Hey guys! As you know, I’m guest posting for AUX during their partnership with LCBO for the Whisky Rocks competition (there’s only 5 days left to enter, btw!). For the duration of the competition, I’ll be cross-posting my thoughts here as well. Here’s my third post, in which the guest bloggers were asked how a band impresses us at a live show:
When it comes to music, I value the live experience above all else. I prefer to review live shows rather than albums because I know that an album can be deceiving - perfected and shaped by producers, engineers, auto-tune and so on to make an artist sound better (or just different) than they actually are. A great album is a beautiful thing, but if you can’t recreate it live, that tells me enough about your skills as a musician and I’m ready to find someone more authentic to my ears.
Of course, this sounds like I demand perfection, which isn’t the case at all. Things like flubbing the lyrics or just being bored with having played the song for so many years and wanting to change it up are both forgivable and memorable when done right. What I’m talking about really comes down to energy and raw talent.
Auto-tune can’t save you onstage
I remember the first time I became acutely aware of the power of auto-tune to make any hack sound good – it was back in 2004 when I saw The Killers live for the first time. I had been obsessed with their debut album Hot Fuss, playing it all summer long, and was so incredibly excited to see them. When the show came, I elbowed my way to the front at all costs (at 5′ 1 I really can’t see anything if I’m not in the front row) and although I loved hearing those songs live and was such a lame teenage fangirl back then that I stayed after to get them to sign my ticket, all I remember thinking throughout the whole show was “Wow, Brandon really can’t sing.” It was so disappointing. I completely lost interest in them after that night.
As a new kid in the city, I hadn’t seen many concerts at the time, (bands don’t play small-town Ontario) so the phenomenon of auto-tune really came as a shock to me. From that show on, I approached recorded albums with caution, expecting that the songs wouldn’t sound so great live. This caution means that when I do have a great time at a show, and the performance exceeds the solo experience of the album (as it should), I am in heaven.
Nothing compares to a passionate performer
Having just come from such a show – Jack White at Sony Centre – it’s very clear why he will go down in history as one of the best of his generation of musicians, while bands like The Killers will be less than a footnote in future music books. Watching Jack play is the definition of captivating. All eyes are on him at all times, because he is as electric as his music. He plays so hard his fingers bleed (as evidenced by the above guitar).
You can also feel his hand on every detail of the show, from the backing band, to the lighting design, the way the colour tones match the cover of his album, the outfits his band and roadies wear – he cares about every little thing – he gets that the live experience should be more than just coming to hear the songs and he has understood that since the day he started playing music. He cares so much, he will walk off stage 45 minutes in if the audience isn’t reciprocating, because he has enough self respect to demand an audience that gives back as much as they take. He is incapable of phoning it in, the way so many musicians do.
Make your audience engage
The live show is everything. The live show is where you prove your worth as an artist. If you can really sing, I’ll know. If you can’t, I’ll know. If you’re all standing around disengaged on stage, just getting the words out but expressing nothing, I will disengage just as fast. Genuine interaction with your audience is vital, we should be participating just as much as you are.
I don’t ever champion a band until I see them live, because it is the most reliable way to know if they actually deserve the praise. Many musicians can write a pretty song, but few can write a pretty song and elevate it on stage. The best shows aren’t sonically perfect, but they exist on a higher level than any other collective experience I could ever have.
If I don’t leave your show feeling buzzed and high off the music, you’ve failed.
To distill my answer down to one simple point, I’ll refer you to some wise words from my favorite comedian, Bill Hicks: “Play from your fucking heart!”