Bands that sound good live (as not all of them do)

Many famous bands sound shit live. I know that this is a sweeping generalization — a habit which any regular readers of this blog might realise that I am very good at — but it’s the truth.

You listen to their music for years, playing the albums over and over again. But when you go and listen to them in a live concert setting, and it might be 2 or 3 minutes into a song before you actually recognise what it is — and you are shockingly disappointed, though you not be inclined to slag them off out of loyalty, and a hope that they will make it up in some way.

This experience first happened for me as a teenager, when I went to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The ticket I had bought almost a year and a half before — but because they had cancelled due to illness — I didn’t get to see them until I had actually outgrown enjoying listening to them. That happens a lot to teenagers, where every few months seems to have a tectonic shift in interests.

Anyway, on the night, I showed up at the concert thinking that I could sell my tickets. But then unable to scalp them (I had no idea of what to do, and was a bit afraid to draw the attention to myself) I decided to go in and listen to them anyway.

But they sounded as flat as a tack. I tried to get into the spirit of the concert, even though my previous turncoat intentions probably hadn’t helped my cause, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere.

They were a band I had started listening to at the age of fourteen after hearing them at a friend’s party on the TV show Rage. It was the song ‘Higher Ground’ which hooked me, with so much fantastic energy and excitement that I was desperate to hear more.

Anyway, this concert experience was part of the realisation that an album recorded in a studio — and the live performance of that same album — are two totally different creatures, of varying muscle capacity.

A studio album can be a heavily laboured production, with lots of overdubbing, multi-tracking of the same instrument, post-production effects and filters, elaborate fine adjustments made by producer-engineers, who are sometimes more like creative contributors (think George Martin and Alan Parsons, and all of Madonna’s producers) than technical advisors.

So then for the band to replicate this sound in a live setting is almost impossible, in many ways, setting them up for failure.

Even musically, not everything can convert into a live performance. That was one thing I realised when seeing Metallica, and being surprised when one of their songs ‘Fade to Black’ that fades out over the last few bars, suddenly ended with a series of chords I’d never heard before.

Of course, it took me a little while to realise that they couldn’t just fade out in a live setting. Although technically, it might be possible, it just wouldn’t work visually. The fade out effect had been created in the studio. But this was not something I had considered before.

Anyway, what got me started on writing this provocative post, is that I was listening to the video above which I filmed many years ago, of Inverto, a group from Melbourne that I liked at the time (and still continue to refer to, maybe to the embarrassment to its members!)

But what always astounded me about them — apart from also liking the songs they were covering — was how good they sound live. Even through a tiny microphone on a Sony Cybershot, something about their music, and ability to play together as a group, is very striking.

Not to discredit myself, or diminish my ability to be a good judge, I’ve never been a complete music fanatic, in the sense that I am always going out and seeing live bands. Even when I was younger, I was not really like that, and could be easily swayed by popular things, as long as it caught my ear.

However, I do still like to latch on to anything that strikes me as special; and these guys were one of those bands, doing something that I feel other people should have noticed more. When I returned to Sydney, I wanted to bring them up for the Sydney Festival, a special get-together us harbour dwellers have each January. However, the only problem with that is that I actually have nothing to do with the Sydney festival. So no power to influence, or make new discoveries on behalf the rest of Sydney.

Anyway, despite that minor technicality, I still give them a little bit of random blog space every now and then. And if there is anything that I would say, in relation to this misguided blog post, is that we should be suspicious of any band that that eat up all the musical space in society, who may not even technically be that good, but have worked wonders in the studio, thanks to a good engineer and producer.

We should leave a little bit of room for others, closer to home, bands that sound good live, who have the beautiful ability to shock and awe, and show us something new (like a magician).

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