Live shows demand reversion to basics

If people are enjoying live performances nowadays, it might be for all the wrong reasons.

Somewhere along the line, live performances have become more about theatrics than about vocal talent. In other words, what gets people talking now is cool dancing and light shows.

It is, however, worth noting that lights, pyrotechnics and dancing are excellent complements to a live show — good side dishes to the entrée, if you will. But these supplemental assets are being milked for all they are worth in an effort to take the “live” out of live performances and shift the attention elsewhere.

It would be unfair to say that everyone who lip-syncs is a bad singer. Though it is common for one’s singing to be enhanced by studio magic, it does not make sense that stars, such as Christina Aguilera, Chris Brown and Madonna, have been caught blatantly lip-syncing.

Perhaps it is a fear of messing up, like Aguilera did when she sang the wrong lyrics to the National Anthem at the 2011 Super Bowl.

Or maybe the aging Madonna needs help singing her songs live because she does not have the same stamina she used to.

And maybe Chris Brown is a dancer at heart. Perhaps he sings on CDs solely to provide a soundtrack for his true passion: generating smooth, synchronized footwork and impressive body movements.

These statements are only suppositions, but there certainly could be some truth to them. In an era when thousands of concert videos are available on YouTube for a single artist, the live performance has lost its original luster. The market is oversaturated with different musical options, and the attention spans of Internet users seem to be much shorter than the run time of a song.

For this reason, artists have to try something different to capture listeners’ attention. Unfortunately, that means going for pizzazz.

That is why pop stars like Ke$ha sound like robots on the radio and why Madonna, who many people would call a living legend, could not sing a single note during her Super Bowl halftime show this year.

If performers want to dance, then they can join dance groups. And if they want to put on light shows, they can probably find employment at a local planetarium. The bottom line is artists should take the stage to showcase their musical abilities.

Maybe this belief is old-fashioned, but “singers” should be up onstage to sing. If they can do other things simultaneously, that is great too, but fans should not have to sit through lip-syncing just so the performer can focus on other talents.

More importantly, fans should not accept lip-syncing. When fans hear a song, they should want to see it performed, not just danced, live. After all, what makes someone fall in love with a song is the music: the melody, the vocals and the arrangements, not the vision of fireworks going off or someone popping out of the floor.

Artists, meanwhile, should see live shows as an outlet to prove that they can sound just as good in person as they do on the record — if not better.

With that in mind, recent comments made by Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl make much more sense. Grohl received extensive backlash for his acceptance speech at the 2012 Grammys when the Foo Fighters took home the award for best rock album.

Though many people saw his speech as a criticism of electronic acts like Skrillex, the main point was that live performances are “not about being perfect … not about sounding absolutely correct. [They are] about what goes on in [your heart] and what goes on in [your head].”

Grohl went on to clarify his statements in a subsequent Facebook post when he said, “I do the best that I possibly can within my limitations and accept that it sounds like me. Because that’s what I think is most important. It should be real, right? Everybody wants something real.”

Grohl has it right. Live performances should be real because reality creates the most passion. It is real when a guitar goes slightly out of tune. It is real when a vocalist sings incorrect lyrics and the rest of the performers onstage sort of smile at each other because they know that he or she messed up. It is real to get up there, be yourself and do your best as a performer.

When everything is said and done, all the audience members will sing along no matter what. No artist should be so focused on other acts as to not sing back. Live performances are all about connecting with the fans in a powerful, evocative way. The easiest way to do that is to be one of them and to sing along.


Nick Mindicino is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column “Industry Ballads” runs Fridays.

1 reply
  1. Alex
    Alex says:

    You should take some more time to qualify the statements you make in your article. The live show is still very alive, especially in the smaller venues that one can find throughout Los Angeles. Your narrow focus on bands that are signed to major labels and have widespread name-recognition robs smaller bands of the credit they rightfully deserve.

    Could you see anybody you mention in concert for less than fifty dollars? Could you see them in a venue that seats less than five hundred? These are factors that go into making a performance more intimate, not the lights flashing behind them.

    Additionally, you imply that vocal talent is what makes a strong and memorable performance. This is certainly not the truth in quite a number of cases. Tell me Paco de Lucía gives poor performances. Go ahead, tell me.

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