Sunday, 16 May 2010

Live goes through the looking glass

Cracking cover article in the June edition of The Word magazine, 'How Live Is Live? And does it matter?'

It looks at the arc of live music from the Beatles turning their backs on gigs, due to the constraints of having to play through venue PA systems, through to today's touring behemoths - Ga Ga, Madonna, U2 et al.

"The modern rock show pieces together the dopamine-milking skills of computer games with the perceived danger of live theatre, while bands themselves are like circus performers, needing to constantly sharpen their knives and update their tumbling routines."

Today's gigs are being relied upon to replace the income lost by falling record sales and as a result the tours are getting bigger and ever more elaborate.

"As far as live performance goes we have now gone through the looking glass. Madonna's Sticky and Sweet tour had her duetting with Kanye West onstage and on tape. The real Madonna interacts with her own highly styled video image."

Performing live or even alive is no longer a necessity as shown by the popularity of shows such as Sinatra at the London Palladium which combine archive footage, special effects and performers dueting with the long deceased crooner.

The apex of tours to date seems to have been U2's latest; the entire production fills 201 trucks, below is a photo from the back cover of Pink Floyd's 1969 Ummagumma album in which they were proudly showing off their extensive touring kit.

(Another interesting U2 fact picked up from the article, there is a vast room under the stage that houses the Edge's echo boxes, constantly monitored by three technicians.)

These gargantuan performances are morphing the whole live scene, in the seventies and eighties big name acts still played small town venues, these days the venues are self-selecting.

The Word has a fantastic podcast and episode 131 discusses and builds on this article. Someone makes a point that has great relevance across all live performance, whether public speaking or gigs; audiences today want a content that suits a shorter attention span. Long rambling gigs are out, replaced by constantly changing highly visual performances, devised to suit our youtubed attention spans. A great example of this was Gorillaz recent Roundhouse show, a musical layer cake in which almost every song had a different guest performer - Shaun Ryder, Bobby Womack, MC's Bashy and Kano - or visual surprise.

Highly recommend buying a copy of the magazine and listening to the podcast.

Oh and one more bit of rock based inspiration courtesy of the latest Word podcast - apparently on the latest Kiss tour the drummer at one point puts down his sticks, picks up a bazooka and fires down the lighting rig which falls to the stage.