What It Is
The folks from NPR’s music department capture artists live in concert and release the recordings.
Sometimes the sound quality on this show is pretty bad; other times it’s great. I’m not really sure why that is, but whatever. There used to be a lot of video episodes to this podcast, so you could see the concert as well, but they haven’t released any of those in a few years; still in the archive though. The iTunes archive has 300 episodes and goes back to 2009. Release schedule is unpredictable; the NPR folks might go to some music festival or other and release a handful of episodes over a week or they might go a while without releasing any. This year, for instance, they didn’t release any episodes between April 4th & July 29th, but then just last week, they dropped three new episodes. Episodes range anywhere from forty-five minutes to a couple of hours.
What About It
This is an awesome idea for a show and the fact that it exists is kind of testament to the wealth of the Internet age. I would venture to say that the iTunes archive contains a good 450 hours of live music that you can just download for free. Just right now. You can just go and download 450 hours of live music from great bands of all different genres. Just a couple of decades ago, people were still trading tapes, guys. This is RIDICULOUS.
That said, I wish the sound quality was more consistent. This is looking a gift horse in the mouth, but some of these recordings aren’t any better than the crappy old bootlegs you’d get on a cassette and you’d think these would be better, being officially approved recordings by the musicians, recorded by the folks from one of the most cutting edge radio companies in the country. And, you know, it’s just true: some concerts are better than others. Some of these episodes obviously caught whoever the artist is on an off night. But this show has an indie rock slant to some degree, but you’ll find R&B, electronic, country, soul, jazz, etc. as well in the archive. And big names too. It’s a show that could be better, certainly, but it’s more than worth your time.
You can’t go to concerts because of a broken leg, but you need music to distract you from the guy murdering people in the apartment opposite you.
Avoid Like the Plague If
You don’t live for the applause plause.
Best Entry Point
I’ll just toss you my favorite episode; I haven’t heard anywhere near the entire archive, of course, but I’m going to recommend Mavis Staples at the Newport Folk Festival 2014. The gospel/soul legend is celebrating her SEVENTY-FIFTH birthday at this concert, but she screams, howls, bellows and weeps for a solid ninety minutes without a break, wailing her way through old gospel standards, classics of the civil rights era and her back catalogue, all at a frenzied, break-neck pace. It’s one of the most amazing vocal performances I’ve ever heard when you remember this woman is seventy-five. And there’s an endearing bit of stage business where one of her backup singers tries to get her to at least sit down for a song or two. But, no, Mavis is on her feet for the duration. What a show.