When I was a young punk, I had a radio show on CJSR. I would open every show with the Pixies, and then proceed to play music I described as melodic. Godspeed You Black Emporer! (as they were punctuated then), A Silver Mt. Zion, Do Make Say Think and the like populated these remaining hours. In a curious constellation of reunions and tours, I have see both the Pixies and GY!BE (as they are punctuated now) in the last week.
It’s a big deal, really, in consideration of where I have come from. But what I’m left with, after coming so close to my musical heroes, is a question about performance.
The Pixies were doing one of those album tours, and so they played Doolittle in its entirety, bookended by B-sides (including slo-mo “Wave of Mutilation!”). GY!BE, instead of jamming out for a couple hours, played songs. Songs from albums, as seen/heard on those albums. In both cases, these are incredibly talented musicians. In particular, the violin player from GY!BE and Kim Deal occupy my current affections as artists totally devoted and masterful at their skills. (Or perhaps I just have crushes…)
It’s always been the case: what I want from live music is not the same as what I want from an album. When the live show is a faithful replication of an album, I feel unsatisfied. I can take some vitamin P, lay down on my bedroom floor, turn the volume loud and press play and have a blissed out experience of an album’s music. And granted, seeing it live, even as a straight reproduction, is something else. But what I want from a concert experience is something different, where I can’t predict the music’s ebbs. I want to see something of the band’s chemistry overrule the way their cooperation has been inscribed.
Of course, musicians approach live performance in myriad different ways, some more aligned to my taste than others. But given the prevalence of album tours and reunion tours, perhaps my desire to be surprised by something familiar is passing out of fashion?
Performance as transcription, on the one hand, and performance as translation, on the other.