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Five Standout Live Videos on Youtube

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The Internet has put a premium on great live performers. Ever since the three hit combo of file sharing, digital sales, and streaming knocked the music industry on its ass, having a strong live presence is essential for any band trying to make a career for themselves. When your fans can sit at home and binge your entire discography on YouTube in their underwear for free, you better bring it on stage if you want them to shell out for tickets, gas, and drinks at the local rock club. Great live shows can turn strangers into fans and casual listeners into diehards. Conversely, if a band lays an egg on stage, you might never be able to listen to their records the same way.

Somewhat counterintuitively, the Internet (YouTube in particular) rewards acts that have honed their live chops. Say, for instance, the aforementioned bedroom-dwelling fan lives in a city that touring bands often skip, and maybe said bands don’t have the funds to offer high-quality live recordings on a regular basis. What’s a metal fan in their undergarments to do? YouTube’s vast wealth of live footage is here to help. Whether it’s grainy handheld footage or sweeping festival crane shots, a compelling live video can be just as memorable and essential a part of a band’s legacy as a catchy single or breakthrough album. Watching a great live performance is like witnessing a lightning bolt strike the ground in front of you. Here are five live videos that put that lightning in a bottle for the world to enjoy.

— Ian Cory

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As someone too young to have caught Neurosis at Ozzfest 1996 in person, I’ve always found their inclusion on the bill a bit baffling. Sure they were a rising metal band that had just hit their creative peak, but they were also an exceedingly weird bunch by ’96 standards. Their use of electronic programming and emphasis on percussion may have made them superficially similar to the alt metal scene that was in vogue at the time, but Neurosis had no interest in making you jump the fuck up. Quite the opposite, if this performance of “Locust Star” from that tour is any indication; they were there to reign down on you.

Instead of shrinking from the big stage or keeping the mallrat audience at arm’s length, Neurosis came out to fucking destroy. As the song winds up to its explosive first verse, the band stalk the stage like boxers in the ring before a fight. Once the bell rings, all hell breaks loose. Keyboardist Noah Landis slams his balled fists on a sampler while singer and guitarist Steve Von Till buckles down as if the weight of the music is pushing him to the floor. However, the real winner of the Ozzfest “Locust Star” video is bassist and part time Krallice collaborator Dave Edwardson. Not only does the live setting allow for his basslines to pop out from the murk of Through Silver In Blood’s layered production, but dude comes out swinging for the song’s final verse. Von Till and Scott Kelly sound like men possessed on the mic, but Edwardson sounds like the beast possessing them. It’s impossible to calculate, but I’d wager that a sizeable chunk of the crowd that begs for more Edwardson vocals with each new Neurosis record do so because of this video.

— Ian Cory

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Devin Townsend inspires remarkable devotion from his true believers, but can be something of an acquired taste for the rest of us. Unquestionably a talented musician and one of the best pure vocalists in all of metal, the more clownish aspects of his musical persona (e.g. the Ziltoid stuff) can seriously grate on the nerves. When he wants to, though, he can write songs that hit the listener right in the feels. Case in point: “Life” from 1997’s Ocean Machine: Biomech. With a lyrical sentiment (basically, that existence is fleeting) so simple that it borders on the contrived, Hevy Devy nevertheless manages to imbue the track with an ebullience that saves it from what could have otherwise been a mawkish fate. In live performances, like this one from the 2010 edition of Tuska Open Air Metal Fest, the song transforms into something transcendent and life-affirming.

— Clayton Michaels

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It’s hard to overstate just how wonderful it was to be a thrash fan throughout the 2000s. The number of bloodthirsty releases from the old guard in this time seemed endless, with the likes of Death Magnetic, Endgame, and Ironbound proving that the veterans were back and hungry for blood. Exodus were at the forefront of this wave, attacking small clubs with regular ferocity and frequently pumping out new material that pushed the boundaries of their sound.

On February 4th, 2012, Exodus’s original lineup reunited after 30 years at a memorial show for Paul Baloff, their first lead singer. Kirk Hammett and original bassist Jeff Andrews rejoined the founding fathers of thrash on stage for a rendition of “Whipping Queen” from their first demo. Hammett and guitarist Gary Holt spend the first half of the song facing each other, slowly headbanging and becoming more and more comfortable. Their nerves were palpable while Andrews zipped about, reclaiming his long-forgotten role with glee. The three finally lined up side-by-side for Holt and Hammett’s harmonized solo; it’s a moment that most would find cheesy, but that only seemed sweet and well-earned here.

This performance saw thrash metal coming full circle, and it ultimately kicked off the genre’s slow ride into the sunset. The grandmasters are no longer trying to outdo each other, but now put out respectable records like Dystopia, Blood In Blood Out, and Hardwired. The shows are no longer muscle-flexing exhibitions but greatest hits affairs where fans walk away content, though not blown away. By tying up the loose ends in their history, Exodus gave thrash metal the happy ending it deserved.

— Avinash Mittur

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In 2003, Zakk Wylde face-melted scores of Japanese onlookers with a nine-minute long guitar solo so tremendously vapid, preposterous, and daft that only one word can completely characterize it: A-merican. You get tons of mind-numbing finger calisthenics followed by a hyper-hyperbolic rendition of the national anthem; there’s also tongue-playing (ew), nearly every permutation of the pentatonic scale, uncalled-for artificial harmonics, enough saturated wah-pedal to deify a mere human, plus nods to Van Halen and Randy Rhoades (who by all estimations were more than mere humans, wah-pedal usage notwithstanding). This bombastic display of ruthless red/white/blue patriotism encapsulated in a faux biker aesthetic alongside a (British) heavy metal legend and presented to a remarkably (and juxtapositionally) attentive and civil crowd — is this some kind of mad fucking social commentary, or are we witnessing True Authentic Reality?

I’m going to go with the latter, granting Zakk Wylde the benefit of the doubt. He’s playing his goddamn heart out. But the solo itself is not interesting to me, at least as music. It’s more about how it’s presented and framed, plus the emotional energy put into it. He’s up there shredding like a madman, his hairy head sweating profusely under the spotlights, all while the crowd stares in bewilderment — in complete stillness and silence, no less. The dynamic between Zakk Wylde and his audience that night was rife with sociological electricity (cultural differences to say the least); he himself supercharged, presumably on a devastating cocktail of bald eagle blood, high-octane race fuel, and Bud Light. They were studious, sincere, inquisitive but cautious. In the end, we may never really learn anything from this video… but suffice it to say that some of these things couldn’t possibly be mere coincidence.

— Andrew Rothmund

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Some live videos are great because of a team effort where a group of musicians with chemistry lock in and push each other to the next level. Others enter the pantheon on the strength of a single performer.

Though mostly known for his deft use of language and genuinely creepy lyrics, Pig Destroyer‘s J.R. Hayes proved his worth as a harsh vocalist when his mic snapped in half during a performance of “Forgotten Child.” That he continued to sing at all makes the video noteworthy, as does the cameraperson’s terrific instincts to zoom in on the shattered microphone, but Hayes turns the footage into solid gold by screaming SO LOUDLY THAT YOU CAN HEAR HIM OVER THE REST OF THE BAND. Yes, it’s likely that the camera was in the perfect place to pick him up over the din, and that folks in the back of the room may not have heard a peep out of him, but goddamn. Hearing Hayes fight his way through the mix is made all the more impressive by seeing the toll it takes on him to push that hard. By the end of the song, Hayes is crumbled on the floor and gasping for breath. You couldn’t dream up a better example of extreme metal’s animal ferocity and its human vulnerability contained in a single image.

— Ian Cory

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