Carter: Overly Rehearsed Live Music

Overly rehearsed live music

Richard Carter

 

The other day I got a call from a Houston friend who asked if musicians in Wichita Falls still got together and jammed. What he was asking, of course, was do people still get together, a drummer, bassist, several guitarists, and just play jams—not to play tightly rehearsed songs—but to get a rhythm going and then play guitar leads over that and to improvise. While I was growing up, jamming was the thing that made me want to play music. It was a lot of fun and it made everyone better players. And the people who came to listen to those jams, seemed to enjoy them.

Bands back in the ‘60s, ‘70s and even early ‘80s used to also play their music live a lot different than the original records. “Space Truckin’” on Deep Purple’s “Made in Japan” is almost 20 minutes long, and I don’t even want to say how much longer “Whipping Post” is on any of the Allman Brothers live CD’s. Those songs featured lots of jams and were obviously not being played the same way from night to night. There’s an eight CD boxset of “The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965” by Miles Davis where a short selection of songs are presented numerous different ways over the course of the recordings. The songs are ever changing interpretations of the originals.

The point I am trying to make is that somewhere along the way (in the ‘80s and ‘90s) most bands started trying to play their music live the same way that they recorded it. I mean, Boston was pretty much all about playing their records perfectly if you ever managed to see them play live. And decades later, live music mostly continues to be about playing songs a certain way over and over again.

When Stone Sour played the Kay Yeager Coliseum a while back, their set was pretty pitch perfect. Perhaps the most noticeable show when a touring band played everything perfect like on a computer playback was the last time ZZ Top played the area. The choreographed light show was established through a computer, and Billy Gibbons didn’t even operate his own guitar pedals. A far cry from when the band played the old Kickapoo Cantico in the late 1960’s and you could hear the hum of the amplifiers and Mr. Gibbons occasionally tuning his guitar.

Even most local bands who play cover songs are extremely well rehearsed to the point that the leads, guitar fills and even drum rolls are established.

I would like to see (and more importantly hear) bands, both local and touring, try to kick out the jams a little more often and improvise a bit more in their shows. If a song is going well, extend it out. If a guitar player is nailing his or her leads, give him or her some more. Perhaps it would also be kind of cool to improvise a little more on set lists. If someone screams a song and it sounds like the right thing to do, maybe a band should play it.

I am pretty sure that Elvis in the ‘50s was playing things a lot more off the cuff than he did when he was playing those over-choreographed Las Vegas lounge shows.

Seeing a band play live used to mean going to see a high energy set of music that reintroduced songs to listeners. Now, it’s sort of like watching a band jump up and down under a great light show while playing a technically perfect set that does good to simmer when it should be cooking.