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Symkus column: All sorts of free classic live music performances abound on YouTube

Ed Symkus
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Richard Thompson

With the experience of attending live music shows currently out of the picture, many artists are heading to their basements or practice rooms and streaming impromptu concerts. I recently caught wonderful offerings from Chick Corea, Al Di Meola and Richard Thompson.

But I also enjoy living in the past, and YouTube has proven to have a bounty of older live performances, going back decades and featuring people and material from all over the musical spectrum. The deeper you dive into it, the more you can find. It was no easy accomplishment to come up with a top-10 list because I’m one of those deep divers, and my list was changing hourly.

So, here’s what’s catching my fancy at this moment. As you’ll see, my tastes and my moods vary. Some of the visual quality on a couple of these isn’t of the highest grade, but the sound is excellent, and the performances are superb. They’re in alphabetical order.

The Association - "Along Comes Mary" - They were the first act and this was the first song at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. A goofy introduction is followed by an exciting, inventively arranged, harmony-filled sample of pure pop. But does "Mary" mean marijuana? You decide. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZsQSFzIsb8

The Beatles - "She Loves You" - Is there a better early Beatles song? Nope. This covers every base: melody, chords, story, vocals, arrangement, angelic harmonies (can’t get enough of Paul and George going "Oooo!"). This was from a show in Horrogate, England, almost a year before they first played on "The Ed Sullivan Show." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vdw0LSa6tck

Cheap Trick - "On Top of the World" - The Illinois rockers were on the road promoting their fourth studio album when they did this 1980 New Jersey show. This energetic, ultra-positive song (from their third album, "Heaven Tonight") features Robin Zander at his leather-lung best, Bun E. Carlos driving it along at the drum kit, and Rick Nielsen proving that yes, you can play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mff4SKf6ssM

Bob Dylan - "Mr. Tambourine Man" - He wasn’t yet a household name, but this performance at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival made a lot of people take notice, especially due to his assured, impassioned presentation of this beautifully melodic and dazzlingly lyrical composition. Really ... take a few minutes to listen to those words. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeP4FFr88SQ

Bireli Lagrene - "Hungaria" - The French guitarist, and obvious disciple of Gypsy jazz man Django Reinhardt (he’s covering one of his tunes here), lets his fingers fly - as his band manages to keep up with him - without breaking a sweat in this selection from a 2004 concert in Paris. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcMVBwy8Xdk

MonaLisa Twins - "Getting Better" - Austrian twin sisters Mona and Lisa Wagner do plenty of songwriting, but have found a groove in covering The Beatles, sticking close to the original arrangements, yet making the songs their own. Part of their success is their instrumental prowess, but most of it goes to their aura of joy, great voices, and that always special sibling harmony. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlLhpulsZfg

Clara Rockmore - "The Swan" - Russian theremin wizard (and former violinist) Clara Rockmore actually studied the electronic instrument with its inventor Leon Theremin while living in New York in the 1930s, and mastered it. She’s seen here, playing "The Swan" by Camille Saint-Saëns, accompanied by her sister Nadia Reisenberg on piano.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSzTPGlNa5U

Them - "Here Comes the Night" - That’s Van Morrison at the microphone, long before his solo career days, fronting his Belfast band at a 1965 concert, performing their first hit. Yes, Morrison loses his place at the beginning, but gets it together and pulls off a great rendition of a great song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbdA1_X913k

Richard Thompson - "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" - The folkie-rocker-guitarist extraordinaire plays a stunning version of his heartbreaking story-song about a motorcycle and a young couple whose love could not last. This one never fails to make me cry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0kJdrfzjAg

The Who - "My Generation" - Another performance from the Monterey Pop Fest, the one that introduced a lot of folks to a band that had been chugging along in England without much recognition Stateside. Their wild, razor-edged, wonderfully undisciplined and unexpectedly destructive performance of this now-classic pushed them right into stardom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjN5uHRIcjM

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkius@rcn.com.