There’s something visceral about a concert. There’s something about the community of an audience and the vibe of live music that is unmatched throughout all other forms of entertainment. It’s one of my favorite things in the world.
Recently though, I’ve been increasingly disappointed with the live offerings of many of my favorite bands. At first, I assumed it was just my perpetual snobbiness keeping me from enjoying shows as much as everyone else. Of course it’s going to be difficult to flawlessly recreate a masterful album on the spot, I told myself. But after so many occurrences, I had to come to a dark, dreadful conclusion.
Not all live shows are inherently good.
No one wants to admit it, partially because of how much of ourselves we invest in going to a concert. You spend way too much on tickets, drive hours to faraway venues, put up with $2 fees for being under 21 and wait in line to get semi-close to the stage, only to inevitably have beer spilled on you and get hit on by the drunk 40-year-old woman, who for some reason is at every show you attend. Logically, we’re going to want the band’s performance to be divine.
With the way the music industry is trending though, the chances of an incredible performance are not as likely as they once were.
The direct cause of this is the redefined journey an artist takes to success. Throughout the history of music, up until the last few years, there was a universal path by which all artists abided.
It goes like this: Write music. Practice music. Play music live. If successful live, record music.
Only after all these steps are completed would you ever achieve success as an artist. However, with the technological advancements of digital recording, artists often make entire albums without ever leaving their bedrooms.
Gorillaz made the 2010 album The Fall exclusively using an iPad. Many indie artists, such as Youth Lagoon and Yellow Ostrich, set up makeshift studios in their bedrooms and record from there.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this practice, but it’s having unintended consequences on the “path” most successful artists typically follow. Because they’re able to make music on their own, they no longer need live shows to promote themselves; they can simply go online to spread their music.
It makes sense that music production is taking this direction. In a world focused on streamlining and efficiency, artists are finding the fastest, easiest ways to create and promote music.
However, this often comes at the cost of live experience.
When an artist has no live music experience because they haven’t needed it to be successful thus far in their career, it often translates into bad performances. They haven’t had to submit themselves to the “rite of passage” that artists of decades past had to go through (playing shows every night, learning the dynamic of live performance, etc.)
The Beatles performed at nightclubs in Hamburg, Germany, every single night for more than two years before they even sniffed the big leagues. They did their time, paid their dues and gained enough experience along the way to know how to perform live. Obviously, this strategy worked out quite well.
The modern artist often completely bypasses this step, and consequently, the energy, balance and musical quality of their live shows tend to suffer.
As much as it hurts me to say it, some of my favorite bands have performed some of my least favorite concerts. Cults, Nicolas Jaar, Twin Shadow and Youth Lagoon all fall into this category.
I know that when you go to a show, you feel an obligation to rave about how incredible it was. How else will your Twitter/Instagram followers know how musically adept you are? But for all you out there that are questioning the quality of some of the live shows you’re seeing: It’s OK. You’re not alone.