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Website Review: Live Music Archive at the Internet Archive

Despite what record companies and media outlets might have you believe, there are still people out there who abide by the letter of the law when it comes to obtaining new music. But heck, even the most ethical among us loves a solid freebie. That’s where a site like the Live Music Archive at the Internet Archive is an invaluable resource. It’s a totally above-board venture that manages to capture some of the illicit vibe of a shady torrent site.
The Internet Archive as a whole is sort of an online clearing house for public domain books, films, software and more. Content runs the gamut from heady research texts to old Woody Woodpecker cartoons to random people’s home movies. It’s one of those sites you can lose yourself in for weeks on end if you’re not careful.

For music fans, the chief area of interest is the Live Music Archive. This massive index of in-concert recordings spans at least four decades and features thousands of bands, and it’s 100% free and legal. The rules for inclusion are fairly simple: all that’s required is someone to upload a decent-quality recording of an artist’s show plus a statement from that artist or a representative allowing their live material to be cataloged in the Archive. Each artist’s entry prominently displays a permission slip, some of which are oddly fascinating. (Example: Xiu Xiu allows posting “only if we play ok and do not sound like we have fake english accents.”)

Artists willing to share material this way are apparently easier to come by than media hype might lead you to believe, and it’s not just publicity-starved college jam bands (though those are here in abundance). Browse the roster and you’ll find sets from plenty of big name acts, including indie darlings (Spoon, Ryan Adams, My Morning Jacket), hippie heroes (Michael Franti, Yonder Mountain String Band, more than 8,000 Grateful Dead sets) and full-on legends (Warren Zevon, Ween, Billy Bragg). There are also hundreds of unknowns, which makes for some fun browsing opportunities. With no obligation to buy or even download – most material can be streamed – why not spend a minute getting to know a band called Casper and the Cookies or Your Friend, Photosynthesis?

The Live Music Archive does have its drawbacks. The sound quality is as unpredictable as one might expect from what’s essentially a bootleg emporium, a varying range of file formats can be frustrating to novices, and the selection is limited in the grand scheme. But all that aside, it’s tough to pick too many nits with a site where you can pick up both last week’s Toad the Wet Sprocket set in Bend, Oregon and a 1973 Little Feat gig in Atlanta at no cost – financially or ethically.


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