It’s been a while since anyone has asked to see the inside of my right wrist. Thanks to coronageddon canceling live music as we knew it, I’ve collected fewer hand-stamped, 24-hour souvenirs this year than I normally would in weeks. In the “before times,” I’d never been huge on concert films or live albums, a facsimile of an experience (albeit with better beer prices) that can’t be replicated alone in your living room.
But these days I’ll take what I can get.
Until we can safely commune in our favorite local venues, these classic (and streamable on Spotify) live albums recorded on Seattle soil — or at least The Showbox’s springy floor — are worth keeping in rotation.
Brandi Carlile — “Live at Benaroya Hall”
Calling in an orchestral army is a tried-and-true method for beefing up familiar songs, deployed by everyone from folk hero Joni Mitchell to rockers like Metallica and The Who. That doesn’t make it any less rewarding when Carlile’s bow-wielding cavalry in the Seattle Symphony come storming up the hill with a mighty “Looking Out” during the folk rocker’s 2010 Benaroya Hall run, filled with early-career favorites and the Hanseroth twins’ pristine “The Sound of Silence” cover — “the creepiest, most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard,” Carlile jokes.
Mad Season and Seattle Symphony — “Sonic Evolution / January 30, 2015 / Benaroya Hall”
The Seattle Symphony has a rich history of tag-teaming with local favorites from the rock/pop world, and Benaroya regular Carlile is hardly the only one to get it on the action. Five years ago saw a partial Mad Season (and briefly Temple of the Dog) reunion with Chris Cornell filling in for the late Layne Staley, and too many cameos from other Seattle ’90s rock heroes to list. With music director Ludovic Morlot and the orchestra, “River of Deceit” never sounded sweeter, and time has made Cornell’s somber croon all the more haunting, knowing we’ll never hear him sing it again.
Ernestine Anderson — “Ernestine Anderson Swings the Penthouse”
In 1962, this future Seattle jazz great returned to the city where she spent formative years in Jackson Street clubs to serenade fabled Pioneer Square haunt The Penthouse. A few years later, Anderson would take a musical hiatus, and the latter half of her six-decade career — which yielded two Grammy-nominated albums on her Jackson Street pal Quincy Jones’ label — may have been more celebrated. But “Ernestine Anderson Swings the Penthouse” is a document of local jazz history, courtesy of longtime radio man Jim Wilke, whose Penthouse recordings from the era are a gift that keeps giving.
John Coltrane — “Live in Seattle”
Trane’s name comes first on the jacket, but this 1965 performance — another classic from the old Penthouse — goes BOGO on sax legends. Months after recording his avant-garde springboard “Ascension,” Coltrane trekked to Seattle with his new band featuring his “spiritual jazz” mate Pharoah Sanders. Perhaps a bit more accessible than “Om,” the album they cut at Lynnwood’s Camelot studio the next day, “Live in Seattle” provides a local snapshot of the twin tenors’ free jazz explorations together during a particularly fertile year as Coltrane blasted off into the atonal cosmos.
The No WTO Combo — “Live From the Battle in Seattle”
Seattle protests were back in the national spotlight this summer, in some ways hearkening back to the World Trade Organization protests in 1999. In both cases, Seattle musicians made their voices heard, and this one-off supergroup featuring Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and Krist Novoselić of Nirvana, delivered one of Seattle rock’s most infamous shows. Fronted by Bay Area punk icon Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), the all-star protest band took the Showbox stage a night later than scheduled, after a police barricade blocked access to the surrounding area. The five-track album, including Biafra’s 15-minute opening monologue, is more cool Seattle music artifact than live album masterpiece, with the unruly “Electronic Plantation” — one of two originals — recalling a day when Microsoft was still the top tech villain in town.
The Sonics — “Live at Easy Street”
I was not among the lucky horde crammed into West Seattle’s landmark record shop to see The Sonics, and my life will forever be less cool because of it. But fortunately, the good people at KEXP recorded the Tacoma garage-rock titans’ blazing Record Store Day set in 2015, which doubled as a fundraiser for the station. Generations of Seattle greats jumped onstage with the ’60s cult heroes, including Eddie Vedder, whose band cut a classic “Live at Easy Street” record of their own that became Easy Street’s top-selling album of all time.