Can Live Music Weaken An Album?

If you haven’t had a chance to enjoy NPR’s live music series hosted by Bob Boilen, I highly suggest checking them out either via the NPR site or their podcasts on iTunes. A recorded March SXSW performance and interview with the Brooklyn-based Yeasayer, provided insight and an opportunity to explore a long-time curiosity of mine; how a band can sound so different from its recorded version to its live performance, giving fans an entirely different experience. The interview also shed light on how Yeasayer writes and performs their songs.

Specifically, Boilen also makes a comment about how after seeing Yeasayer live, he better understood how the band writes songs and that they don’t “improvise” as much as he thought they did. And after he saw them live, it was also clear that the band makes every intention to carefully craft where the songs are going, live and recorded.

Yeasayer’s had this effect on others too, like Justin with Live Music Blog who recalls a similiar revelatory post-concert experience.

I’ve had many instances where seeing a band has increased my interest in their music or allowed me to experience a different aspect of the band; I’ve also had the opposite experience where a band I absolutely loved on album turned out to be a downer live.

And when that happens, I usually find myself asking a series of very quick questions during the performance.

Is it the sound? The venue? The crowd response? My emotional state at that moment?

Sometimes it’s a combination or just one of these and many other factors. But after a performance that throws me in either direction—appreciation or depreciation—I’m always awestoned for awhile after the show, especially if I stuck my neck out and told a friend that they had to see this band and then show ends up really sucking.

To end this post I’ll give an two examples from Lollapalooza 2007 that made me listen to each artist’s music in a completely differently light ever since seeing them live for the first time—one positive and one not so positive.

I reviewed Apostle of Hustle’s sophomore album National Anthem of Nowhere and was excited to hear his performance at Lollapalooza, and I had gone so far as to tell a musician friend that he had to check out his set. Well, we did and ended up leaving halfway through because frontman Andrew Whitman spent too much time telling silly stories of political metaphor and the rhythmic power and intensity I heard on the album was barely present, resulting in live depreciation.

Regina Spektor’s performance, however, took me in the opposite direction. I wasn’t completely sold on her pop solo piano style since I had casually lumped her style in with the rest of the femme-piano pack. But Spektor put on a show that blew me away and was so full of energy and charisma. She gave me no choice but to better appreciate the ubiquity and catchiness of “On the Radio.” I’ve also had to swallow my pride and ask my wife if I can borrow her Regina Spektor CD, the one with that song about remembering how she used to smoke Marlboro cigarettes and tangerines.

So what bands have you seen that turned out to be different live than on record, or vice versa? Have you been to a show that’s changed—appreciated or depreciated—an artist’s music?

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