Live shows are like a classic chemistry lab; by combining the correct amounts of visual and auditory senses, you get a reaction full of explosions, sparks, and maybe even meltdowns. On Live in NYC, Canyon, with the help of Digital Club Network (DCN), attempts to bring the raw energy of the stage — specifically, the stage at New York City’s Arlene’s Grocery on Nov. 20, 2002 — to the comforts of the home. But despite the remarkably crisp recording quality, the album is unable to capture the enigmatic characteristics that define live shows, making a glimmer but no fireworks.
Rather than evoking images of stage lights and sweaty fans, the album presents, much as the band name implies, a world of howling wind and vast deserts. This is fine, except that the very same mood can be found on Canyon’s previous albums. Album opener, “10 Good Eyes,” a blend of dark Americana and psych-rock, proves the band is just as Neil Young inspired as ever. (Aside from a cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” the record includes a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire” in addition to six songs from Empty Rooms and one other original.) But that was already clear on their second album, Empty Rooms. Unless you are a card-carrying member of the Canyon fan club, this live album becomes an extraneous addition to a music collection.
What is most impressive on the album is the quality of sound DCN was able to capture. Live in NYC is not your average lo-fi, muffled bootleg. Instead, DCN puts all pimpled twenty-somethings with recording devices to shame with their impeccable quality. The music’s depth is maintained without distortion, and only the dim applause reveals that the album isn’t a studio recording. But most bootlegs are unnecessary and fulfilling to only the die-hards, and this high-quality version is no exception.
Canyon was chosen by DCN to record live because, according to its COO, “The first time I saw them live, I felt like I was experiencing an important moment in music history.” Yet because it’s a recording, part of the live experience is inevitably lost. And while this is the only Canyon album with country-tinged “Man on the Mountain” or lengthy cover of Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” is it worth the $15 you’d pay to see them live? I’ll stick with science and skip the second-hand experience.