10 Must-Hear Live Rock Albums

From Cheap Trick to Sleater-Kinney, here are 10 essential rock LPs for live music lovers.

Written by Emilee Lindner • February 17, 2017

Sleater-Kinney - Live in Paris (2017)

After the trio’s celebrated comeback No Cities to Love dropped, Sleater-Kinney went on a sold-out tour to support the album, and Live in Paris was recorded in, you guessed it, the City of Lights. The crystal-clear album put a spotlight on their newer tracks while offering up major love for their older hits. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss (and touring member Katie Harkin) tore through fight songs with an aggressive gusto that highlights their rawness and celebrates their growth as a band.

Metallica - S&M (1999)

Metallica’s known for their gritty, head-spinning metal, but the foursome got cinematic with the help of orchestral genius Michael Kamen, who rearranged some of the band’s most famous hits—”Master of Puppets,” “Enter Sandman” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” all get makeovers—for the San Francisco Symphony. Surprisingly enough, Metallica’s distorted guitars chugged along fittingly between swelling strings and menacing bells, making them just another instrument in the orchestra (in fact, you don’t even hear James Hetfield’s voice until 13 minutes into the album.) Metal purists: beware of S&M. But if you aren’t down with the drama of face-melting guitar solos and vein-bursting vocals in the first place, then you probably aren’t ready for the little injected drama of a king-sized orchestra. Ready to experience Metallica live? They're on the road for a good chunk of 2017; get your tickets at LiveNation.com.

Heart - The Road Home (1995)

While Heart’s The Road Home was recorded at an unplugged show in their native Seattle, the acoustic live album doesn’t lose any of the electricity the sisterly act has been known to harness. Their third live album was produced by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and features all your faves — don’t worry, “Crazy On You,” “Barracuda” and “These Dreams” all made the cut. Instrumentation for the songs span from string arrangements to mandolins to piano to an oboe solo — not to mention some fierce acoustic guitar and the most important instrument: the Wilson's vocal harmonies! The Road Home also featured covers of songs by The Everly Brothers, Joni Mitchell and Elton John.

Cheap Trick - At Budokan (1978)

You’ll see Cheap Trick’s At Budokan album on way more lists than this one. Not only does it appear in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, but it also charted pretty high on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 4 in the U.S. But success in the U.S. isn’t why At Budokan exists. In fact, the album was recorded in Japan, where the band saw early fame. It was released in that country a year before it was released in the States, gaining traction overseas first. The Cheap Trick classic “I Want You To Want Me” was the album’s breakout, along with their cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame.” And if you didn’t know about the album’s epicness before, pop this bad boy into your earholes and listen to all the screaming fans do the work for you. Want to see them live for yourself? Get tickets here.

Evanescence - Anywhere but Home (2004)

You don’t have to be a metalhead to appreciate Amy Lee’s malleable vocals. The Evanescence frontwoman is known for her smooth and foreboding voice (not to mention that RANGE), and onstage, she doesn’t miss a note. In fact, if you listen to the band’s 2004 live album Anywhere but Home, you’ll hear a whole new side to Lee’s crooning — that evil, growling she can summon, like a Dr. Jekyll to her usual soaring vocals. The live album was recorded at Le Zénith in Paris in support of the album, Fallen, from which they played everything except “Hello.” Fans ate up the accompanying bonuses of the CD and DVD, which included new tracks “Missing,” “Breathe No More” and “Farther Away.” If you need to get in touch with your heart through Lee’s gut-wrenching lyrics and still get your hardcore rock on, Anywhere but Home is perfect for imagining you were in that Paris crowd, headbanging passionately along.

Joni Mitchell - Miles of Aisles (1974)

Usually not one to rehash her hits, Joni Mitchell included her most iconic songs on her first live album, which was recorded in three places: The Universal Amphitheatre, Los Angeles Music Center and Berkeley Community Center. “A Case of You,” “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock” all appear on Miles of Aisles, recorded after the release of her biggest commercial success, Court and Spark. Mitchell performed the songs with her Court and Spark backing band, the L.A. Express, a jazz group that expertly interpreted her tunes. It was her first time touring with people playing behind her, and somehow it’s still so easy to just block them all out and get mesmerized by that one-of-a-kind storytelling.

Nirvana - MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)

Iconic episode of MTV’s Unplugged turned iconic live album! The album, certified five times platinum in the U.S. alone, was recorded at Sony Music Studios in 1993, much to the hesitation of Kurt Cobain. Although the songs were supposed to be played without any electric instruments, Cobain’s acoustic guitar was fed through his Fender amp with extra pedals involved. Much to the disdain of MTV producers, members of the Meat Puppets joined the band on stage, and along with performing Nirvana classics like “Come As You Are” and “Dumb,” they busted out covers of David Bowie, The Vaselines and Lead Belly. Unplugged in New York was the first album to be released after Cobain’s death, making it even more precious for fans.

The Who - Live at Leeds (1970)

By 1970, The Who had already released the sprawling Tommy, and Pete Townsend was working on the a rock opera follow up, Lifehouse. Knowing this makes the release of Live at Leeds fairly unexpected. They cut their 33-song set down to six — ditching every one of the 19 Tommy songs played in favor of three older Who jams and three covers. While the entirety of the 1970 Valentine’s Day show in Leeds eventually got released (and it is great), the original LP tracklist is just about perfect. There’s no rock opera arc to follow — nothing except what sounds like the world’s tightest live band. They teeter between perfectly in sync and out of control, with Keith Moon’s drumming pushing each song closer to the latter. It’s everything you could want in a live rock record.  

The Allman Brothers - At Fillmore East (1971)

The Allman Brothers’ most successful album didn’t come from any sort of studio session—it came from New York’s Fillmore East. When the band was gaining more recognition from their live shows than their recording, they decided to capture the magic in this live album, which often gets cited as one of the best live recordings of all time. At Fillmore East was originally released as a four-sided album, which included covers of Blind Willie McTell, T-Bone Walker and Willie Cobbs. The whole production ends with the epic 23-minute jam-band bible, “Whipping Post," which will have you feeling some type of way.

Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band - Live 1975-85

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band dig deep into their catalog for their legendary three-hour-plus sets, and nowhere is their dedication to live music epitomized better than on Live 1975-85. The five-LP/three-CD box set opens with Springsteen at the piano doing a solo rendition of “Thunder Road.” It’s beautiful, but track 2 gives the baptism-by-fire of a real Springsteen show: the hum of distortion and Bruce counting off “ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR,” before the band kicks into “Adam Raised a Cain.” Live 1975-85 is full of highlights: covers (“War,” “Jersey Girl”) and fan favorites that previously hadn't seen an official Springsteen release (“Because the Night,” “Fire”). There are also adlibs and stories from the Boss, and just about every early Springsteen song you could want. Clocking in at three and a half hours, it’s the full E Street experience on record.

(Photo by Getty Images)