Mary Rose Cook

Bands are better live

I go to gigs/concerts/shows a lot. Gigs are just better than records.

There is the sound of the audience booing or chatting or whooping or heckling or clapping. Listen to the effect that the audience had on Bob Dylan at his “Royal Albert Hall” gig in 1966.

You can see the musicians making their music in front of you: how that ringing guitar sound is produced, or how he pulls of that riff, or how the drum player and the bass player have to make eye contact before the time signature change. I saw Battles play at All Tomorrow’s Parties last year and saw that Ian Williams does actually play the keyboard and guitar simultaneously.

The musicians play with more conviction because they are performing and they are having an effect not just on the air but on the people in front of them, and the low lights and emotional atmosphere give them license to scream the scream they felt when they first wrote the song.

The songs are different versions from those played on the record six months before because they can be adjusted in response to a changing idea of what sounds good, or at the discovery of a richer melody or simpler arrangement. The album version of Sunset Rubdown’s Us Ones In Between has the piano marking out the melody and the rhythm. However, this live version has the piano nowhere and the song completely driven by a guitar string being alternately tightened and loosened.

Perhaps most tellingly, if a band has a live album, it is usually my favourite. Here are some examples on a special Playmary I made.

Audio recordings capture a good portion of the musical advantages of live gigs. YouTube is great for gig videos, but the experience is too diffused by video-hopping and varying sound quality and the ten minute limit: songs are good, albums are great.

I’m not quite sure where this is leading.

Famous bands are well documented and, just as importantly, well distributed. It is easy to buy a Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan live album. What if every gig was recorded and then put up on the ‘net? A lead going from the sound desk into a cassette recorder and, later, a lead from the cassette recorder to a computer would be enough. A quick upload to a website and it would be available to everyone.