Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is it Live or is it Memorex?

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?


RedLeftHand said...

Having myself moved deep into my 30's; I too rarely make it to a live show. Though, the thought does cross my mind, and once or twice a year I take the leap, get taxied by a friend, climb the stairs to the balcony, or find a docile corner in a venue with a cool beer and a pair of earplugs. I prefer it live, but, live on tape/cd/vinyl;
where I can appreciate the accidental art and character of artists hammering out their tunes.
If mistakes occur, well, that just makes it that much better for me. It's where I can connect in a way. The artist knows they made a mistake, I know they made a mistake and maybe they laugh a bit, and me too; it's a good thing. And occasionally something brilliant happens.

Ryan Page said...

Live performance vs albums is always tricky. I've come across fairly hardline on the side that they are meant to be two separate things, and yet of course, there is an expectation that they will be interrelated.

The point I always argue is that the reason we don't like over polished records is not because the people who wrote it can't play that well, its because the albums themselves just don't sound good. I think (hope) you can spend a lot of time with a recording and not have it sound over polished.

Also, weirdly, most of the instruments on Jigoku were recorded on first take. I just tended to add or subtract takes over time (not to mention mixing, etc).

Now I really need to get my ass in gear and write another post about recording.

Great piece, and nice to hear your perspective.

Arekusu said...

Another great post as always, Andrew.

I get butterflies the minute the band strums the opening chords to let the listless audience know that its time to reassemble for aural torture. To me there's nothing better then seeing one of my favorite bands tear up a local venue. I make sure to bring as much money as I can manage and buy up any and all merch I can get my hands on. I've even had to ask people on the street for change to make the bus fare home because I've spent everything I had on shirts, tapes, cds and vinyl. How great is it handing money to one of your favorite artists in person? It also gives me butterflies!

This is a double-edged sword however, with the fact that the audience can make or break a live show. There's nothing worse then when an audience is disinterested in the performers. I was so upset at a recent show that I spent the first three songs of a band's set slamming into terrified hipsters by my lonesome and catching death stares. People actually started filming me with their stupid fucking iphones (which infuriated me) and I ended flooring at least three people before retreating to the back wall to pout.

Like you said: In an age when live shows are becoming more and more of a rarity. The biggest crime I can think of is not being engaged in the band you paid to see (unless you snuck in, you fucks). Oakland is a shithole for music because of hip little hXc tattooed, jean short cutoff wearing, handlebar mustachioed pricks who never buy merch and seldom pay to get into a show.

I also, for some reason, have a violent dislike of live recordings. Not live in the studio a la Orphan but the single-mic, show audio dreck that bands are all too keen on releasing. I want to hear a band at their best not underneath an impenetrable wall of feedback (unless its part of the song :)

Sorry for the unbelievably long rant/comment. Your blog does that to me. Maybe I should get my own blog...

And as a post script (like I need it): Ryan Page is a beast. I cant believe most of Body Hammer is in one take. We eagerly await future releases/blog posts from you.

Ryan Page said...

Arekusu, you're from Oakland?! I just moved to Oakland myself. We should meet up at the next decent show.

In regard to body hammer: thank you, but it was more of a case of not knowing what I was doing. For the new Robocop (painfully stalled near the finish line... soon though) I'm sure I did at least 50 for one song, I guess it depends on the kind of recording.

God Harvest said...

The reason why we listen to the music that we do, and it's a huge reason for myself, is the incredibly personal and small stage atmosphere of most of those bands you've mentioned. If you want to get the "punk" out of a record, you're going to the show to get hit with bottles and get moshed on by a sweaty dude who hasn't bathed in months (probably has a trust-fund). If you want to bask in immortal talent of individuals go to the show to see the ACTUALLY shred and be able to be great live as well. That's where its important, that's where the talent actually is, that's what makes our music ours and not theirs. Not to be trite....

Good post,

Arekusu said...

@Ryan Page I live and go to school in SF but most of the shows I make it to are in Oakland. I'm totally down to meet up at the next good show that comes our way. Hit me up through my email on my blogger page.

@God Harvest - I'm that guy who hasn't showered and moshes into you (minus the trust fund) sorry :/
(at least I'm enjoying the band, right?)
Great demo by the way I've been jammin' it for a few months now.

God Harvest said...

Arekusa: Thanks! Ha. Keep the mosh hard, and keep it crusty, son.

Anyone: It doesn't matter what medium you choose to support a band, all that matters is that you're participating. Shows are just the best way.

One love,

Bill Willingham IV, Esquire said...

The last grind/metal/punk show I saw was Wormrot, actually. It was a Sunday night, I had work (I think I even had to be in court!) the next morning, and I had a long drive to get there and back.

So, one beer. Only.

However, the local openers were fucking rad (one of them re-formed as a two-piece in the parking lot a few hours before the show, on a whim, haha), and there was awesome moshing and no fighting all night long. There was even plenty of room for non-moshers to chill or headbang or drink frosty brews.

The kicker: since the show was one time-zone east of where I live, I was back home in bed in time to get about 6 hours of sleep! Wormrot + being prepared to zealously represent the next day!

Alex said...

Great post, and I too share the curse that has prevented me from seeing Wormrot. However regarding the live versus record debate I am at a standstill.
Live is a great experience when the bands are good, furthermore the brilliance of the event is increased with socialising, drinking, smoking, getting merch, reunion with grind pals etc so live shows have the strong social element which makes them great for once in a while night outs, not to mention if the band are crafty with their stagecraft/violence it will always be an event to remember.
However recorded music has the comfort of fitting into your schedule, I can listen from the comfort of my home, I can change the music and volume, discover new bands, look up whats happening to the band etc, so in essence it is a more practical state of affairs. Furthermore it gives a "refined" version of the material which is great too and allows for great music like Bodyhammer, Gigantic Brain etc to excel.
If I had to pick though it would be recorded music, for reasons of practicality, ease of use, availability and being refined.

Miskatonic said...

Patrick Bateman "wrote" some very interesting words comparing live to recorded music. Can you guess which he preferred? What does it say about you if you agree/disagree with him. Hmmmm.

Perpetual Strife said...

^^^ haha,

I understand the predicament, but if the band doesn't sound good live i don't think it's the expeirence's fault, but rather a poor setup/band. So I think if everything is ideal, the live experience will ALWAYS be better.

I know some bands rely on studios, whether it be takes, or post-production, but, I think in the end I prefer the genuine thing because it can be such an enveloping experience (SWANS for example did this extremely well). Also, Repulsion, for me, has been favorite, but their recorded material can get stale.... But running around in a pit to a 30min set of them was way better than anytime I've put them on my ipdo/stereo.

It depends largely on the band, the music I listen to going to sleep might not bode well for me standing for 3 hours, but Despise You live; I'd take that over their record anyday.

DesiccatedVeins said...

Live performances and studio recordings are such vastly different entities to me that it's hard to voice an opinion on this one. I can say that studio records are to me more important, just because they represent a finished product, and in the case of independent bands, sound pretty much like the band wanted them to. Live shows are awesome, but it's so much more of a gamble than buying a record; the band's mood, the sound guy's mood, the crowd's mood and make-up, your mood and the people that you came with, and venue-specific factors can all contribute to an either excellent or terrible show, depending on the way all of those variables fall into place. The sheer energy of a live show is one thing that can't translate to a record, most especially a live record (unless you're Neil Young or Johnny Cash), so those aren't even a factor to me. And Andrew, that thing you said about DxAx/Gridlink? SEE. GRIDLINK. LIVE. Jon Chang does fucking calisthenics beforehand, and he looks like a Transformers toy mid-transformation that's going through an emotional crisis. As if that wasn't enough, the band is probably the tightest I've ever seen live, and the size of Teddy Patterson's basses alone is worth the price of admission.

Prof. H. Glenn said...

i'm with the bay area heads.

i grew up in and around oakland/sf and moved a couple hours south last year. i was in bands.

live shows are where the scene exists. i have always much preferred ogling some maniacs live and buying their record (and a shirt and a patch and the 7") to following links to some crappy mid-range bogged music player. it gets music to your hungry ears and gets beer and gas money into these guys (and gals) pockets.

to you new sf/oakland heads, give some time to;
Mankind Will Fucking Burn
Man Among Wolves
Civil War Rust
Poor Bailey
Static Thought
Red Light Mind

and give the scene a big stinky hug for me.

Andrew Childers said...

i think dessicated nailed the poor i was poorly trying to articulate. i think i take comfort in knowing that i'll get the same charged experience out of a record every time. live shows were always a mixed bag.

i always enjoyed sylvain houde-era kataklysm and i've seen them several times but they were prone to bad shows, even when i saw them only a week later.

ditto cryptopsy. flo mournier was always badass and seeing him sing and drum at the same time was astounding, but they also had some off nights when i saw them.

i think the most consistently enjoyable live band i ever saw was vader. never a bad show and i had to have seen them half a dozen times back before doc quit.

Perpetual Strife said...

Certian bands just kill it live. I never cared much for Decapitated, but with their old drummer they were awesome. Suffocation are one of the best live bands too. Just to see Mike Smith go apeshit and Frank Mullen's stage presence.

And some bands jsut suck live, which makes me think less of them overall

amalgamated fishhooks said...

just this morning i was wondering what to listen to and i ended up choosing grind virus because, my brain told me, even though the riffing is slower, there is a sense of urgency to the drum work and lyrical presentation that creates the impression of unabated speed and adrenaline. they pull this off live as well.

i am over 30 but i work nights - so i am always up and ready to go for a show. in this regard i am lucky. but i also have a 4 year old little girl who barely acknowledges me, so you take the good with the bad.

Andrew Childers said...

and to clarify my usual incoherence, i mean to say i liked kataklysm with sylvain houde but i've only seen them after he quit and that's the band that's prone to bad nights. also bad records.

Anonymous said...

Just my 2 cents: the last two bands I saw live were probably almost a year ago now: Origin and my younger brother's band... I too am in my 30s and the thought of going out to a club just doesn't appeal to me anymore. When I was in high school I went to every live show I could but as time passed so did my passion for live shows. Which leads me to my next item: I have a ton of live DVDs of various punk/hc/metal bands. I kind of watch vicariously through these dvds. We have some pretty good venues here in Cleveland, so I really should get out more but work, money, etc is kind of overwhelming now. I love the site and thanks for listeming,