Live performances – Howard Popeck wonders if audience expectations are realistic, unrealistic, reasonable or unreasonable? (Part #2 of #2)

And then – ladies and gentlemen – The Who:

So what about The Who’s ability or indeed inability, to reproduce note-perfect their more well know tracks? How about speculating on their prerogative to interpret the tracks as they see fit –notwithstanding how they and bands like them must surely strive hard not to be bored themselves nor indeed bore the audience?

As a ‘dyed in the wool’ Who fanatic, do I want and have a right to expect, say for example “Substitute” played live as we know it in our DNA from that first and magnificent album from 1964 – albeit played at shattering sound pressure levels?

With them, I’m not so sure. Partly because their own interpretations of their historic tracks can be magnificent and far surpass the originals. The 15 mins version of ‘My Generation’ on the deluxe issue of ‘Live At Leeds’ being a case in point. Then again, when I see the’ Who’s Who’ tribute band I don’t expect them to attempt the same. Which is altogether reasonable given that they can’t. It’s doubtful, given the 17 times I’ve seen The Who live that they could recapture the shattering performance of Live at Leeds. In fact for me, they never did.

Full circle:

So I’m coming back pretty much full circle to where I started. There is no question in my mind and indeed that of my partner that the rendition of ‘Black Magic Woman’ last Friday night was at best adequate and quite probably an unwarranted mangling.

n the other hand let’s suppose that they had been very competent with this specific track – what are my obligations as a listener in terms of my expectations (reasonable or otherwise) and those of the performers? It wasn’t as if they added anything to the original –although I do believe that an interpretation could be entirely justified in more competent hands. For example I have a number of live recordings of the same track recorded by the late Gary Moore and his various line ups in various venues.

His respect for Peter Green as an individual is well documented. Moreover each of these live versions was subtly different to the point that it would be impossible for me to know which I prefer – notwithstanding the fact that the PG version is for me the benchmark in white man blues angst. Moore was very respectful of the original to the extent that although I suspect he was totally capable of replicating the precise tone and other sonic characteristics of PG’s Les Paul, he chose not to.

Similarly whilst I suspect that he could have done a passably good job of replicating PG’s anguished vocal mannerisms, he didn’t.

Epilogue:

I thought I’d finished this article on Monday. However last night I saw Steve Cropper (yes, that one) with The Animals (2 original members) at our local Millfield Theatre. The Animals, both with and without SC were very respectful of their heritage material. In every respect it was tight, well-rehearsed, powerful and deeply satisfying for someone of my age and history. Except … except that great as their keyboard player is, the haunting sound of the original organ-break (a Fender Rhodes I believe) from Alan Price was not reproduced.

Maybe the current keyboard player wouldn’t? Maybe he couldn’t? Maybe the modern keyboards, albeit with a Leslie just weren’t up to replicating it? Or perhaps like Townshend’s blistering and possibly never-to-be repeated 15 min version of ‘My Generation’ at Leeds, Price’s immortal organ technique could never be repeated?

So, that’s pretty much it I guess. For me, thinking this through, it seems likely (and was it always thus, but had I just chosen to marginalize the fact?) that it’s the competence of the musicians that answers most of these questions.

So I don’t care how much the tribute band dress like their idols, first and foremost I do expect note-perfect renditions of the original with no interpretations’ and yes I’m unforgiving of any deviation in that situation.

In contrast, a truly great ‘fun’ band like The Vintage who are not only highly competent musically but appear to be doing it for the fun first and foremost (but a bit more Dosh wouldn’t go amiss, right?) can indeed reinterpret whatever they choose with aplomb. Not only do they ‘get away with it’ but …… invariably they add something. A little something perhaps, but always a worthwhile something. Or is it just me being more tolerant than usual?

Actually, I don’t think so. Hear them perform ‘St James Infirmary Blues’ and/or ‘Need your love so bad’ and you’ll know precisely what I mean – possibly.

Thank you

Howard Popeck