Having released album Teens Of Denial earlier this year, Car Seat Headrest, AKA Will Toledo, are now on tour. To celebrate the gig experience they/ he has made us a It’s Better Live playlist of field recordings that "celebrate tracks which sound better live than they do on record".
James Brown – Prisoner Of Love "The single version of this track – a serviceable, anonymous-sounding ballad – can’t hold a candle to JB & The Flames’ live renditions of it. Keeping the band in an unending two-chord loop at the end meant he could sometimes stretch out his dithyrambics for upwards of ten minutes, but the abridged version he took to the TAMI show compacts all his passion into three and a half unforgettable minutes."
Swans – Just A Little Boy "Swans are a special case. Michael Gira and co. have for the past several years been developing a working method that results in very few poor musical decisions. Each time they perform a song, it is a different beast, and the goal is always to groom the new beast properly, rather than make it look like what it used to look like. By the time Just A Little Boy was taken to the studio for the To Be Kind sessions, it had already evolved from the hulking, Jack-Torrance, father-yes-son-I-want-to-kill-you monster they performed at Primavera Sound in 2013 into a sinister, hypnotic, subtler menace. The album version is excellent in its own right - in fact, it’s the first Swans track that really blew my mind. But a part of me will always prefer the sheer intensity of the earlier version."
Pink Floyd – Careful With That Axe, Eugene "There’s a good chance that both versions of Just A Little Boy have their roots here. Even though the best-known album version of Careful With That Axe, Eugene is a live version, the Ummagumma cut is oddly truncated and nonchalant, conveying little of the sweeping majesty and insidious tension that PF were capable of achieving with this track."
Why? – The Teeth Behind Kisses "I don’t believe there is a studio version of this song at all, which is mystifying, because it’s a fantastic cut. Even if there were, though, it’s hard to imagine it topping the carefully-wrought interplay going on between band members here. Chaos on the surface, in this case, means a genius ear for arrangement and a lot of practice."
The Who – Heaven & Hell "I’m not sure there is actually a studio version of this song, so there’s no competition here. It’s strange that Live At Leed’s strongest cut should be an outtake led by John Entwistle, but maybe it makes sense - without the ego-flailings of Paltry or the neurotic weirdness of Townshend taking prominence, the band is actually able to sync up for a killer jam. (Although I’d recommend not watching live videos of this, as the aforementioned flailings and neuroses end up being channeled into an exceedingly off-kilter stage presence)."
Neutral Milk Hotel – Snow Song Pt 1 "A large part of my fanhood for NMH in high school consisted of getting my hands on any bootleg or live recording of the band I could find. Their early live shows exemplified the power of Mangum’s songs as living, growing things - a continuous, present-tense creative act. “Snow Song Pt 1” became particularly redemptive, as the lo-fi mumblings on Everything Is developed into an outright anthem."
R.E.M. – Country Feedback "One of the first R.E.M. albums I got was the In Time 2-disc retrospective. The second disc was a collection of outtakes that included many alternate and/or live versions of songs on earlier albums, and in every single instance, I remember being severely disappointed when I finally heard the version that made the cut. In particular, the version of Country Feedback that appeared on Out Of Time felt almost unlistenably half-assed in comparison with the taught, intense live version that showed up on In Time. I also missed the opening lyrics, a tag Stipe took from another song entirely, improving it immeasurably by deploying it here. I’ve come to see the charms of the album version in the intervening years, but I still think they improved it in time."
Of Montreal – Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse "Another that I heard before hearing the actual album. The version on Hissing Fauna isn’t bad, but the slowed-down tempo here brings a more prominent Bowie flavor to the mix, and I’ll take the Late BP Helium singing 'bum bum bum' into a mic over a synth preset any day. And speaking of Bowie..."
David Bowie – Station To Station "This one probably shouldn’t be on the list, because it starts going downhill from the moment Bowie actually shows up onstage. From there on out it’s a crapshoot, and the album version is undeniably stronger in the latter half. That’s a killer intro though. I never took the opening riff seriously until I heard this version."
Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds "Hey, it’s “Prisoner of Love” all over again: the single version ends in a loop that fades out, how should we play it live? Well, we play it over...and over...and over! And like James Brown, Elvis milks each repetition for all it’s worth. It’s the perfect way to end a set - leave them wanting more, and then give it to them."
Encore: James Brown – Please, Please, Please "Please! Please! Please! Please!"
For more head to Carseatheadrest.bandcamp.com.