to the pandemic, but there seems to be an uptick in live concert releases. Some of them sound...not so great. However, in a year where it's become quite tricky to record and/or release new music, at least bands are able to offer something new to their fans!
Below is a list of my favorite live albums of 2020. Not included here is Dream Theater's Distant Memories as I'm still waiting for my physical copy to arrive because I'm old school like that.
10. Flying Colors - Third Stage: Live in London
It's seems like these days Mike Portnoy is playing on every damn thing that he can to see what sticks. This is not a complaint, as I enjoy basically everything he drums on.
Flying Colors is Portnoy's pop prog project, and three albums in, it looks like this supergroup is here to stay! Portnoy deviates a lot from his recorded drum parts, making his live shows worth hearing as it's a unique experience.
9. The Physics House Band - Metropolis
The Physics House Band is a proggy jazz fusion band that recorded a live album in studio. Only a small audience was invited to attend these sessions.
I wish more bands recorded like this, live and all in the same room done in a single take. I understand the need to perfect every single recorded note, but there's nothing that can replace the energy of a bunch of musicians playing together in the same room.
8. Yossi Fine & Ben Aylon - Blue Desert (Live)
Yossi Fine & Ben Aylon hail from Isreal, and this is how they describe themselves:
Representing the region of Israel and Palestine
Dabke music with Fresh mix of Dub, Gnawa and Trance. From the hills of Jerusalem, to the dunes of the Sahara. In a Bass heavy 4X4 drive.
Neat. This live album is basically the live version of the studio album of the same name, with a reordered track list and a couple additional tracks.
7. Jizue - Live at Kyoto Concert Hall
Jizue, a jazz band from Japan, is accompanied by an orchestra for their performance at the Kyoto Concert Hall.
Unfortunately, the pandemic forced the band to cancel their 2020 show in Tokyo. At least they have this recording to share with the world until they can play together again.
6. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah - Axiom
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is known for playing what looks like a trumpet that has been tied in a knot. (I'm clearly not a trumpet player)
His studio recordings are...just ok. Like with most jazz, it loses something on the studio albums. However, in a live setting, he absolutely rips!
5. Snarky Puppy - Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Hey look, yet another live jazz album! Snarky Puppy is a jazz fusion collective, and they absolutely crush it in a live setting.
They've been grinding through their career. Specifically with their trips to the UK they started out playing smaller clubs and eventually transitioning to larger halls. Their show at the Royal Albert Hall is their biggest one yet, playing to a crowd of over 5,000 people.
4. Anneke Van Giersbergen - Let the Light In
Anneke's voice is just so angelic and beautiful, and truly shines in a live setting with the Kamerata Zuid Orchestra.
Recorded in her home province of North Brant in the Netherlands, the setlist is made up of a mix of her solo work, her collaborations, and a brand new piece which is the title track.
3. Septicflesh - Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX
Greek symphonic death metal band Septicflesh perform with the Toluca Philharmonica Orchestra in Mexico. Their albums are filled with orchestral parts, and it makes it difficult to perform without using backing tracks.
For the first time, Septicflesh's songs were performed properly with full orchestra. I hope that one day they will be able to bring this show to the United States, let's say The Red Rocks thanks.
2. Devin Townsend - Order of Magnitude - Empath Live, Vol 1
Devin Townsend's Empath was my favorite album of 2019. I was ready to see him on the Empath tour in late March, but that was canceled due to COVID.
I have seen him perform several times, but I was excited about this show not only because of the new material, but his backing band was all new and absolutely stacked.
1. Ayreon - Electric Castle Live and Other Tales
My favorite Ayreon album gets the live treatment, and it also happens to include Anneke van Giersbergen (see #4)! Pulling off a show like this sounds like a logistical nightmare due to the sheer amount of singers involved.
Somehow, they were able to pull this off and to top it all off it is narrated by John de Lancie (Q from Star Trek). Recorded in 2019 in the Netherlands (maybe I should just move there already), this is truly a once in a lifetime show that I wish I was there for, but this is the next best thing.