LIVE: Howard Popeck wonders if audience expectations are realistic, unrealistic, reasonable or unreasonable?

Me, as part of an audience:

I’m not talking here about the performer turning up on time, or indeed not turning up at all. Actually what I have in mind is more prosaic than that!

I tend wherever and whenever possible to attend live music. Among many other genres such as classical, folk-rock and grunge I love most but not all types blues music. In Palmers Green in North London on a Friday night we have The Vintage Blues Club. It doesn’t require an entry fee although people are generous in putting money into the hat which is passed around and although not particularly lucrative for the bands involved, at least in covers their expenses and enough money for a few drinks too, or so I’m told.

The ‘club’ normally kicks off around 9.15 pm and the main band usually performs two sets with an interval where usually an acoustic guest performer of an equal or sometimes superior quality entertain the throng.

The bar is subsidised and is part of the St Monica’s social club. Not surprisingly , although somewhat wittily, Friday night the club becomes St Harmonica’s. Free parking is available after 6.30pm and although the crowd is enthusiastic, they are never raucous. This indeed a ruck-free zone. Frankly, a terrific place to hear live music, up close.

So anyway, there we were last Friday evening

Stardate 09/09/11: So anyway, there we (Rosanne and I) were last Friday evening listening to a band I’d not previously encountered. Curiously with songs that I didn’t know I found them rather good. By this I mean engaging. In contrast however, with songs that I did know, I found them merely adequate. This caused me to wonder, whether over-familiarity with a known track means that with any band attempting to reproduce that known track for a live audience – whatever the size of the venue, is in a no-win situation?

The track in question that was the catalyst for this article was ‘Black Magic Woman’. I’d grown up with this track, if that’s not too much of a cliché, having know it so well from Fleetwood Mac and subsequently Santana, that had I any ability with a guitar and/or vocals I could quite likely have gotten up on stage and done a passably good job myself.

I should also point out that our local headlining band ‘The Vintage’ do from time to time produce a version which is thrilling – but for additional reasons over and above talent and enthusiasm. This is partly due that one of the two female lead singers (the only blues band I’ve ever come across with two female vocalists) has a voice that some have described as being like “Audible Viagra”.

Anyway moving swiftly on …

I wonder what the expectations are of people in general when listening to tracks – reproduced live – that are really part of their musical DNA? I’m not currently talking here about tribute bands – although at some point I will get around to it. What’s in my mind is something a bit different than that.

For example, are bands ‘entitled’ to reinterpret a known song? Or in so doing, are they misunderstanding the aspirations of the audience?

Are the audience, or at least members of it, being unreasonable in expecting an exact facsimile of the original? Do they even expect a facsimile? If so, why? Does a band dressing in the style of the original recording artist look dumb, are being dumb or merely being respectful? Or intentionally funny? Or all of these?

For example, and I have asked myself these questions and come to no conclusion – am I hoping for a reproduction of the track as I know it – of precisely the same length with the same guitar breaks and so on, but at a sound pressure level which would be worthy of an ASBO anywhere else?

Tribute bands and audience expectation:

To give you an example, when I go and see ‘Think Floyd’ and ‘Talon’, the latter of whom are quite absolutely note perfect regarding The Eagles, this is indeed what I expect and enjoy. These two bands are pre-eminent in my experience of tribute bands and are so respectful of the original music and musicians that nothing is open to interpretation and consequently there is no misinterpretation.

On the other hand let’s take a band like Credence Clearwater Revival who regretfully I never saw live. Allegedly they were so thoroughly rehearsed and so well-drilled by their autocratic founder that their live performances were note-perfect reproductions of the studio versions. If true then this rendered purchasing their live albums nonsensical. Or put differently, from a sonic perspective, what would have been the point of going to a CC gig?

I’m of course in saying this marginalising the atmosphere that comes from being in a crowd of like-minded individuals – as indeed I’m marginalising the overpriced beer, the queue for the toilets, the self-cantered idiots waving banners, and more.

In contrast:

In contrast, I have seen the ‘Counterfeit Stones’ many times and without hesitation can attest to the fact that they’re one of the most thoroughly enjoyable tribute bands on the European circuit. They are utterly note-perfect regarding all of the more common Stones tracks. While they lark about on stage between tracks and are exceptionally funny in the most positive sense of the word, they just don’t jerk about with the music. The instruments are authentic from the era that they are representing at any given time. Vox Teardrop guitars, Gretsch bass and so on.

However …

As an aside, one of my favourite albums and I feel the most accomplished from the Stones is ‘Sticky Fingers’. The standout track is for me and for many others, is ‘Can’t you hear me knocking?’ I’ve yet to get around to talking to the Counterfeit Stones although I intend to do so at some point. And whilst I feel pretty certain that they are intimate with probably every Stones track including some of the crappier ones (everything from the 1980s onwards?), I wonder if a perfect reproduction of ‘Can’t you hear me knocking’ is impossible to achieve – even if it were the Stones were themselves attempting to perform it?

Thank you

Howard Popeck

Part #2 tomorrow

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