Even though I don't make it out to nearly as many live shows as I used to, the live music experience is still key to my enjoyment. Here's ten live releases from 2015 that spent a lot of time filling my ears.
10. Drive-By Truckers - It's Great To Be Alive! (ATO Records)
Although this is the band's fourth live release and that we're several years past the band's "classic" line-up, this seems like what may stand up as the definitive live document for this killer band. It's three discs long and draws from the band's entire discography, giving a great taste of their deep catalog and how the songs are brought to life on the stage.
9. Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks Volume 15 (Rhino)
After years of watching from the sidelines, 2015 was the first time I'd been able to take part in the Dave's Picks series as I ordered the last two volumes of the year from the band's site. Volume 15 features a show from Nashville back in 1978, near the end of the Godchaux era line-up. Though it lacks many of the obvious jam vehicle highlights (no "Dark Star", no "China > Rider"), the set more than makes up for it through a great "Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World" and a lovely "Wharf Rat".
8. Jack DeJohnette - Made In Chicago (ECM)
Recorded at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2013, this set captures DeJohnette in a reunion of sorts with some of his old AACM cohorts - Muhal Richard Abrams, Larry Gray, Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill. It's a wide ranging set that is both electrifying and lovely, a terrific document of legendary jazz artists. Good on ECM for making the set available to a wider audience.
7. Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Betty's Blends Vol. 2: Best from the West (Silver Arrow)
I've become a big fan of these guys over the past few years, appreciating the band's cosmic R&B funk take on the jam band scene. This set captures seven songs from the band's summer 2014 West Coast run, kicking off with their second set jam vehicle, "Vibration Light Suite". The Betty in the title is Betty Cantor-Jackson, the legendary archivist for none other than the Grateful Dead. She brings her great ear to the CRB, with grand results.
6. Ty Segall Band - Live in San Francisco (Castle Face)
Castle Face's ongoing live series that documents their bands live in San Francisco has been a blessing, continued here capturing Ty Segall and his band in a raucous set at The Rickshaw Shop. The set is heavy on 2011's Slaughterhouse, though one of the set's highlights is the chooglin' take on "Feel" from his Manipulator album. If, like me, you've yet to been able to get out to see a live Ty Segall show, this is probably your best next bet.
5. Neil Young & The Bluenotes - Bluenote Cafe (Reprise)
Even if we never do actually see Archives, Volume 2, I'm thankful that Neil's camp at least continues to dribble out occasional entries in the Archives Performance Series. This set is drawn from the tour following 1988's This Note's For You - not typically thought to be a career highlight. But this set reveals that while the album may have disappointed, the live configuration was pretty damn tight. There are plenty of highlights, but disc two is the bee knee's for me, culminating in a twenty-minute take on "Tonight's the Night".
4. Grateful Dead - Dave's Picks Volume 16 (Rhino)
For the last entry in 2015, Dave reaches back in the vaults for a show from March 1973 - when the band was fresh off the career highs of the 1972 European and late summer tours. As I expected to it going in, the half-hour "Dark Star" that led into "Eyes of the World" and a wonderful "Playing in the Band" was the highlight, but the entire show is a worthy addition to the collection of any Deadhead.
3. Phish - Amsterdam (JEMP)
We didn't get a Phish archival physical release in 2014, so I was pleased when it was announced that June was going to bring us an eight-disc box set comprised of three nights at the Paradiso in Amsterdam during the winter and summer of 1997. That year was a killer one in general for the band, these shows are among the peaks of a peak year. There are plenty of highlights spread over the three nights, including a gorgeous "Ghost" and a half-hour "Stash".
2. Grateful Dead - 30 Trips Around the Sun: The Definitive Live Story (Rhino)
The Dead celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2015, highlighted by some reunion shows that brought Trey Anastasio in to stand in for Jerry Garcia and some archival looks back into the past. I wish I'd had the spare $700 sitting around to get the massive 80-disc porch crusher that contained one entire live show for all thirty years of their touring career. Instead, I had to settle for this four-disc distillation that pulled one song from each of those shows. It's still an incredible trip through the band's history and showing the evolution of the group's sound through new members and new technology.
1. The Velvet Underground - The Complete Matrix Tapes (Universal)
As great as the Re-Loaded box set was, this four-disc set was the true holy grail of 2015 for Velvet Underground fans. The collects material from the band's two night stint at San Francisco's The Matrix in November of 1969. At this point, the band had released their self-titled album back in March and were working on what would become Loaded the following year. As you might expect, the band presents the material is sometimes drastically different form from what they'd had been, or would be, in their studio configurations. An absolute treasure trove of material from a legendary band at their absolute peak.