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Thread: Play it Like the Recording or Improvise - which do you prefer?

  1. #1
    Member Jerjo's Avatar
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    Play it Like the Recording or Improvise - which do you prefer?

    I love Rush. I have all of the official live albums and so many boots I haven't heard them all. On the stage, it was all about playing that music with passion and precision. And there are many other bands I love that pretty much replicate the record when on stage with maybe just the solo sections changing a little. But some of my other heroes flew by the seat of their pants, either re-arranging material entirely or just changing things up every night. I have a feeling that most prog fans prefer the former. Other than KC, improvisation and new arrangements are not the norm.

    Which style do you like better? If you go to a show or buy a live album, do you expect a recreation of how the song was recorded or are you open to a new interpretation?
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    Member Koreabruce's Avatar
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    Generally, I prefer to hear live what I already know via the recordings. Certain bands such as Yes and Genesis composed pieces in which the keyboard and guitar solos were, note-for-note, very much integral to the compositions. These need to be re-created when playing live. That said, the delivery of even the most tightly-composed pieces can still be very different on different nights: slight variations in tempo, dramatic pauses, vocal ad-libs, variations in intensity based on audience response, etc. While I'm not averse to having these kinds of bands shake things up a little and take some liberties in live settings, on the whole, I think I'd feel a bit let down if the artists in question were to venture too far away from the original arrangments.

    Of course, going to see an improvisationally-oriented band such as KC is a whole different thing. I'd NOT expect them to recreate the album versions of their songs and would probably feel very much cheated if they did. It's all about the nature of the respective musical beasts.

  3. #3
    I already own the studio album. What’s the point of me even seeing them live if they’re just going to carbon-copy the studio recording? Renaissance’s Live at Carnegie Hall is far from the worst album in my collection, but it may very well be the most pointless. Apart from the extended “Ashes Are Burning,” every track is indistinguishable from its studio counterpart, apart from the band patter and applause between tracks. Even “Song of Scheherazade” is pretty much identical to the studio version, and it predated the studio recording!
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  4. #4
    Member since March 2004 mozo-pg's Avatar
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    I like it when bands change it up.
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  5. #5
    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    What's the point of a band playing note-for-note? They might as well play a record onstage.

    Besides... CREATIVE musicians get tired of playing the same exact thing every night. And I like my musicians to be creative.

  6. #6
    Seeing Rush was the only time I went to a concert knowing exactly what was going to happen throughout, as I'd heard some boots from earlier in the tour. Still great music played by great musicians.

  7. #7
    improvise without a doubt.
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  8. #8
    Gentle Giant had a good middle ground approach in their live album - I don't think they improvised a lot (although some of the songs had guitar or keyboard solos that I think changed with each version) but they changed the arrangements of most of the songs compared to the studio versions.

  9. #9
    I'm here for the moosic NogbadTheBad's Avatar
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    Yeah, improvise for me, I want to hear a few changes
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    Member rcarlberg's Avatar
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    Zappa was famous -- was he not? -- for never playing the same concert twice. His various bands could turn on a dime and go off into uncharted territory with a nod from Frank.

    IIRC

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    Mostly I prefer some variations from a studio recording, although there will always be a few "Can they pull it off live?" moments
    that I look forward to hearing.

  12. #12
    It is common for an artist to change an arrangement based on sheer boredom of playing the original arrangement night after night.

    Some bands succeed at utilizing a segment of each older or classic piece during live transmission. This commonly occurs when a band releases a new album and performing mostly that ...then wrapping up the show with shorter versions of older pieces. If the pieces are instrumentals it becomes particularly interesting and challenging to rearrange the pieces you wrote years before.

    In some cases it becomes less boring for the band who have been perhaps performing those older pieces for several years. Sometimes fans are in fact disappointed. Other times they find it enjoyable.

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    I'll say it depends on the band. I saw Alan Parsons Project a few months ago and I think re-creating all the singles live, pretty much note-for-note, was obviously not easy and was a lot of fun to listen to. Definitely more energy and pleasing than putting on APP records.

    OTOH, When I saw Santana in the spring, the "oldies" were played a little too perfunctorily. Many solos sounded note for note. He was willing to stretch out and improvise with the "new" post-millennial stuff a lot more and I actually enjoyed that more, even if the material is not always the greatest.

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    I like versions that are a bit of both; maybe make sure you appease the fans who want to hear the studio version of the song, then go off on a creative tangent such as a tempo change or a solo that wasn't there before. I always liked a new verse thrown in with different lyrics. If it's a song I really like, a longer version is always great.

  15. #15
    I don't mind improvisation or taking a new approach to a song as long as 2 things are met: First, that it still fits the mood and atmostphere (and key and rhythm!) of the song, and second, that any KEY elements of the song from the original recording are not lost. For example, I once heard a band cover "Aqualung" and that lovely walking (or running) bass line was nowhere to be heard. To me that's a key element of the song and without it the song just loses too much. Another example (not prog) was seeing Willie Nelson in concert a few years back. He totally destroyed the melody to every single song he sang. They were unrecognizable, and it kind of ruined the whole show for me. I understand he's probably sick of singing those songs the same way for decades, but those melodies are a huge part of the reason that the songs have stood the test of time. Destroy the melody and you kind of destroy the song.
    An example of a major change (not improv but a different approach) that I think DOES work is John Wetton's acoustic arrangement of "The Heat of the Moment" from his CHASING THE DRAGON album. Same melodies and lyrics, but a completely different approach and, to me, a much more powerful emotional impact. I was good with that change.
    As far as improvising solos and stuff, I don't really have any problem with that as long as they are good.
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  16. #16
    The arrangements can be the same, or not, but the solos should be improvised. Having said that, some solos are so iconic, they need to be at least very close to the original.


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  17. #17
    Member Boceephus's Avatar
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    I like to hear a bit of stretching out, taking chances. I also like stripped down versions too.


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  18. #18
    I think it really depends on the band, and the context. If you're at, say, a Rush, or classic Genesis of Yes show, the songs will be played largely note-for-note, but you get all the performance aspects, visuals, and energy of the live show. It's no different, really, than going to the symphony to hear Beethoven or Mozart. Yes, you can sit at home and listen to your albums, but I think listeners go to concerts like this with the hope of hearing an inspired performance, and in the case of rock, seeing an extravaganza.

    The question becomes do you need a live album of concerts like this? The answer may vary a bit from band to band, but given the proliferation of Yes boots, and the success of Seconds Out and some of Rush's live records, I think the answer can still be yes. The energy of the performances can still be different enough to attract the listeners even of the notes are the same. I know the many songs on the 10/28/78 Wembley concert are my favorite versions of various Yes classics, and they are basically note-for-note renditions. This is less true for me personally with Rush and Genesis, and some others... all bands I'd happily see live and have no need for them to change arrangements or notes, but I don't need necessarily their live album.

    For other bands, improv is part of why you go to the show. For me, that can be a mixed bag. I saw one of the Return to Forever reunion shows with Di Meola, and I thought it was a boring wankfest. The strength of that group was their compositions with tasty soloing built around those themes. At the show, they didn't give enough of those for my taste, and instead went off loose jams that had no relation to their classic album material. For me, that sucked. On the other hand, King Crimson during the TCoL/TPtB period did a great mix of improv and album tracks, and I was blown away the many times I saw the band.

    On the whole, I'd say I lean more toward hearing the songs as they are on the record, but I do like it when a band stretches out or makes some changes at times. A mix is good, it doesn't have to be either/or.

    Quote Originally Posted by pb2015 View Post
    Gentle Giant had a good middle ground approach in their live album - I don't think they improvised a lot (although some of the songs had guitar or keyboard solos that I think changed with each version) but they changed the arrangements of most of the songs compared to the studio versions.
    The thing that frustrates me about live GG is that I feel a lot of the subtlety is often lost, especially in the keyboard sounds and arrangements, and the vocals. I get sick of hearing Kerry's damn clavinet on virtually everything, and I miss his lead vocals on his studio tracks. They also skip some of the best parts of songs by squeezing them into medleys, which I feel is kind of a gyp. They play great, but I usually prefer their studio albums.

    Bill

  19. #19
    I'm here for the moosic NogbadTheBad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sputnik View Post

    For other bands, improv is part of why you go to the show. For me, that can be a mixed bag. I saw one of the Return to Forever reunion shows with Di Meola, and I thought it was a boring wankfest. The strength of that group was their compositions with tasty soloing built around those themes. At the show, they didn't give enough of those for my taste, and instead went off loose jams that had no relation to their classic album material. For me, that sucked. On the other hand, King Crimson during the TCoL/TPtB period did a great mix of improv and album tracks, and I was blown away the many times I saw the band.


    Bill
    I think these are the perfect two bands to highlight this difference. When I went to see RTF every track was an exercise in setting up a solo wankfest and it was as boring as hell. Whereas I've seen Crimson during that TCoL/TPtB period (would have loved to have seen the 70's band but was way too young) and the improvs were outstanding. While not improvising the tweaks have given to old material with the last line-up, particularly Collins additions, have really added something to that material.
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  20. #20
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rcarlberg View Post
    What's the point of a band playing note-for-note? They might as well play a record onstage.

    Besides... CREATIVE musicians get tired of playing the same exact thing every night. And I like my musicians to be creative.
    Exactly.
    That is why attending a concert with most jazz bands or Magma always is something special.

  21. #21
    Member since March 2004 mozo-pg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NogbadTheBad View Post
    I think these are the perfect two bands to highlight this difference. When I went to see RTF every track was an exercise in setting up a solo wankfest and it was as boring as hell. Whereas I've seen Crimson during that TCoL/TPtB period (would have loved to have seen the 70's band but was way too young) and the improvs were outstanding. While not improvising the tweaks have given to old material with the last line-up, particularly Collins additions, have really added something to that material.
    You had to see Crim by 1975 (I think) so I missed them too - my first concert was Trick Of The Tail, although I saw the League Of Gentlemen in the 1970s.
    Last edited by mozo-pg; 08-15-2022 at 12:38 PM.
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    Man of repute progmatist's Avatar
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    The reason people followed The (Grateful) Dead and Phish from town to town was it was never the same show twice.
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  23. #23
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    When I was in my teens, the music I loved the most seemed so complex and amazing that my question was "can they pull this off live?" and the measuring stick was how close it sounded to the studio recording. There are still times in my life when I feel that way, and the most recent was probably with Cardiacs and the Maresnest concert video, which astounded me in that respect. But - once I started to deepen my listening, getting very heavily into jazz and various flavors of fusion, I realized that perfect re-creation was not the only possible goal, and there were places and times for both in most music. Zappa is a great example, with the intricacy of the written material combined with the turn-on-a-dime approach to performance and Frank's amazing improvised solos. Another interesting case is the touring version of Steely Dan over the past couple decades, since Jon Herington joined the band; he has the great ability to nail enough of the recorded versions of all those iconic solos while still adding his own variations in perfect balance. These days, I just look for great musicianship, which can manifest itself in accuracy of re-creation, spontaneous improvisation and interaction, or any combination of the two. As far as live albums go, I agree that a live recording that is indistinguishable from the studio version would be pretty pointless, but I honestly can't think of an example where that's the case. Close, sure, but there are always differences in performance and sound, some subtle, some not. Anyway, my 2.
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    If I go to a show, I tend to expect faithful renditions of songs. When someone other than the original artist is covering a song, I HOPE for a new interpretation.

  25. #25
    Member Quantum Cat's Avatar
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    If I go to a show, the last thing I want is a faithful reproduction of the record. I expect the artist to reflect, "the exigencies of the moment" as Peter Hammill once put it.

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