The 10 Best Live Punk Albums

Live albums. What an utterly pointless crock of shit. They ask you to pay to go to a gig then they ask you again to pay for the album. As our dreadlocked crustie Art Director would say: not very punk, is it? If you want to see a band live, you go to a gig. If you want to listen to an album, you don’t want to hear a half-baked approximation of your fave songs badly recorded in some West Midlands sweatbox with all the acoustic subtlety of a claw hammer playing a sizzle cymbal. Strictly for the record collectors and we all know what Poison Idea said about them.

But people like to pretend they’re worth buying and bands can do more drugs instead of having to work in a studio. Plus, these days it’s arguably preferable to seeing a load of superannuated pensioners parody their best years on the chicken-in-a basket circuit. Although that too can have its advantages.

But punk rock? Really? Let’s be honest: despite his heroism, no one wants to see Wattie have another heart attack on stage.

The Exploited – Live At The White House (1986)

And here’s the mad bastard himself at his near-indecipherable best. Back in 1985, the band played a gig in the US capital, in a function room annexed on the back of the actual White House itself. It’s the area used for press conferences that you see on the TV news during Presidential speeches. No, not really – it was some rathole in downtown Washington. Featuring all The Exploited “classics” (except Maggie, disappointingly), it’s one entire set from a single gig rather than a compilation of tracks recorded at separate venues throughout a tour. Which, of course, is cheating.

Punk bantz: Too much abuse and offence to list here in full. “We’re going to try and do a whole set tonight – for once,” Wattie generously announces to the ticket-paying punters, before the ex-army squaddie himself dedicates Let’s Start A War (And See What Maggie Will Do) to the country of Argentina. “This song’s dedicated to the Queen of England – she’s a fucking wanker”, he declares before launching into God Fucked The Queen. He later dedicates I Hate You to Jello Biafra after claiming to have committed adultery with the wife of the former Dead Kennedys vocalist. Then dismisses Maximum Rock’N’Roll as “fuggin wank”. In short, a win for Scottish diplomacy.

Conflict – Turning Rebellion Into Money (1987)

Titled ironically after the lyric from The Clash’s (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, this double live album was recorded at the band’s infamous 1987 Gathering Of The 5,000 at Brixton Academy. It features Steve Ignorant joining the band who cover a handful of Crass songs as well as gems from the Conflict back catalogue. Despite the ropey sound, it’s anarcho-punk at the height of its notoriety before its implosion. The gig is rife with fighting: an allegory for what spelled the demise of the movement’s momentum – whether it was outside forces or the punks themselves. Conflict frontman Colin Jerwood originally conned his way into booking the venue by posing as a Rough Trade rep. When the venue found out, they assured him the gig would be full of undercover cops. As we now know, at the time, the associated radical political scene was already riddled with them. As much a historical document of the time as a indispensable anarcho-punk live album.

Punk bantz: More documentary than ad-libbing. With heavy irony, during a frantic version of Mighty And Superior, a ruck breaks out in the audience. “Fuckin’ leave him alone!” shouts Colin. “Stop fucking punching and hurting people! You’re supposed to fighting to keep the fuckin’ peace not promoting violence. Listen, let’s show ‘em… they just think we’re a load of arseholes. All we have to do is show them that we’re not. It’s as simple as that. Don’t resort to their tactics. Oi! What was I just saying?”

Descendents – Liveage! (1987)

Released as a full-stop on the Descendents’ career before they ruined their perfect legacy by having the downright audacity to re-form, record new albums and tour for the benefit of younger fans. Tut. Liveage! was recorded during the band’s final 1987 tour prior to Milo’s departure and before the remaining members re-launched as ALL. It’s an ideal Dummies Guide to the Descendents; essentially a compilation of their early career best that captures the band’s irreverence and tomfoolery. Standout versions of Coolidge, Sour Grapes and Hope (plus their cover of The Beach Boys’ Wendy). Meticulously and lovingly produced by perfectionist Bill Stevenson, it flows flawlessly for just under 40 minutes. Both a celebratory farewell and a poignant memorial. They just had to go and ruin it, eh?

Punk bantz: Surprisingly, not a great deal other than the unfortunate qua-qua-qua crew episode during the daft All-O-Gistics. “Why are we doing this?” asks Milo Aukerman, PhD. “Isn’t this ridiculous?” Yes. Yes, it is.

NoMeansNo – Live + Cuddly (1991)

Before recently hanging up their zimmerframes, Canada’s most cerebral old-timers with the world’s greatest rhythm section (yes, I’m including Black Sabbath in that judgement) were the best kept secret on the live punk circuit. Too well-kept evidently, judging by their “permanent hiatus”. Still, if you never got the chance to see NoMeansNo live, relive the glory right here. Like the above album, it’s a great introduction to their career, featuring a joyous selection of cuts from their first four albums. Retirement’s gain is our loss.

Punk bantz: It was a traditional wind-up of guitarist Andy Kerr to deliberately lengthen the pause before the last note of the guitar “solo” that breaks up the furious pace of Two Lips, Two Lungs And One Tongue – despite the audience begging him to make with the bridge, already. “Like duuuude, like, yknow, like, where’s all this hostility coming from, y’know? It’s like you’ve been listening to too many MOD or Stormtroopers Of Death record, you know?” Rob Wright: “Let’s take a vote – how many people think he should finish the solo? Too bad, this is not a democracy – fuck you.”

MDC – Elvis In The Rheinland: Live In Berlin 1988 (1989)

Worth the admission price alone for Dave Dictor’s righteous blistering takedown of That Asshole who always ruins the gig for everyone else. Recorded in 1988 in Berlin, America’s best hardcore anarcho punks perform a set that concentrates on their late 80s output. It includes perennial MDC live highlights: a frenetically-paced Chicken Squawk, No More Cops, a funk-laden Chock Full Of Shit and of course, the 12-second standard, Henry Kissmyassinger.


The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Live From The Middle East (1998)

Ska punk. Not exactly the most popular of genres these days with anyone over the age of 11. But The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – the genre’s last gasp of credibility – were a live force to be reckoned with. Danceable tunes, sartorial style and downright good ol’ fashioned entertainment with the best horn section outside of The Specials. This broad collection encompasses MMB’s top career moments – including that shocking US No.1 single incident. Recorded at the band’s annual festive ‘Hometown Throwdown’ in their native Boston at the Middle East (the name of a venue, not the actual Middle East – TeamRock Geography Ed). These throwdowns were annual Boston band festivals headlined by MMB and by all accounts, were the stuff of moshpit chaos legend.

Punk bantz: “Who wants us to do Dr. D?” asks frontman Dicky Barrett, referencing an all-time MMB live favourite. “You want the old way or the new way? Old way? New way? Old way, Joe. We’ll do the old way if you can scream loud enough to impress Joe Gittleman the bass fiddleman.”

Neurosis – Live At Roadburn 2007 (2010)

Out of all the bands on this list still performing, if you only see one of them live, see this one. Pure mastery of the art. Neurosis bridge the gap between hardcore punk and progressive metal. A Neurosis live album is therefore something you should only own before seeing them if you have no way of seeing them. If you don’t own any Neurosis at all, start with Souls At Zero (hardcore punk era) and Through Silver In Blood (progressive metal era). Neurosis have released three live albums but this double is their most accessible (erm, or as accessible as they get – but please do persevere). Thoroughly emblematic of their mighty crushing live power. Kneel before them.

Punk bantz: Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.

The Cramps – Smell Of Female (1983)

The garage punk psychobilly quartet had an interesting live history. In 1978 they drove the full 3,000 mile width of the USA from New York to California’s Napa to play a free gig for patients at a mental hospital.

Smell Of Female was their first live (mini) album, recorded in New York’s Peppermint Lounge. It sounds like a tiny 1920s speakeasy. One of those smoky clubs with a tiny stage surrounded by people sitting at circular tables sipping Martinis. The sound of limited and constrained audience acclaim doesn’t do much to dissuade you such a notion. Brief in duration but still packed with choice seductive and corrupting Cramps: Thee Most Exalted Potentate Of Love, You Got Good Taste, I Ain’t Nuthin But A Gorehound. The studio version of Surfin’ Dead was tacked on the end of later versions of the release. It was recorded especially as a one-off for 1985 cheeseball zom-com flick The Return Of The Living Dead – therefore orphaned from any Cramps studio albums.

Punk bantz: “This one’s dedicated to all you Gucci bag carriers out there – it’s called You Got Good Taste!”

Black Flag – Who’s Got The 10 12? (1986)

During their original lifespan, punk rock’s most consistently over-rated band only ever released two live albums (let’s agree to disregard the live elements on Family Man). Despite some overlap from the Slip It In/My War era, Live ‘84 featured tracks from early era Flag, whilst Who’s Got The 10 12? was released the year later, featuring more of the commercially mainstream output from Black Flag’s final albums (let’s agree to disregard 2013’s What The…). But let’s be kind too. Bear in mind four out of five Black Flag studio albums (and one EP) were all released within a single 19-month period. So what does all this slightly tedious historical Flag data suggest? An absolute pissload of gigs in a very short space of time, that’s what, chowderhead. Hence the band’s commendable live performances. They honed their craft in the same time that other bands could take a decade to achieve. The line-up for 10 12 is the same as on Live ’84 except for Anthony Martinez replacing Bill Stevenson on drums. You can hear the treadmarks of roadburn beginning to show; Kira – arguably Flag’s most competent bassist – was sacked before the end of the same year. The album title is based on Rollins’ ad-lib talking/singing during the extended medley of Slip It In/Gimme Gimme Gimme. Following some crude double entendres, he decides to introduce the band according to cock sizes…

Punk bantz: “Kira’s got the 10 and a half! Kira’s got the 10 and a half! When you bend over and let Kira come over, she’ll make you scream! She’ll give you a hard time that you would not even dream!” A bit misogynistic? Sexual tension? (Henry and Kira dated before she joined the band.) Or perhaps it’s just that idiosyncratic Rollins humour… “This is our new song, it’s about drinking and driving so we called it Drinking And Driving.” LOL, right?

NOFX – I Heard They Suck Live (1995)

The worst punk band in existence (except for Green Day who aren’t really a punk band, so the worst, period) take a break from recording the same album for the duration of their career to release an album of material up to and including Punk In Drublic. As a cash-in on the mildly successful Punk In Drublic itself. ONLY KIDDING! Truth is, NOFX live are incredibly tight. Tighter than a camel’s ass in a sandstorm. So tight you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between their buttocks. Linoleum would be almost indistinguishable from the album version if it wasn’t for Fatty ad-libbing lyric changes.

Punk bantz: Funny voices! Wackiness! Talking about drugs! Pretending to be drunk! Swearing! If your parents sat down and were asked to come up with a blueprint for a controversial punk band, the clichéd result would be NOFX. Oh dear, we’re doing it again! Still – punk innit? Oi, Oi, up the punx! No, fuck you.

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Alex Burrows

A regular contributor to Louder/Classic Rock and The Quietus, Burrows began his career in 1979 with a joke published in Whizzer & Chips. In the early 1990s he self-published a punk/comics zine, then later worked for Cycling Plus, Redline, MXUK, MP3, Computer Music, Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazines. He co-wrote Anarchy In the UK: The Stories Behind the Anthems of Punk with the late, great Steven Wells and adapted gothic era literature into graphic novels. He also had a joke published in Viz. He currently works in creative solutions, lives in rural Oxfordshire and plays the drums badly.