There’s something special that happens sometimes when artists perform their songs live. Sometimes, just sometimes, artists are able to connect with a song in a greater emotional capacity than ever thought possible when listening to the songs in their recorded form. The songs become magnified by the enchantment and intensity of the ever present audience, and their full emotional capabilities are put on full display. So sit back and listen, because we here at the Music section have picked out some of our favourite live performances guaranteed to transform you into an emotional mess.
Whitney – No Woman, Lost Highway Session
With Julien Ehrlich’s soaring falsetto floating across the song, this stripped back version of ‘No Woman’ from the Whitney’s debut album Light Upon the Lake puts the singer/drummer’s angelic voice on full display. In a song that takes something as painful as a breakup and transforms it into a nostalgic reflection of strength, Julien’s falsetto sounds vulnerable, yet never wavers. He carries us along with simultaneous strength and self-consciousness into a sea of nostalgia.
Bon Iver – I Can’t Make You Love Me
If there’s anyone that knows about heartbreak and how to break hearts with only a piano and the power of his own voice, then Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon is the man. This live cover of Bonnie Ratt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ is seven minutes of sheer emotional intensity. If you’re not reaching for a packet of tissues by the end of this emotional reach into the void, then you’re doing something wrong.
Radiohead – Present Tense
Radiohead released their ninth studio album last year to rave reviews, and it’s no wonder why. ‘Present Tense’ dances its way through the air while Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood serenade us, lavishing us in the song’s sensual electricity. In this live performance, we see York, quite literally, getting ‘lost’ in the song as he whispers repeatedly ‘in you I’m lost, in you I’m lost’.
Yes Thom York, in you we’re all lost.
Joni Mitchell – A Case of You, Live in London 1974
In this stunning version of ‘A Case of You’ from Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, we are given an insight into the singer’s uniqueness as a performer. With her guitar balanced across her lap, this live version creates an intensity from the song’s simplicity; it is Mitchell’s true talent as a songwriter and vocalist that is put on show here, and, boy, does she shine.
King Krule – Baby Blue, Live at the Village on KCRW
In this extended version of ‘Baby Blue’ from his 2013 debut album Six Feet Bellow the Moon, King Krule reworks the song into a 6 minute master-class in nostalgia. Featuring an elongated instrumental section, King Krule captures a raw state of emotion that is unexplored on the album version. The song flows along like a stream of red wine: the song is intoxicated with its own sentimentality. Plus, he also plays perhaps the world’s most beautiful guitar, and if that isn’t enough to make you fall in love with this performance, then I fear you never will.
Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah, Live on Air, Volume 1
Jeff Buckley’s haunting cover of Leonard Cohen’s poetic masterpiece ‘Hallelujah’ which turns the story of heartbreak into an epic struggle of religion and suffering, is perhaps one of the most tender yet powerful songs to emerge from the 20th century. Yet, as if in a crazed attempt to break our hearts that little bit more, Buckley’s live version of it from his Live on Air album elevates the song to a new dimension. It is frail, it is hollow, it a voice in the dark pleading for something greater than inescapable suffering. His final note that floats before us before gradually returning into the darkness is paradoxically one of both defeat yet triumph: it is a final surrender, but a triumph of sheer musical exquisiteness.