There are many benefits to seeing music live over just listening to recordings. The energy of a crowd; the added depth of live instrumentation; the thrill of seeing a person or band you admire in the flesh.
One of the best things about live music, in my opinion, is something that not everyone agrees upon, and that is the ability to hear a new twist on songs you already love. Sure, “new twist” sounds like something everyone would be excited about, until you realize just how much people get attached to a specific version of a specific song. I’m guilty of this too, sometimes. One example that comes to mind is Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.” The first hundred or so times I heard this song it was on one particular radio station that always played it as a somewhat upbeat, dancey track. It wasn’t until months later that I heard the “real” version, which is much slower and folksier. I spent far too long trying to locate the exact version that I knew and loved from the radio, but magically every other remix available on the internet is not the right one. “Take Me To Church” isn’t current enough to be on the radio all that much now, and I don’t even listen to that station anymore, so I will likely never hear it the “right” way ever again. Despite this, if I ever saw Hozier live I’d probably be pretty psyched to hear it, in whatever form it should take.
But over the course of my concert-going years I’ve heard some genuine displeasure about artists not playing songs the way people were used to hearing them. Typically this happens with top 40 tracks, the kind you hear all the time, everywhere, for maybe 6 weeks straight. The kind of track where most people at the concert are probably really only there for that one song because it’s so much unarguably bigger than any of the artist’s other songs (the kind of song that “Take Me To Church” is, to be honest). But it can happen with any artist, or any song.
I do not understand this logic. I love hearing my favorite songs live and I love hearing how the artist has expanded on their previous vision to create something new and fresh. Maybe they just changed the harmonies, maybe they added a part for a new instrument that wasn’t originally there, or maybe it’s adding a new verse or changing up some lyrics. Even if I don’t think the new version is better, I pretty much always appreciate being present for the evolution. The only exception is when the artist severely shortens a song I love. Snippets make me sad.
I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot over the last few days; or rather, I’ve been thinking a lot about the reverse of this topic, because I haven’t been thinking about maintaining the purity of songs in the form that I know them, but about how excited and #blessed I have felt to get to hear a new take on songs I already love.
I’ve written about my love of Odesza many times on this blog, and yet again was #blessed (hard for me to use this word seriously) to get to see them twice last week. Out of all the artists I’ve seen, they’re probably the most prolific remixers of their own music. The live adaptations of some of their songs blow me away, and not only do I not care when the song doesn’t go in the direction I was expecting, it delights me. My favorite video that I’ve ever taken at a show (to be fair, I don’t take many and they’re all terrible, including this one) was from Odesza’s set at Panorama last year. I only captured about 20 seconds of a song I happen to love, but they surprised me by adding a new drop and you can hear my voice in the background go, “WHAAAAAAAT” and then cackle out of shock and joy. Sadly everything got deleted from my phone back in March so I don’t have the video anymore, but I’ve heard the live version of that song many times since Panorama and that one moment still makes me scream and laugh, in that order.
They’re hardly the only artist to do this – Gramatik, who I’ve also written about many times, plays a live version of “Illusion of Choice” that has an insane new violin sample that slays me every time.
I will allow that everyone who chooses to experience live music does it for a different reason. But music isn’t just about the consumer, it’s also, of course, about the artist. If switching up a song gives me a teeny tiny bit more insight into the brain of a musician I love? Amazing. Does it hopefully also make playing the same song over and over on tour more palatable to the artist who is probably very sick of it? All the better. It gives me endless joy to go to a concert and see that the person performing loves their own music just as much as I do; it’s why it makes me so happy when producers dance around on stage as they’re working. What remixing your own music says to me is, “I made this song and I still love it so much I’m going to keep working on it and innovating and having fun with it.”
I don’t get upset if a live performance sounds like the album – after all, if I didn’t like the album, I wouldn’t have paid money to see those songs live. But getting to experience some new twists and turns makes the experience fuller and so much more gratifying.
*One semi-unrelated side note to close out this post – I actually did have the opportunity to see Hozier live yesterday at Boston Calling. But his set was at the exact same time as Odesza. For a teeny tiny split second during my festival planning I thought about trying to catch the last 10 minutes of Hozier because a) I was sure he’d play “Take Me To Church” toward the end, and b) I had juuuust seen Odesza live. But I never seriously considered it because…I mean there’s just no way I can miss an Odesza set. I’ll get taken to church another time.