Top Ten Live Clips: #1 – James Brown “Night Train”

It simply doesn’t get any better than James Brown in his prime, working a stage like nobody else can. This was part of a 1964 concert film called the T.A.M.I. Show, which featured Brown, along with The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, and The Rolling Stones, in front of a rabid teen audience. However, James Brown completely overshadowed anything the other acts could muster up. Even The Rolling Stones, who had the unfortunate responsiblity of following Brown’s performance, were tame in comparison. The dance moves that James Brown did that night, starting when the song kicks into double-time at about the 2:15 mark, were so physically impressive, The Stones probably would have had to kill each other on stage to get the crowd riled back up after what they just witnessed.  Watching his mesmerizing footwork is seeing an artform done to perfection – no different than watching Michael Jordan slam dunk, or Salvador Dali paint. I can’t back this up with any physical proof, but by the time the song was over, 70% of the girls in the audience were pregnant! If you ever wondered why James Brown was known as the Godfather of Soul, Mr. Dynamite, and The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, well, the stunned look on the faces of the crowd at 2:58 says it all.

Top Ten Live Clips: #2 – The Stooges “TV Eye” & “1970”

This clip from the 1970 Cincinatti Pop Festival is the only significant visual document of the Stooges original line-up, and the greatest rock performance ever recorded to video. I can’t think of another performance that was this far ahead of its time. What was the audience thinking as they witnessed this? After all, it’s just one year after all the “peace and brotherhood” hippie nonsense of Woodstock; and here’s Iggy, shirtless, seemingly 90 lbs of lean muscle, wearing a dog collar, and snarling a pair of Stooge classics, “TV Eye” and “1970.” His peanut butter smearing act towards the end of this clip is infamous (really, why did someone bring a jar of peanut butter to a rock show?), but I’m more impressed with how Iggy pretty much invents stage diving and crowd surfing, pushing the physical elements of live performance further than anyone before him. I’m also impressed by how out of synch The Stooges are with those uptight TV announcers who covered the event. Those same announcers make a huge error by sending the show to a commercial break when Iggy jumps into the crowd, although to be fair nobody had ever seen a performer do that before, so they couldn’t have known how to react.

Sit back and be awed….

Top Ten Live Clips: #3 – Fear on Saturday Night Live

A little context: In 1981 Saturday Night Live’s ratings were in the toilet and they wanted John Belushi to come back. He agreed to do a cameo appearance, but only if they booked his buddies in Fear to be the musical guest. Somehow Saturday Night Live execs agreed to this and even asked Ian MacKaye to bring his DC punk friends to slam-dance as the band played (members of Negative Approach and The Meatmen, who were on tour in NY at the time, showed up as well). For Fear a spot in front of a national audience was just another chance to wreak havoc and annoy lots of people. The results were beautifully chaotic, as can be seen in the clip below. It looks like a bar-fight from an old Western film, albeit one with a mostly skinhead cast. The punks broke a bunch of camera equipment, doing more than $20,000 in damage, and guaranteeing that a band that wild would never be seen on Saturday Night Live again.
Fun fact: That’s Ian MacKaye yelling “New York suuuuuuucks!” into the mic at 4:00 This is a thing that actually happened on national television.
See it for yourself here, cuz nobody ever shows it in rerun:
Don’t be afraid of the Russian URL….it’s kosher.

Top Ten Live Clips: #4 – Iggy Pop “Mask” on David Letterman

“Mask” is one of the many bad songs on Iggy’s bad 2001 album, Beat ‘Em Up; but the song isn’t the draw here. It’s all about Iggy being let loose in on David Letterman’s audience of unsuspecting tourists, and assaulting their senses as much as he can in four minutes. And boy, does he give ’em hell; running out onto the stage skinny and shirtless, with a head of broccoli worn as a necklace (does anyone know why he did this?), jumping into the petrified crowd, and railing against the soullessness of modern society right into their confused faces. Not bad considering he was 54 at the time. Ten years later, he’s still brutalizing audiences with intense performances.
If anyone can explain the broccoli necklace, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

Top Ten Live Clips: #5 – The MC5 “Looking at You”

This is an phenomenal performance –  the Five’s hard rock and proto-punk aggression perfectly married to R&B and soul revue showmanship. Just look at the Wayne State University crowd – a mix of white and black, all sporting cool hair and outfits you just don’t see very often these days.
Some other things to look out for:
– Wayne Kramer plays just five chords before he decides to stop playing and start dancing with his guitar. A cocky move, but one that lends a certain air of freedom to the performance.
– Synchronized frontline moves at 1:40
– Michael Davis repeats the same simple bass pattern until the 2:30 mark.
– Wayne Kramer’s bird dance at 2:12…I’m sure he’s baked out of his mind.
– 41 years on, no white guy has ever sported a better afro than Rob Tyner.

Top Ten Live Clips: #6 – Black Sabbath “Children Of The Grave”

I love the all the contradictions in this 1974 clip. Here you have the heaviest band of their time, doing arguably their heaviest song at that point. Yet they’re playing it in broad daylight in front of a decidedly unheavy rainbow and palm tree backdrop.

I don’t like to accuse people without any proof, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Ozzy is probably stoned out his mind. How do I know? Well, for starters it’s Ozzy Osbourne in 1974. If you need more specific proof, I present the following: he intros a decidedly non-party song with “Cmon! Let’s Have a party!” He’s also wearing gigantic glitter boots, and feeling uninhibited enough to play some air-guitar.

On a completely unrelated note, it seems like the entire state of California was at this show. I’ve never seen an audience so big in my life. In fact, Wikipedia tells me that this show (the California Jam festival) set an attendance record with 250,000 paid admissions. Around the 2:10 mark the massive crowd’s chanting takes on an ominous Nuremberg Rally kind of vibe.


Top Ten Live Clips: #7 – Nirvana “The Money Will Roll Right In”

A little historical context to explain why this video is so cool: It comes from Nirvana’s headlining slot at the 1992 Reading Festival in England. At the time they were the biggest band in America, and this was their big chance to break the British market wide open. Most bands in that position would be dressed to impress and try their hardest to win the audience over. Not Nirvana. Kurt’s wearing a medical gown, they’ve got their friend Antony Hodgkinson (who played drums in a group called Bivouac) dancing on stage for no apparent reason, and they’re playing a cover of a Fang song. Who were Fang you ask? Exactly! Here was Nirvana, well on their way to world domination, playing perhaps the single most important gig of their career to date, and they’re using that time to play a song by a band that was obscure even by hardcore’s standards. Pretty impressive. Clearly the song’s message of taking the piss out of wealth and success wasn’t lost on Nirvana.

Top Ten Live Clips: #8 – The Strokes “Take It Or Leave It”

In 2011 it’s hard to believe The Strokes were once a young band full of fire, but it’s true. Really. Ask your parents. As this 2001 clip of “Take It Or Leave It” from Letterman attests to, they used to be an amazing live band. They’re hungry and passionate here, belting out one of their best songs from those young and innocent days. Plus it’s always nice to see a singer trip and fall on live tv, as Julian does at the 3:33 mark. Few bands have done as much to ruin themselves as The Strokes over the past five years, but for these three minutes and 50 seconds they live up to every ounce of hype being thrust upon them at the time.

Top Ten Live Clips: #9 – The Bad Brains “Big Takeover”

Man, this is the stuff! Taken from their Live at CBGBs 1982 DVD (absolutely essential viewing) this clip totally confirms claims that The Bad Brains were the hottest band on the planet in their prime. A lot of hardcore punk bands’ live shows dealt in energy and controlled chaos, but nobody did it as well as these guys. Dr. Know eats up the neck of his guitar on the intro (which to me always sounded like the beginning of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”) which builds up into one of the biggest explosions of raw energy ever seen on a stage. The crowd is going nuts with stage diving and slam-dancing, but it’s all eyes on singer HR, who works the stage like a man possessed, flailing his arms and burgeoning dreadlocks with an intensity level the world hasn’t seen since.

Top Ten Live Clips: #10 – The Birthday Party “Junkyard”

Hey…what do music nerds like more than a Top Ten List? Nothing, that’s what. So I’m rolling out the first of (hopefully) many Top Ten Lists on this site – The Top Ten Live Clips. These are videos found on the internet of concert or television performances.

I didn’t want to just select my favorite bands playing my favorite songs, so instead I looked for performances that are visually electrifying, have some kind of greater cultural meaning, or are just plain bizarre.

So here’s #10 for ya, The Birthday Party performing “Junkyard”. Truth be told, I’m a huge Nick Cave fan, but his pre-1985 stuff is a little too chaotic for my sissy-ish tastes. That being said, this German TV performance of “Junkyard” by The Birthday Party is one of the most deranged ever caught on film. They look like the band you would see in the rock-club scene of a movie about a futuristic dystopian society. Nick Cave appears to have just woken up from the worst bender of his life, totally intent on getting the next one underway. The real star though is bassist Tracy Pew, with his ruffled pirate shirt, leather pants, cowboy hat, and rhythmically gyrating hips. Really, what’s with the hips? Is he trying to keep time? Trying to be funny? Trying to be sleazy? All of the above? Creepy, creepy stuff…enjoy!

I’ll try to add a new entry each day until we hit #1.