Because I'm a geezer, I have not made it to a live show in longer than I'm comfortable publicly admitting. I twice made an attempt to catch Wormrot as they came to town the last couple of years, but both times life, my job, my family intervened. That's how it goes when you hit your 30s. The idea of spending a few hours on a weeknight listening to ear-splitting music with kids half your age only to get up for work a few hours later bleary eyed and exhausted doesn't compete with going home, reheating leftovers and falling asleep in bed at 8:30 halfway through an Iron Chef marathon. Don't ever get old, kids.
So that means for the last *mumble, mumble, cough* years, my musical intake has been entirely recordings. It's gotten me thinking about a close cousin of the punk v. precision argument: live music v. records.
Generally speaking, the metal community, even those of us without music talent, are conversant enough in technique to place a premium on bands being able to stand on a stage and actually play their songs. I think that has become more important as studio technology has improved to the point where bands can endlessly refine their recordings and conveniently gloss over mistakes, often from the comfort of their own laptops.
Knowing that the market for album sales, even during the best of times, was finite, bands that wanted to make music a career relied on touring to sustain themselves. I imagine that impetus has only taken on new importance as record sales have dwindled to near-zero and rampant pirating makes the suggestion of making money off mp3s laughable.
But as with growers and showers, I think there's a divide at work. I think punk-based bands place more of an emphasis on the live forum. I expect Squash Bowels, Wormrot or Repulsion to be able to band out their grisly grind from the comfort of a stage. Their songs live or die by that urgent, human element that's best conveyed during a live setting where the band can feed off an audience's energy.
For their more technical peers, I, at least, prefer the recorded article where I can savor every nuance. Sure, I'm astounded when I hear Discordance Axis recorded The Inalienable Dreamless live in the studio, as did GridLink with Orphan. However, those are the kind of albums I'd rather settle down with on a good stereo and a comfortable pair of headphones so I can drool over little tricks that would probably get lost in a live setting.
Then there are the one man bands like Body Hammer and Parlamentarisk Sodomi/PSUDOKU who obviously can't play live due to logistical limitations. Both Ryan Page and Papirmollen have turned in solo efforts that stand on their own even if you won't see them on your local festival stage. I don't think we've lost anything for that lack, and I'm certainly not going to arbitrarily relegate them to second tier status just because they may not be making the summer tour circuit.
There's a premium placed on live performances, but in a down economy on rural area your chances of seeing your favorite band decline precipitously. For those people, like for me lately, recorded music is probably their only access due to their circumstances. And to be honest, I can remember as a teen being disappointed by some bands seeing them live because my favorite songs didn't sound exactly the way they did on record. The tempos would be off - sometimes faster, sometimes slower - maybe the solos would change or the singer wouldn't articulate - or just skip portions of - the lyrics. Seeing Isis open for a revitalized Napalm Death, watching openers Opeth blow Amorphis off the stage, or seeing a then-largely unknown Pig Destroyer and Mastodon tag team a hall are all great memories. And I love the frenetic energy of a great live show. However, as I get older, more crotchety and incipient nostalgia seeps into my routine, I take more pleasure from hearing my favorite albums sound exactly the way they always do, every time I hear them.
Do you prefer live performances over records? Do you consider live music somehow more authentic than perfect takes and studio trickery? How does hearing your favorite songs live alter your perception of the music? Or does any of this make any difference?