Let's talk today about live performance vs. recordings. How do you decide what makes a good band? Initially, it's one or the other, right? Somebody goes to a show, or somebody hears a song on the radio (or some other version of it's recorded form), and if they like it, they want more. That's how it works, generally, is that people hear something good and they want more of it.
How do you deal with bands that have great studio albums but just are awful in concert? I mean, what sort of excuses would you make, and how far will you go? Maybe the singer just doesn't have a great voice, and needs the studio technology to pull it off. Maybe a five piece band just isn't capable of reaching a certain kind of sonic glory. Maybe the members are really unattractive, awful performers, and don't know how to connect with an audience. So when you return home and see the CD lying on your shelf…do you still like it? Have you lost faith? Do you feel duped? Or does it not matter?
Another scenario: what about bands that are really fantastic in live performance but who's albums don't capture any of the chutzpah? I think this is more common. Is the memory of the show enough to conjure up whatever it was that materialized within and therefore make the recording a kind of vicarious concert experience? Do they just need a better producer? Does it mean that they are great musicians but not great artists?
What it comes down to is figuring out what you, as an audience member, prefer. Everyone is going to have a different opinion. And a Phish-head is going to feel differently from a Rilo Kiley fan. I don't think it's fair to expect every show to be superb, but I also expect talented musicians to put on a good show. When they don't, I am disappointed in them and my opinion inevitably grows more critical.
I think what I'm getting at is that, a good album is a good album, and a great album is even better, but the live show (which is almost always the more rare way to experience a band), has to at least be able to back up the quality of the album, and hopefully can go way beyond. In my book that makes it more important than the sound recording.