There are a few live albums that I treasure: B.B. King’s Live at the Regal, 1969: Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed, Neil Young’s Time Fades Away and Live Rust, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Live!, Ramones, It’s Alive, pretty much any live Bruce Springsteen albums, The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East, James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, Otis Redding’s Live in Europe, and I'm sure I'm forgetting something. But mostly, I find live albums to be useful as a souvenir of a show I might have attended, but otherwise I prefer studio recordings. (This isn’t to say I prefer studio recordings to live performances, just that a lot of what makes for a good concert performance can’t be duplicated on record.)
As is well-documented, Sleater-Kinney’s comeback from a long hiatus has been a remarkable success, with the album No Cities to Love as good as any they had released, and with the subsequent tour, of which I saw three shows, showing that if anything, S-K was more powerful than ever. Thus, it’s appropriate that they have finally released their first live album, recorded early in the tour.
There isn’t anything extravagant about the album ... one disc, just over 47 minutes long, only 13 songs, no cover versions. Many, even most, of my favorites are missing. But I have no complaints about the song selection. Four songs from No Cities to Love, four from the last pre-hiatus album, The Woods (arguably their best), and five split across four albums, with “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” the oldest and Dig Me Out the only one of the four with two selections. There are two basic formats live albums take, a career retrospective or a focus on recent material. Live in Paris is largely the latter. It serves as further evidence that Sleater-Kinney is not yet in decline ... the “later” songs are just as good as the older ones.
It’s nice to have a decent mix ... there is a lot of S-K live on YouTube, but too much of it is audience recordings. What makes the album work is what makes their concerts work, indeed, what makes everything they do work. Corin is a great singer, Carrie is a charismatic and idiosyncratic guitarist and singer, Janet is one of the premier living rock drummers, they write great songs, and with all of this, they are somehow still more than the sum of their parts.
The question remains, is Live in Paris a mandatory addition to the catalog? A few of the songs sound better here, everything is at least good, and the song selection is excellent. But, as is generally true with live albums, when I want to hear Sleater-Kinney, I’m more likely to put on The Woods or Dig Me Out than to listen to Live in Paris.
Sub Pop has kindly put the entire album on YouTube:
To show what a good mix can do, here is “Entertain” as it showed up on YouTube the night after the concert, followed by the audio version from Live in Paris. Janet kills it no matter which one you hear.
It's hard to deny the visuals of Carrie, but the latter sure sounds better.