For last night’s “studio night” we convened at Chachi’s to have a full band rehearsal, which is a fun change of pace. On an average studio night, KB, Mike and I have been running through song arrangements for a live set with the help of pre-recorded drum tracks. This lets us get our collective act together so that when we do have opportunitites to rehearse as a full band, we’re making the most of our time together (not standing around learning our individual parts, etc.).
For me, it’s a real pleasure to be able to get away from the rigidity of the pre-recorded stuff and perform live. I have always enjoyed the fluidity of playing live, which I would say is the musical equivalent of surfing. You know, when the whole band is immersed in the moment, feeding off each other and the audience, riding the top of a performance wave that could change direction or keep going. That ability to ride the wave, to react to each other and the audience, is what I dig about performing live.
During our first song (as I repeatedly got shocked while singing into the mic, yum) I was pretending to be at a gig, and in the bridge section I was talking to the imaginary audience. I wasn’t really paying attention to counting measures, and I wound up stretching that section out a little longer than usual, relying on saying a particular line as a cue to get out of that section. Mike took issue with my ad lib because he felt his bass part during that section, which is a build-up to the end choruses, lost some power if it wasn’t timed correctly.
We resolved the issue after some discussion by deciding to try to play it straight until we’re comfortable with the arrangement. It does bring up a question of philosophy, though: play it like the recording or play it by ear?
When people go to a show, what do they want to see: the band delivering songs just like they sound on the record, or the band taking some liberties with the music? Does it depend on the kind of music? I’d imagine that if the Grateful Dead started playing album cuts note for note, the Deadhead community would have had an uncharacteristic uprising, storming the stage in a cloud of patchouli-scented frustration and demanding lengthy jams. But for a punk band, it would be uncharacteristic to improvise, and might result in similar fan disappointment (of the more beer-scented variety).
I guess some styles of music lend themselves more readily to experimentation, but I also think that the musicians themselves play a big part in determining what is possible in the performance. If the people in the band have played the same material the same way for years, they might crave a little variation to keep themselves interested – an important factor in entertaining an audience. Alternatively the players might just generally enjoy the occasional weird foray into an unexpected musical corner if it seems like the rest of the band and the audience are having a good time.
Song evolution is likely a factor as well. In our first band Foonspeeders, we had a few songs that eventually morphed into drunkdude69 material. It happened in an organic fashion – the more we performed the tunes and the more inspiration we soaked up, the more the songs would change little by little. In many cases, the final result is a whole lot different than the original (the Foonspeeder song “Everyone’s Advice” is way different than the DD69 version “Advice Again”).
Whatever the reason, I think it’s natural to push the envelope a little bit when playing live. Right now, though, it looks like we’ll stay in the box for a little bit.