This, in my opinion, is the whole point of music – playing it live. Music is an event; it takes place when performer and audience meet. Music is an outside entity; it is created when performer and audience merge. I have experienced this for myself, but only a bare handful of times and always as an audient. A live performance has the ability to in a very real and tangible way change the people involved. One person enters, another person leaves.
Given the experiential nature of music, and the way a live performance involves many more senses than a studio record listened to through a stereo system, I have found many to be be of the opinion that live records are somehow inferior entities, below both the sweaty gig and the considered studio album. I disagree, and have always done.
I think the way I started to really listen to and be affected by music plays a big part in this. I can point out four, maybe five records that really got me interested in music, and two of those are live recordings. Well, one and a half at least: The Nits’ Urk and U2’s Rattle & Hum (for more on R&H, see my Achtung Baby review).
An important effect of this was that when at the tender age of 9-10-ish I heard the studio recordings of these songs, I became aware, at least subconsciously, of the concept of rearranging music. Of adding, removing and changing parts of songs to make them work better live, to add variety for the players and to accomodate new ideas. I was downright disappointed in the Joshua Tree version of U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” for example. At the very onset of when I started to really listen to music I was given the impression that live music was somehow better.
And it has been like that ever since. Of course there are exceptions, but take a band like King Crimson: here, the studio recordings are actually less important than the live performances. Yes, their albums provide an opportunity for considered statements and the introduction of new material to the audience, but it is not until the pieces have been played live for at least one whole tour that they truly become what can be. Very few KC songs are ever better in their studio versions. And happily in KC’s case there is a plethora of live material availiable for purchase and immediate download on the DGM Live website, currently spanning 40 years of playing.
I do not have a conclusion or anything to all this, I just wanted to present a few thoughts on the subject. Let me say this – I missed Leonard Cohen’s recent touring in Europe due to lack of money, and I am instead very very greatful for the live recording made in London that was later released on CD and DVD. Without it, I never would have had my life changed by hearing “A Thousand Kisses Deep”.