Ten Best! Live music downloads on the Internet Music Archive

by Ryan Snyder

Smashing Pumpkins: VPRO Radio Studios; Hilversum, The Netherlands; 6.30.1993

Welcome to one of the greatest sites on the net. is a virtual repository of art and media and features the premier collection of free, legal music online. It’s impossible to create a rock-solid top 10 from the more than 60,000 concerts to be found, but this list should be a good start. This particular Smashing Pumpkins show is one of the many gems to be found. Though only six songs in length, this features many of the greats from the band’s early years in an entirely acoustic performance. The sheer rarity makes it worth a listen for Pumpkins fans and beyond, but the renditions themselves sound amazing.

DJ Logic: Knitting Factory; New York City; 2.7.2002

There’s not a lot of hip hop on the archive and though this is mostly instrumentals and live mixing, it definitely qualifies. Logic is one of the few DJs with enough trade chops to fall into the classic “musician” definition and his skills are on full display here with an amazing list of guests. He’s joined onstage at various times by the likes of John Medeski (keys) and Billy Martin (drums) of Medeski, Martin & Wood; Mike Gordon (bass) of Phish; human beatbox Scratch (the Roots); and eight-string electric guitar master Charlie Hunter in a set of beats, mixes and scratches that will leave your head spinning.

Warren Zevon: Capitol Theatre; Passaic, NJ; 10.1.1982 (listed as 10.22.1982)

If you need hard evidence that MTV used to have a little legitimacy, this is it. This was originally filmed for an episode of “MTV Presents,” but was also broadcast over FM radio with the crystal-clear sound heard here. The band is tight and Warren Zevon is at his slightly deranged best in this concert made during his peak performance years. Even though the internet Music Archive is mostly composed of audience recordings, soundboard sources such as this pop up occasionally. Every file is artist-approved, so you can download guilt-free.

Bonnaroo Superjam: Bonnaroo Music Festival; Manchester, Tenn.; 6.13.2004

I wouldn’t think of including a cover band among a list of great performances, but this also isn’t your ordinary cover band. Legendary bassist George Porter, Jr. (the Meters) was joined by a who’s-who of jazz greats from New Orleans to New York to play a list of funk’s all-time great tracks. Maceo Parker and the New Orleans horns provided the searing brass complement to the heavy grooves laid down by Porter and drum masher Stanton Moore (Galactic). Check out the scorching intro to Sly & the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” by guitarist Eric Krasno (Soulive). Between his licks and the voice of Reggie Watts (Maktub), I get goosebumps with every listen.

Tenacious D: Roseland Theatre; Portland, Ore.; 7.22.2000

One of the great things about the archive is that no matter whom the band is, each and every name appears the same as all the rest. No preferred placement, no bold fonts. Just alphabetical order and Arial regular. While the name Tenacious D should just leap off the page, I actually missed them my first few times through. This particular show, however, does just scream out to be heard. It’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass on the cusp of stardom playing a 36-song set of their best, including “Kielbasa Sausage,” “Rocket Sauce” and “Song of Exultant Joy.” The sound quality is exceptional and the comedy is superb.

Tom Tom Club: Camp Creek; Mariaville, NY; 7.26.2003

James Brown! James Brown! The Talking Heads rhythm section of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth regrouped with a loose collection of outstanding studio musicians in 2003 for a run that would culminate in their Live @ the Clubhouse release. This particular show would include several of the band’s classics like “Wordy Rappinghood” and one of the most sampled songs ever in “Genius of Love.” Check out their cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” if you’re in quick need of a smile on your face.

Ween: Bonnaroo Music Festival; Manchester, Tenn.; 6.13.2004

Another tasty nugget from Bonnaroo’s peak year, this was one of the shows that made the festival’s late-night gigs so legendary. Ween writhed in their own silly madness from midnight to just after 4 a.m. in a psychedelic romp through the best of their catalog. The third disc of the set is especially good as the band’s comic tendencies and self-deprecating nature shines at the wee hours. Dean Ween channels Lemmy Kilmeister on Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” after exploring his death-metal side on “Gonna Be a Long Night.” Gene Ween mercifully ends the insanity with a long, long lounge-dub version of the hysterical “Poopship.”

Death Cab for Cutie: El Rey Theatre; Los Angeles; 3.1.2002

Another great soundboard quality source, this performance comes in Death Cab’s early days (i.e. before they ever had a hit). You will normally find that downloads on the archive are huge and the files are in FLAC format (meaning you should read a FAQ if unfamiliar), you have the option of streaming this one or even embedding it elsewhere.

Soul Coughing: 9:30 Club; Washington, DC; 10.25.1998

Move aside and let the man go through. The band that sprung Mike Doughty’s solo career gives one of their best performances in one of the coolest small venues in the country. Doughty’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics and slam poetry are the hallmark of one of the most intriguing, though short-lived bands of the ’90s. Usually, drum-and-bass oriented bands such as this make for mediocre audience recordings, but not here. The heavy grooves are mixed perfectly and favorites “Super Bon Bon” and “Circles” highlight an exceptional night of music. Like one of the comments on the page says, “If you are a Soul Coughing fan, you’ll love it. If you are not, then God help you.”

Paul Barrere & Fred Tackett: Colony Café and Arts Center; Woodstock, NY; 1.11.2004

This is the kind of performance where audience recordings really shine. Little Feat’s funky brand of Southern and Cajun-inspired rock was given the acoustic treatment by two of its most prominent members when guitarist Paul Barrere and mandolin player Fred Tackett began touring as a duo. This particular show features plenty of their own classics and some nice interpretations of songs from their contemporaries. A stripped-down rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed” is nestled nicely inside of Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” and perfectly demonstrates 30 years’ worth of musical chemistry between the two players. An all-around great listen is capped off with a nod to the Band, with “The Weight” and “Long Black Veil” sandwiched between Feat’s storied “Willin’.”