A remarkable number of concert recordings of both MO1 and MO2 survive as recordings of independent origin - from radio broadcasts, soundboard or audience sources. Of MO1’s 500+ concerts between 1971-73, around 100 survive in full or in part, over half of them from Dinky Dawson’s extraordinary soundboard recordings. With the exception of one concert from 1971 (a radio broadcast from a club in Syracuse, New York), all known MO1 concert recordings derive from 1972-73. It would be madness to attempt a comprehensive listing here, but as their set and style breaks down into distinct eras, it’s possible to recommend a handful of easily obtainable, high-quality recordings for those who have acquired all the official releases and wish to hear more. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that - while not condoning the illegality of concert recording, nor those who charge for access to such things - at least a few representative live recordings are essential to fully appreciate the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Similarly, the two-year career of the second Mahavishnu Orchestra also breaks down into distinct eras. While there are only around 26 MO2 concert recordings circulating (including two filmed concerts), there are probably also 38 Dinky Dawson soundboard recordings spanning April - June 1975, owned by wolfgangsvault.com, not currently circulating but which will presumably appear in due course.  

During the MO period John McLaughlin also performed live with his wife Eve and toured for three weeks in August/September 1973 with Carlos Santana and a band including Billy Cobham. Aside from their 1974 studio recordings, there are two unofficial John & Eve concert sets circulating: one from the New York Town Hall concert of 14/8/71 and the other a radio broadcast from a January 1975 concert at the Buddhist Temple. At least six McLaughlin/Santana band concerts from their 1973 tour circulate.

The following are personal recommendations of Mahavishnu Orchestra concerts for interested readers to seek out. The author cannot, of course, get involved in dispensing such items, but all are freely available online. 

Cleveland, Ohio 21/4/72
Meeting Of The Spirits; You Know, You Know; The Dance Of Maya; The Noonward Race
Note: A 60 minute professional multi-track recording made by Columbia (who were at the venue to record a possible live album for headliners West, Bruce & Laing). This is the definitive live document from the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s era as a support act - and one which must have been hard to follow. The superb mix that circulates as Wild Strings is presumably the one prepared for release by Sony in the early 2000s. Hopefully an official release will yet happen. (As of 2013 an alternative version of the concert, with pitch correction and even further enhanced audio, circulates.)

Le Grande Theatre, Quebec, Canada 24/1/73
Meeting Of The Spirits; You Know, You Know; Vital Transformation; The Dance Of Maya; A Lotus On Irish Streams; One Word; Resolution; Hope; Awakening
Note: The Birds Of Fire tour of January/February 1973 is arguably the high point of the Mahavishnu Orchestra as a performing entity - before the members’ personality issues got in the way and performances became less concise, less taut. This fabulous soundboard recording by sound engineer Dinky Dawson is a fine example.

Century Theatre, Buffalo, New York 27/1/73
Birds Of Fire; Open Country Joy; Dawn; Dance Of Maya; Sanctuary; One Word; Hope; Celestial Terrestrial Commuters
Note: Another show from the Birds Of Fire tour, with a significantly different set list to Quebec (above). An edited version of ‘Dawn’ from this show was broadcast on the syndicated US radio show King Biscuit Flower Hour. Although the sound is more trebley/less full than Quebec, this is another example of Dinky Dawson’s sound wizardry.

Avery Fisher Hall, New York 27/1/73
Birds Of Fire; Sister Andrea; Dance of Maya; Dream; Trilogy

Avery Fisher Hall, New York 28/12/73
You Know, You Know; I Wonder; Awakening; Hope; Vital Transformation; Dream
Note: The MO played two final concerts after these dates, but these are the last two known recordings - again, made by sound engineer Dinky Dawson. While the late period MO1 are often accused of taking the virtuosity and speed too far, there are still, nonetheless, incredible and musical performances across these two performances. ‘Awakening’ was used by MO1 towards its end as an extended vehicle for new compositional ideas - the origins of Jan Hammer’s ‘Full Moon Boogie’ being heard in this performance, while John and Billy perform an extended duet around otherwise unreleased riffs.

Cessna Stadium, Wichita, 11/8/74
Power Of Love; Wings Of Karma; (funk instrumental); Hymn To Him; Vision Is A Naked Sword
Note: This is an extremely well-made audience recording of MO2 still in its 11-piece format, shortly before Steve Franckevich left. The Apocalypse material is stretched to include a double brass interlude, an extended Spanish-flavoured guitar/drums section, the string interlude which became ‘Opus 1’ and so on. The untitled ‘funk instrumental’ is essentially parts of the middle section of ‘Vision Is A Naked Sword’ presented in a stand-alone form.

Music Hall, Boston 3/5/75
Eternity’s Breath Part 1; Eternity’s Breath Part 2; You Know, You Know; Sanctuary; Band Intro Jam; Lila’s Dance; Follow Your Heart; Vision Is A Naked Sword (inc. Opus 1)
Note: In the absence of a truly high-quality recording from the January/February 1975 European Tour, this stunning 83 minute audience recording from the May/June 1975 tour with Jeff Beck is the best way to hear Visions Of The Emerald Beyond material performed onstage. ‘Eternity’s Breath Part 1’ benefits from a splendid new brass fanfare part; a new arrangement revitalizes ‘You Know, You Know’; a new string trio sub-composition appears within ‘Vision…’ (probably written by Steve Kindler) before ‘Opus 1’. Norma-Jean Bell and Russell Tubbs (on saxes) are now the brass section, Steve Kindler is now solo violinist and Stu Goldberg is on keyboards. Norma-Jean also contributes scat singing. The band, in 9-piece form, is as funky as it would ever get. A number of concerts from the August-November 4-piece last-gasp version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra survive, but these can only be recommended as historical curios.