10 essential live rock and metal albums from the ’90s

Kurt Cobain
(Image credit: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Picture this: you’ve wrapped up an episode of Seinfeld and have time to burn. But you’re bored of the latest via Z100 pop-fodder, and the slick songs that VH1 has been slinging via Pop-Up Video aren’t cutting it. 

No, this time, you’re looking for the raw energy that can only be delivered through rockin’ live music, but you’re stuck at home. What’s the next best thing? Peruse your CD collection and dig into the tastiest discs you’ve got on hand, of course.

If that bit of nostalgia sounds familiar, then you were probably a rock- and metal-loving kid in the ’90s. But what if you missed out? Not to worry: Guitar World has got you covered.

We’re taking a trip back to dig into some of the finest live performances of the decade. What follows are 10 essential ’90s rock and metal live albums.

10. ’98 Live Meltdown – Judas Priest (1998)

Recorded during the Tim “Ripper” Owens-era Jugulator World Tour, ’98 Live Meltdown finds the mighty Priest sporting a different configuration than their ’80s heyday. Sure, the twin-guitar attack of Glenn Tipton/K.K. Downing is in fine form, but this record might not be one for purists. 

Still, ’98 Live Meltdown smokes, and if we’re being honest, Owens never did get a fair shake from Priest fans. Indeed, Owens does a fine job with the Halford-era tracks, but it’s (unsurprisingly) the Jugulator cuts that scintillate most.

9. Live on Two Legs – Pearl Jam (1998)

Pearl Jam’s commercial viability had waned, if only slightly, by 1998, but that didn’t stop them from booking a monster world tour in the wake of Yield, released the same year. 

As fate would have it, the shows from the summer leg of said tour were so strong that the band couldn’t help themselves by releasing Live on Two Legs to commemorate the jaunt. In truth, no self-respecting ’90s list of this nature would be complete without Mike McCready and Stone Gossard’s dueling grunge fury.

8. Hell Freezes Over – The Eagles (1994)

When the Eagles called it a day in 1980, Don Henley famously said the band would play together again “when hell freezes over.” Well, in 1994, hell did freeze over, resulting in an Eagles reunion – and this tidy live disc.

Hell Freezes Over will probably always be secondary to Eagles Live (1980). Still, it did one’s heart good to see the Eagles’ Hotel California-era lineup winding down that desert highway again.

Hell Freezes Over is essential because a new generation was clued in on the heroics of a Les-Paul-slinging Joe Walsh, ably bookended by Don Felder, and for that, we’re forever thankful.

7. Live at the Roxy – Social Distortion (1998)

If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing Mike Ness and company live, you should probably change that – if you’re a fan of twangy cowpunk, that is. Regardless of where your musical allegiances lie, the SoCal staples were on fire on the evening Live at the Roxy was recorded in the spring of 1998. 

Moreover, it could be said that the versions of Ball and Chain and Story of My Life – with some tasty fretwork from Ness and Dennis Danell – should be considered definitive.

6. No Quarter: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Unledded – Page & Plant (1994)

If you’re a Zep-head, No Quarter: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant Unledded is a thing of musical glory. Some will point out that Page and Plant should have involved John Paul Jones, but no matter, this album is at times explosive. 

The eclectic renditions of the classics combined with four new songs made for true listeners’ delight. Also, the Unledded version of Kashmir – featuring Page going off with his Les Paul goldtop tuned to simulate the sound of his Danelectro DC-59 – might be the best version of all. Seriously.

5. A Live One – Phish (1995)

If you’re the type of person who enjoys listening to 15-to-20-minute renditions of modern-day jam band classics resulting in 131 minutes of tomfoolery, then we’d wager Phish’s A Live One is for you. 

Listening to Trey Anastasio run wild in all his fusion glory is highly enjoyable, but guitar heroics aside, the Giant Country Horns getting in on the fun for Gumbo may well be the highlight. The horns, Anastasio’s exploits and the eclectic nature of Phish make for a listen that is utterly distinct, if not entirely over the top, in the same breath.

4. Alive III – Kiss (1993)

Makeup diehards can, will, and do deride this album, but true fans know the truth: Kiss’ Alive III gives Alive! (1975) a run for its money. But if we detach ourselves from those bold assertions and get down to the crux of the matter, Alive III is a hyper-charged merging of Kiss’ past exploits, blended with (at the time) new cuts from Revenge (1992). 

If anything, Alive III is a reminder that Kiss’ ’90s lineup was not to be trifled with. Moreover, Bruce Kulick proved that with an ESP in his hands, he was (and is) one of the genre’s most unassuming heroes.

3. AC/DC Live – AC/DC (1992)

Like a hammer to your skull, AC/DC Live reminded us of the simplistic power of AC/DC. Sourced from a riveting show at Donington Park during The Razors Edge Tour in August of ’91, AC/DC wound through a set featuring hits from all eras, treating fans to heaping servings of good ol’ boogie-woogie rock from Down Under.

Angus and Malcolm Young’s interwoven leads and rhythms were never better, making AC/DC Live the group’s most essential live testament.

2. Weld – Neil Young (1991)

Neil Young has long been the guitar anti-hero that linchpins generations of non-conformists’ musical outlooks. In the spirit of bucking all things pop-oriented within the zeitgeist, we direct you to Young’s essential live masterstroke, Weld

Weld found Young reunited with Crazy Horse – notably low-key guitar hero Frank Sampedro – treating devotees to an awe-inspiring amalgam classic mixed with cuts from Ragged Glory (1990). If you missed Weld when it dropped and have remained in the dark since then, this is your call to action.

1. MTV Unplugged in New York – Nirvana (1994)

Few images from the ’90s are as everlasting as Kurt Cobain’s final aching moments delivering the conclusive utterances of Nirvana’s iconic cover of Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night? 

Cobain never wanted to change the world. Still, the unwilling hero did just that through his songwriting and unique, aggressive approach to the guitar. 

Many will remember Nirvana for their cockalorum bluster, but Cobain and company were never more vulnerable, honest and memorable than during MTV Unplugged in New York.

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.