As I recently discovered, the well-known Belly Up music clubs in Solana Beach, California (near San Diego) and Aspen, Colorado have begun making their concert performances available for download. More than a dozen shows are for sale so far. I’ve auditioned ones from two of my favorite artists—World Party and the Jayhawks—and both are terrific.
The Beatles-influenced World Party, the outfit Karl Wallinger launched in 1986 after leaving the Waterboys, has delivered many melodic, inventive songs over the years, most notably the ones on 1990’s classic Goodbye Jumbo. Its hour-long, 14-song Belly Up set, from June of last year, features prominently mixed vocals and incorporates six numbers from that classic album (“God on My Side,” “Love Street,” “Put the Message in the Bottle,” “Sweet Soul Dream,” “Thank You World,” “Way Down Now”). The remaining selections span the group’s entire career and include such high points as an intense, violin-spiced “Vanity Fair” and a spirited reading of “Ship of Fools,” the group’s first hit.
Just as impressive is the January 2015 concert from the Jayhawks, one of the best Americana bands to emerge over the past three decades. Recorded during a tour to support reissues of albums from 1997 to 2003, the 20-song, 80-minute concert features a lineup from that period and songs from throughout the group’s career. Highlights abound, including “Angelyne,” “Save It for a Rainy Day,” “Waiting for the Sun” and “Take Me with You (When You Go).” These are exquisitely crafted performances, loaded with magnificent harmony vocals and soulful, country/rock guitar licks.
The audio on these albums isn’t quite CD quality but, at 320 kbps, it’s better than most of what you’ll find for download on Amazon or iTunes. Moreover, the music is well recorded and mixed, and—thanks perhaps to the fact that the Belly Up taverns are small venues—there’s little ambient noise; the recordings sound less like concerts than live-in-the-studio offerings.
At $5.99 per show, the World Party and Jayhawks collections represent major bargains. Grab ‘em while you can.