21st Century Albums We’d Like to Hear Live in Full

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21st Century Albums We’d Like to Hear Live in Full

Most artists would never think to play one of their entire albums live. For some artists with only one record out, it’s their only option, but they usually don’t adhere to the album’s chronological sequencing. Some groups swear they’d never perform one of their classic albums live in full—only to give in to the pressure later thanks to the promise of a big payday. Some artists have no problem with the idea to begin with, and they shamelessly immerse their fans in their wildest dreams. Primal Scream performed their 1991 gospel-rock masterpiece Screamadelica in full for its 20th anniversary and released it as a live album and DVD. Patti Smith performed her famous 1975 album, Horses, back in 2005. Pink Floyd performed psych-rock concept albums like The Dark Side of The Moon, The Wall and others multiple times. Recently, Death Cab For Cutie performed their 2003 album, Transatlanticism, in Chicago to celebrate its 15th anniversary. To indulge in our own live concert fantasies, Paste came up with 10 albums from the new millennium we’d love to witness live from start to finish—as the artists originally imagined them in the studio.

1. Phoenix: Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
French alternative rockers Phoenix have never sounded more cohesive, anthemic and consistent than on 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Every track is worthy of career-defining, fan favorite status—even the two part instrumental, “Love Like A Sunset.” Sure, songs like “Lisztomania” and “1901” were the album’s biggest hits and two of the best alt-rock songs of the decade, but songs like “Girlfriend,” “Armistice,” “Lasso” and “Countdown” are equally infectious. Their present-day headline set already features a good chunk of this record, but I’d love to hear the record in full because, from front to back, this record crystallizes Thomas Mars and co.’s stunning electro-pop synths, spring-loaded guitars and Mar’s soaring Euro indie-pop vocals. Bridging the gap between new wave, synth-pop and alternative rock, this record crams so many slick, seductive, glistening pop hooks in 37 minutes that it’s almost unbelievable. —Lizzie Manno

2. Frank Ocean: Blonde

Catching Frank Ocean live is a rare occurrence in itself, so his playing through the entirety of his 2016 masterpiece Blonde would really be a miracle of biblical proportions. But we can dream, right? Ocean actually went three years without performing live, only to appear at Denmark’s NorthSide Music Festival in June 2017 (right after cancelling his scheduled sets at Hangout, Sasquatch! and Primavera Sound). Then, he headlined New York’s Panorama Festival, where he brought (Sandy) Alex G on stage with him to play guitar and delivered a much pined-for 20-song set (and wore that t-shirt). He didn’t play every song on Blonde, but he certainly covered a lot of ground, treating a massive festival audience to the likes of “Solo,” “Self Control,” “Ivy,” “Nikes” and “Nights.” Many folks would argue Ocean’s 2012 debut, Channel Orange, is his actual masterpiece (and it is brilliant), but there’s no denying Blonde is an epic, and that night at Panorama he proved he can produce stunning live renditions of even its most vulnerable tracks, despite regularly choosing not to. Live or not, Blonde is an album designed to be heard in full. It’s one of those records where the transitions are as important as the songs, the narrative as vital to its flow as the beats. —Ellen Johnson

3. Angel Olsen: My Woman
In 2016, Angel Olsen ditched her humble folk singer roots for a more ambitious, breathy, retro rock opus, My Woman. Few could have predicted the same singer of the somber lo-fi folk track, “White Fire” would go on to write and perform the ballsy, alluring, boisterous “Shut Up Kiss Me.” Her haunting vibrato vocals hit the bullseye of vulnerability, love and heartbreak in such dead-on fashion that other singers aiming to do the same might as well start taking notes. Her vocal versatility is on display with the flowing pop elegance of “Never Be Mine,” the relaxed jazz-tinged reflections of “Those Were The Days” and ghostly rock sketches of “Not Gonna Kill You.” Angel Olsen’s seductive, woozy croon takes cues from Sharon Van Etten while her soul-baring songwriting is worthy of a Joni Mitchell namedrop. The album was recorded with a live band, and the energy they capture is transfixing with their occasional minor blemishes bravely left on display. While the dark folk soliloquies of her earlier work have their own place, My Woman is her boldest work and would be perfect in a live, evening setting. —Lizzie Manno

4. Radiohead: Kid A
Radiohead’s discography has been the subject of nerdy, elitist in-fighting via fan forums and social media for many years now, but 2000’s Kid A has received just as many appeals for the title of Radiohead’s career-defining work as 1997’s OK Computer. While OK Computer is nearly flawless, it has much clearer sightlines to their past than Kid A—a radical departure and artistic breakthrough that many alternative rock bands dream of, but never successfully pull off. The seeds were sown in the textured soundscapes of OK Computer, but they’re not fully harvested in such lofty fashion until the experimental sonics of Kid A. With some outlets hailing it as the greatest album of the ‘00s, Kid A doesn’t have your typical standout radio singles. On paper, its majestic, flickering brass and strings should clash with their progressive art-rock synths and drum machines in a harsh manner—though it does sound discordant at times—but what’s fascinating is how seamlessly they’re able to fuse their contemporary electronic and post-rock influences with retro krautrock, art-rock and jazz influences. The album’s lyrics might seem like the mish-mash musings of a madman, but their strikingly dark ambiance and almost genre-less sound would be a transcendent experience to witness live. —Lizzie Manno

5. The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow

It may have been The Shins’ 2001 debut album, Oh, Inverted World, that gave us this century’s most persistent indie rock earworm, “New Slang,” but it’s their sophomore effort, 2004’s Chutes Too Narrow, that feels the most concert-ready. It’s 10 songs long (the ideal album length, right?) and awash with clever, easy-to-love rock songs. There’s no record of The Shins ever playing an album live in full, but Chutes Too Narrow seems perfectly primed for a sequential performance, perhaps at an outdoor amphitheater offering ample craft beer choices (my picks: Ascend in Nashville and a Jackalope IPA. James Mercer, if you’re reading this, please make this happen?). Chutes Too Narrow is equal parts head-banger’s dream album and toe-tapper’s fantasy, a winning formula for any rock music being performed live. And the triumphant “Woo!” on “Kissing the Lipless” already makes for a killer album opener—imagine it as a set opener. —Ellen Johnson

6. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar certainly made a name for himself with 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, but his 2015 album, To Pimp a Butterfly felt like the moment he was sculpted into the modern hip-hop Mount Rushmore. The album was hailed as an instant classic as Lamar defied expectations by making a record that incorporated avant-garde jazz, funk, soul and spoken-word instead of just straight-up rap and hip-hop. Another reason for its immense attention and acclaim was its timely subject matters. The album’s no-holds barred depiction of the plight of modern-day African-Americans and the systemic racism that still pervades all aspects of American life are vigorous and raw. “For Free? – Interlude” features George Clinton and Thundercat with swift bebop instrumentation while “Hood Politics” melds the boom-bap percussion of classic hip-hop with an unapologetic celebration of African heritage. “Alright” became the album’s biggest hit as it was also championed by the Black Lives Matter movement for its optimistic, resilient outlook on race despite its clear condemnation of the American justice system. The track’s breezy jazz-rap instrumentals, jittery beats and racially-charged message make it one of the defining tracks of the decade, and this album will likely be cited as an influence for decades to come. —Lizzie Manno

7. SZA: Ctrl

SZA’s Ctrl is only 18-months-old, but it has already earned its place as one of the best records from this decade to come out of R&B and hip hop’s ever-evolving crossover (or maybe just one of the best albums this decade, period). Similar to Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Ctrl includes several standalone hits, but it’s best experienced in full. Solána Imani Rowe, a.k.a. SZA, splices the record’s 14 tracks with interludes excerpted from phone calls with her mom and grandmother, which only strengthen Ctrl’s affecting narrative. SZA navigates insecurities (“Prom”), female sexuality (“Doves In The Wind), parties (“Drew Barrymore”), her 20s (“20 Something”) and relationships (“Supermodel”) in what feels like a musical autobiography. But while Ctrl is SZA’s story, it’s readily relatable. SZA does what all great storytellers do: She makes the personal feel universal. Earlier this year, SZA suffered severe damage to her vocal cords, causing her to miss several shows, but, thankfully, she has made a full recovery. While it’s not likely that SZA will play the entirety of her genius full-length debut at any of her upcoming dates, her jubilant live show is not to be missed. —Ellen Johnson

8. The Strokes: Is This It
Though an argument can be made for 2003’s Room on Fire, The Strokes never encapsulated the youthful grit of downtown New York City quite like on their debut album, Is This It. Ranging from the bleak nature of modernity and the hard and fast life of sex, drugs and excess, the album chronicles the lives of misfits and musicians living in urban America in the early ‘00s. Though they’d deny consciously channeling New York City’s storied underground rock bands, frontman Julian Casablancas’ displays a ramshackle garage rock spirit via Lou Reed as guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi’s twin guitar interplay with heavy use of staccato and upstroke mimicks Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. “Last Nite” sees the band at their most gravelly while the hopeful, instantaneous “Someday” has been forever cemented into the setlists of alt-rock DJ nights and karaoke. The simplicity, repetition and catchiness of the guitar riffs and basslines meant that Is This It literally educated a whole generation of future bands. Though The Strokes’ future is blurry due to their onslaught of side projects, this record is arguably the defining rock record of the ‘00s and would be spine-tingling to hear live in its entirety. —Lizzie Manno

9. Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls

When Athens, Alabama’s own Alabama Shakes released their excellent debut Boys & Girls in 2012, rock music started to sound a little different. If the Shakes were 21st century rock’s next big thing, then rock was sludgier, twangier and, well, better. Just years before Boys & Girls’s release, the band was frequenting smoky local clubs and Alabama college bars. After 2012, they racked up a ton of critical acclaim, two Grammy nominations (including one for Best New Artist), and even more awards after releasing 2015’s Sound & Color. The latter is just as stunning, but it’s on their full-length debut where Alabama Shakes first began to push blues music’s limits. From the driving “Hang Loose” to the ardent “I Ain’t The Same,” Boys & Girls is blistering and rootsy, and it would make for an impassioned theatrical performance. Plus, lead singer Brittany Howard hollers with a blazing bellow unlike any other, especially on opening track “Hold On.” Perhaps Alabama Shakes aren’t quite to the point in their career where playing an album in full would feel necessary, but, then again, the Shakes were never like anyone else in their rise to fame. If they ever do play Boys & Girls from start to finish, though, I have one locational suggestion: a grimy, smoky canteen somewhere in the heart of Alabama. —Ellen Johnson

10. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

At times, Courtney Barnett’s second studio album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, sounds like an enlivened, wordy manifesto. Other times, it’s achingly melodic. But it’s always engrossing. We already knew Courtney Barnett was a skilled songwriter when she released The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas in 2014, but she climbed to sharp new levels of wit and observation on 2015’s Sometimes. Barnett delivers the album’s 11 songs like short stories, never skimping on the literary elements: Satire, irony and alliteration abound. As on “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go the Party” when she sings, “You say ‘You sleep when you’re dead’/ I’m scared I’ll die in my sleep,” Barnett can transform the everyday mundane into hilarity. Then, she packs the emotional punch on “Depreston,” a song with no chorus about shopping for a house in the suburbs that’s really also about death. Courtney Barnett juggles varying emotions, and she does it all while cranking out righteous guitar music, a great combo for a live show. I imagine Barnett’s playing this album live in full would resemble spoken-word-poetry-meets-jam-band-concert, which sounds pretty great to me. —Ellen Johnson

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