Bootlegs: The Real Story and the Ones to Get…

You know who you are. You’re a college student. You’ve got a favorite band. You’ve seen them live. You’ve got all their albums and videos, or so you think. That’s right, you don’t have all their albums. Don’t give that crap, I know what I’m talking about.

One of the fastest growing areas of the record collector’s market is bootlegs. Bootlegs are unauthorized audio and video recordings of a band, mostly live recordings, but occasional studio outtakes surface. And unlike regular commercial live recordings, like Van Halen’s recent album or George Michael’s just released EP, these are mostly one uncut and untouched concert. Of course, these make perfect souvenirs, especially if one is available for the show that you went to.

The largest area of bootlegs is CDs. Until the mid 80s, the preferable method of distribution was vinyl, but the obvious benefits of CDs soon became apparent. The sound quality of bootlegs can vary. Some are recorded by the soundboard (the mixing board between the guitars and mikes and the speakers), while most are audience recording. Surprisingly, the audience recordings are often very good, and some are in stereo.

Some bootlegs are actually legal. Some countries in the EEC, such as Germany and Italy, have laws that recordings that are at least ten years old may be produced, as long as royalties are set aside for the artist. Ironically, the artist can’t accept the money, because that would indicate approval of what the bootleggers are doing. Most CD bootlegs have an import stamp on them, and owning them is legal.

The fastest growing bootleg area is videos. The majority of these are recorded on a camcorder that was sneaked in, though some are unreleased concerts. The only equipment needed to produce a large number is two VCRs and a supply of blank tapes. This results in a number of people selling copies of the same shows, and a large quality difference between the generations of copies. Since the videos can be produced quickly, shows are available that are little more than a week old.

The following are totally subjective lists of my favorite audio and video boots:
1. Led Zeppelin – Tour Over Europe: Zurich, 6/29/80
Zeppelin are the unsurpassed kings of the bootleg market. Every Zeppelin show found, no matter how poor the quality of the recording or the band’s performance, has been issued on CD. At last count, that is over 400 discs. There are a large number of notable Zeppelin bootlegs, with large amounts of unreleased songs, but this double disc set is incredible. It captures the masters of rock, on their best show on their last tour.
2. Una Noche A Sevilla (A Night In Seville): Guitar Legends Festival, Seville, Spain,10/19/91
An annual concert featuring guitarists is held in Seville, Spain. In 1991, the concert was extended to five nights to feature a different genre of music each night. This particular recording is the heavy metal night, and features the remarkable talents of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Brian May, Nuno Bettencourt, and Joe Walsh. The only time my four favorite guitarists have performed together. Simply amazing.
3. Rush – The Spirit of St. Louis: St. Louis, 2/14/80
A great recording and performance from an awesome band, featuring a complete rendition of “2112”.
4. Great White – Live From Electric Ladyland: New York City, 5/31/91
A boot of a radio broadcast. The Electric Ladyland shows are recorded in the studio of the same name, and the sound is incredible.
5. Van Halen – “7227”: Tokyo, 1988
The name refers to the playing time. A very good show, importantly featuring a live performance of “Summer Nights”.
6. Queen – Merry Christmas: London, 12/25/76
An early show from a great band.
7. Pearl Jam – Unplugged …and a little plugged: MTV Unplugged 3/92 & England 2/22/92
Their amazing MTV performance, plus most a live show. What a bargain!
8. Guns N’ Roses – Lies and Dollars: New York City, 1988
The audio to MTV’s Live at the Ritz recording, with all the swearing left in.
9. Metallica – The Four Horsemen: Meadowlands, 4/8/92
This three disc boxed set features the complete show from the masters of thrash
10. David Lee Roth – Live at Selland Arena: Fresno, 12/14/86
Steve Vai is an incredible guitarist. ‘Nuff said.

1. Brian May – Hammerjacks, 3/5/93
All right, I haven’t actually seen it yet, but I was at the show, and he’s incredible. Go buy his new album, in stores now.
2. Extreme – Baltimore Opera House, 2/1/93
I went to the next night, but this is a great show.
3. Guns N’ Roses – Capital Centre, 6/19/91
Yes, their first night, where Axl dives into the crowd to fight security before St. Louis!
4. Led Zeppelin – Compilation
There are a number of compilations out there, but look for a black and white TV performance from ’68, as well as their Live Aid and Atlantic 40th anniversary reunions (there’s rehearsal footage from the latter)
5. Queen – A Concert For Life, 4/20/92
Yes, I know a legitimate copy went on sale last week, but it’s still amazing.
6. Nirvana – Dallas, 1991
Kurt Cobain dives into the crowd, then hits the security guard trying to retrieve him with his guitar. The guard then attempts to beat the crap out of him.
7. Metallica – Albany, 1992
A complete show.
8. Pearl Jam – New York, 1992
Good show.
9. Whitesnake – Albany, 1990
Steve Vai – still amazing.
10. Van Halen – US Festival, 1983
Lousy copy, great show.

For those interested in going to a record show where audio and video boots are available, the next one is this Friday, at the Holiday Inn Dulles Airport, from 6-12PM.
The next after that is on June 6, at the Tyson’s Best western, from 10-5. The admission for both is $3.00.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]