Like the undeniable renewed interest in vinyl (SONY started pressing records again this year after almost three decades off!), physical books are having their own resurgence as well. Yet, while the number of those using digital formats still crushes the growing base siding with LPs, real books have actually outperformed electronic ones in recent years.
And no sweeter is the reward for actually turning pages than when looking at gorgeous photographs of iconic performers and bands. Two such books, along with one documenting the greatest shows of all-time, top PACIFIC’s musical gift guide this season.
Lighters In The Sky: The All-Time Greatest Concerts 1960-2016
By Corbin Reiff
Painstakingly researched and compiled by current deputy music editor at Uproxx, Lighters In The Sky assembles many of the greatest live shows in the last 57 years.
Reiff makes compelling arguments for performances from the likes of Sam Cooke, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, N.W.A., Madonna, Green Day, Nirvana, and Kanye West by immersing himself in all available documentation of each show — and, occasionally, writing from first-hand experience.
The latter, like the book-closing account of 2016’s Desert Trip in Indio, provide the most tangible reading experiences (I was somewhere around Barstow, California, on the edge of the desert, chewing up asphalt at 80 MPH in a white Camaro I had borrowed from my brother-in-law), but Reiff makes up for the lack of a personal account on the others with extensive research and meticulous detail.
He also includes things like set lists for almost all of the entries, as well as the names of all musicians who participated in each performance — where applicable.
And while choosing one show per year will undoubtedly open debates, Reiff dedicates a few hundred words at the end of each listing with an “Honorable Mention” show. Some of these include performances by Nina Simone, Adele, Selena and Taylor Swift, which is good, because the main list is extremely thin on female entries.
But overall, Reiff details a solid spectrum of concerts that is sure to engage live music junkies of all ages.
Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen
By Bill Bentley
Part photo anthology, part music commentary, Smithsonian Rock and Roll: Live and Unseen is a unique hybrid.
Started by the Smithsonain website when they called on music fans to submit their own concert photos, the initial request ended up garnering over 4,000 images.
But many iconic musicians were not included, most of them from a time when cameras were not allowed at shows, so the search was expanded to include estates and professional photographers.
The result is an amazing, heavily fan-sourced coffee table anthology of photos from rock and roll’s last 60 years.
Along with amazing shots of Stevie Wonder, The Clash, Fugazi, The Beastie Boys, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Beck, Amy Winehouse, and more, each artist’s spread is coupled with a few hundred words from Bill Bentley.
The former Warner Bros. VP and Concord Records A&R director adds commentary on all of the featured artists and photos, along with an extensive introduction to the collection.
And while the man Lou Reed once called his ‘music mensch’ generously provides expert context to each set of images, the photographs themselves tell the best stories.
Whether it’s a bloodied Iggy Pop, a fireball breathing Gene Simmons, or an iconic pic of The Ramones rocking at CBGB, this telling assortment of gorgeous snapshots is a sure-fire win for any music lover.
Eyes of the World: Grateful Dead Photography 1965–1995
Edited by Josh Baron and Jay Blakesberg
Is there a Grateful Dead fan in your life? Then this is the mother lode of photos of the iconic band — all in one collection for the first time. The gorgeous, sizeable, hard cover coffee table book features images from more than 60 photographers and documents the perennial touring troupe’s entire 30-year career.
Co-edited by longtime rock photographer Jay Blakesberg and former Relix editor-in-chief Josh Baron, the pair tapped legendary shooters like Annie Leibovitz, Jim Marshall, David Gahr, Mark Seliger, Peter Simon, and Blakesberg himself, for the nearly 300-page anthology.
All originally shot on film, most of the images included were reproduced for the first time via high-resolution scan and take up a full page or more. This feature alone is worth the price of the impressive volume.
Aside from a brief introduction from Baron, and an even briefer forward from Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Graham Nash, Eyes of the World lets the pictures do the talking — and boy do they ever.
From the full, two-page spread of the band engulfed by the massive scaffolding and speaker set-up of a 1974 concert at Vancouver’s PNE Coliseum, to the one-and-a-half page shot of Jerry Garcia’s final Grateful Dead concert at Chicago’s Solider Field in 1995, this book is filled with iconic, stunning, and gorgeous photography.
There are intimate moments as well — whether it’s the band posing for press shots with Bob Dylan or the whole gang hanging out backstage at the Filmore with Bill Graham.