Live albums are baksheesh to fans for services rendered in giving the artist a good time. We get slightly reworked versions of favourites when the old arrangements have been done to death or a concert recording at the end of a tour for fans in countries deemed too expensive for a gig.
But some artists are releasing the alternative versions first, then untangling the tunes for live albums. Wilco thanked fans for sticking with them through the last two experimental records by releasing more straightforward versions on Kicking Television a few months ago. The excellent live album came across as a bid to end the debate among fans over whether songs existed beneath the abstracted arrangements on the studio albums.
Elvis Costello offers a twist on that: he puts some of his early tunes in the hands of a great jazz orchestra, Metropole Orkest. He says in the sleeve notes: 'This record may explain what I've been doing for the last 12 years when I haven't had an electric guitar in my hands.'
Unlike some of those recent records, we might play Flame more than once. Perhaps it had something to do with Costello having to appease an audience, rather than please his fancies alone in a studio. Watching the Detectives becomes more filmic. Almost Blue, which has been covered more than any Costello composition, is made close to unrecognisable. Clubland survives; Episode of Blonde enjoys the attention.
Best to just pardon the conceit and thank the man for tipping, for once.