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I’ve written in the past about the evolution of live music but unfortunately the only thing I can decide on is the fact that it is changing. With this in mind I am going to present two scenarios; the old and the new. I will be positive in both my versions to present little bias and as you read I want you to consider which of these is more to your taste. To be honest my expectation, as with most things, is that people will side with the old, adding comments about ‘better times’ and donning rose coloured spectacles – however I encourage you to give both a fair shot and simply choose what you would find more enjoyable.
Now I’m not really trying to suggest that every single live concert in times of old was entirely identical, but simply provide a representation of the key elements where I believe the biggest shift has happened within live music. For me, when I think of live music maybe fifty or sixty years ago I think about a full band. I see on stage a drummer, guitarist, bass guitarist, singers and because it’s me I obviously also see a saxophone. The band have rehearsed the full set top to bottom, even throwing some interesting variations to the fans by merging songs into medley form or adding additional chorus’ for the crowd. The singer is the real star, shaking along to however the music takes them and throwing smiles at the crowd. The band may roll their eyes but they know who people are there to see. The backing singers have a few simple steps; maybe a sway and click to look busy when they aren’t required. The performance goes on, song after song interspersed with some talking to the crowd or grabbing a drink. The music sounds just as it does on the album, but somehow better due to its lack of perfection. A bum note here or there and the balance of live instruments not tuned with maximum precision in the studio offers a new perspective to the songs you love. The only thing that stands between you and the voice of your favourite artist is an amplifier and if you close your eyes and pretend, you’d feel as if you’re up on stage.
Now, once again, I’m not suggesting all new concerts are the same et cetera et cetera you get it. As you turn up to the gig you are handed a free wristband; you expected you’d have to pay through the nose for a souvenir but you’ve been handed one at the offset. You’re told it’s got a special part to play in the show and you’ll know when to use it. As you’re anticipating the start of the show the lights suddenly drop before a few crisp laser spotlights work their way around the audience. Suddenly the stage comes to life and it is projected with a light show that put’s New Years to shame. Amongst the crowd of back up dancers on the stage you spot the artist dressed head to toe in something unbelievably stylish and cool. You curse the extra piece of chicken you ate the night before as you try to imagine yourself slipping into something similar. Over the speakers plays one of their hit songs; the bass makes your chest pound and you hear it in a way you could never hear it otherwise. After the intro is accompanied by highly choreographed dancing the artists grabs the microphone and starts singing along to the backing track, somehow managing to dance better than you ever could whilst also singing better. It’s something of a modern opera with so many moving parts, the lights dance around the stage in a rainbow of colours and move perfectly in time with the current song. Suddenly the moment you’ve been waiting for arrives; the artist tells you to raise your wristband to the sky and simultaneously thousands light up – you look around in awe at the spectacle. You have no doubts that you’ve just witnessed quite the show.
So, thoughts? I must admit, in writing and trying to be unbiased I found it easier to romanticise about the old scenario. Maybe it is the rose coloured spectacles talking but it just seems like more my cup of tea, which is indeed a British way of saying my own personal unique tastes even though everyone loves tea so it doesn’t make much sense. I think for me I base my experiences mainly from seeing Drake and Seafret. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely loved both. I was in awe of the staging, the lights and the energy Drake bought. It was just the most amazing spectacle. One thing that fell by the wayside though was the music. Hearing his songs played over the speakers in the same way you would listen on your phone just doesn’t feel the same as listening to live instruments for me and as much energy as he put into the dancing and the light show it felt sometimes like he barely sung half the songs, just allowing the recording to play whilst engaging with the fans. As I said before, it was still an unbelievable experience and I left feeling absolutely incredible but I couldn’t help but feel I’d have dropped the dancing, the lights and all the choreography in a heartbeat if it meant I just got to see Drake rapping and singing his songs more. Seafret on the other hand had a spotlight, a simple light box with the band name on and stood onstage, vocalist, guitar and drummer giving heartfelt performances of all of their songs. I think for me there is something to be said of a mix; Seaftet could have maybe added a little more showmanship (although in fairness their emotive ballad style does lend itslef more to simplicity)cand Drake probably could have focues more on the music thasn the show. A happy medium for me would be Coldplay. Not only do they get on stage and give incredible live renditions of their own music but they also turn it into some huge celebration. Colourful stage sets, light shows and all the spectacle you could ever wish to see. I must admit I’m not speaking from experience, only from clips online but Coldplay is for sure on my bucket list. I think that really the development of live music depends for each artist and even each song. A band like Seafret with more ballads and a folky feel were hardly going to sing about heartbreak while breakdancing in the midst of a laser show; whilst Drake was never going to perch himself melancholically at the front of the stage to give a heartfelt rendition of 'Started from the Bottom'. I think it's great that we get a mix of the two and whilst we could compare all day really it just depends what you like. Maybe something has been lost when live instruments left the stage, but maybe something was gained when showmanship became more important.
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