My favorite live performances
I often find myself browsing YouTube watching live performances of artists in their prime playing songs I wish I could have seen in person (though I have seen one of these performed in person...when Chance brought out Kanye at Magnificent Coloring Day in Chicago). Below is a list of some of my personal favorite performances and what is so special about them to me, and why I can't stop watching them over and over.
"WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT" - NIRVANA
In one of my art classes in college, my professor (every class) played the entire Nirvana Unplugged album at least once while we were working. I became obsessed with the whole album, but there's something especially chilling about this last track they performed live on MTV Unplugged. It's a Lead Belly cover of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." The song starts out very calm with an almost monotone delivery, then instantly transitions into Kurt screaming at the top of his lungs (at 3:52) full of raw, chilling emotion. Then the song ends. This is my favorite track from that performance, but the entire setlist is worth watching. It's definitely a favorite album for me.
"BEN" - BILLY GILMAN
I'm not entirely sure how I found this video--it may have been after Michael Jackson passed and I was digging into his music again. But it's one I come back to a lot to rewatch right after the minute mark (1:22) where Billy really belts it out. I especially love the nod of approval from the King himself in the audience throughout this performance.
"(YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE) A NATURAL WOMAN" - ARETHA FRANKLIN
I absolutely love Carole King and her music. I came across this performance after I saw the Carole King Broadway musical, "Beautiful." I think what I like most about Aretha singing is when the camera pans to Carole's face and they show her totally geeking out watching her sing and play the piano (2:44 and 3:12). That's such a true feeling that everyone in an audience can relate to, and it's special and in a way humbling to see a legend (Carole) express that watching another legend (Aretha) perform. It looks like Carole's holding back her tears...and Obama nods at Carole. Oh and the drama of Aretha dropping her fur coat. Such a good performance.
"BE FREE" - J.COLE
I've written about this song on my blog before but here it is again. The song itself is so powerful and to watch him perform it live is even better. Cole used his spot on David Letterman to really say something, not even perform a song off the album that Letterman mentioned before Cole starts spitting. It's an uncomfortable topic and it's national television. You can see a sense of his pain and honesty in his face as his eyes pierce the crowd. "Don't just stand around..."
"ULTRALIGHT BEAM" - KANYE WEST
This is one of my favorite songs for a few reasons. I first heard it with this performance and I was hooked ever since. I love the vocal power of the choir and their movements in the song and of course the Chance cameo. There's also something very "Kanye" about the wardrobe selection. I especially love the Kanye smile at 2:17 and when he starts getting animated during Chance's verse. Kanye "directing" the choreography of the choir is moving, and Ye dropping to the floor at the end while Kirk Franklin talks sacred is very cool to see on something as mainstream as SNL. Also, the entire stage is having a blast at the 4:00 mark. This performance is everything.
"DON'T LET ME DOWN" - THE BEATLES
The Beatles are my favorite band of all time and this is my favorite performance of all time. They look so laid back casually playing on a London rooftop. In retrospect, there's probably some underlying bittersweet feelings of "thank god this will be over soon" as they play together live one final time as The Beatles, but it's the lyrics of the song that really draw me in. They also just look really cool with the wind blowing in their hair and they all look really independent in this performance, beyond ready to take on whatever's next. I guess it's kind of a sad performance but it's one that I can't forget about and am always rewatching. I so would've been in the crowd of people listening from the streets if I was alive in 1969 and had a passport.