What makes a good live instrumental performance?

Discussion in 'Live Performance & Stage Sound' started by GSGBen, Jun 21, 2016.

  1. GSGBen

    GSGBen SS.org Regular

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    1. When you decide to see an instrumental band you're familiar with and like, what makes you want to see them live as opposed to just listening to their studio recordings? Is it just the spectacle of the technical execution? I'm thinking about non-improv based performers - CHON/AAL/bands with tracks set in stone.

    2. Which elements of performances by unknown instrumental bands get you thinking 'this is great, i'm having a fun time here, i'm enjoying myself, I'm going to check these guys out further.'?

    For myself, it's mainly the technical execution. Watching CHON casually play super clean runs live is amazing.
     
  2. EmaDaCuz

    EmaDaCuz Brutal yet soulful

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    In general, a live performance sounds better than a record, if played properly. The sound is richer, louder, and more honest. Some band take this to the extreme, some others have a peculiar live tone.

    I went to see Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull a few times in my life and I was blown away by the atmosphere they created. Okay, these bands are not completely instrumental, but the songs are not so rich in vocals.

    I have also seen some Italian progressive rock bands (PFM, Banco), again not fully instrumental, and I loved their technical execution as well as the sound. The sound was so massive, so rich, and so aggressive while being mellow and reassuring.

    I don't care much about modern instrumental bands, I have to say. In most cases, they are just technical freaks with little sense of music. Even one of my idols, Paul Gilbert, is super boring to listen live. You have the WTF effect for the first 2 songs, then the magic is gone. And he is one of those player/bands that sound crap live.

    In general, though, this is true for kind of live performances, not necessarily instrumental.
     
  3. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    I'm old, so my thinking is old fashioned.

    In the past, when you went to the record store, and saw a record on the shelf, the artwork would jump out at you. Many bands focused a lot on the "package" of their music, lyrics, what they stood for, their visual image, etc.

    Nowadays, you go online and download the mp3. There is nothing to observe visually.

    I listened to a lot of instrumental bands in the 1990's and early 2000's:

    Dick Dale, The Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Buckethead, Martone, Spastic Ink, Matthias IA Eklundh, Happy Family, Laika and the Cosmonauts, Estradasphere, Man...or Astroman?, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, etc.

    Some of them were technical monsters, some of them were totally not, but they all had an ambiance communicated in their music. Having seen some of them in concert, I can honestly say that it was generally an "experience" rather than just the band playing their stuff.
     
  4. Bloody_Inferno

    Bloody_Inferno Silence is Violence

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    I'm gonna sound like an old fart myself but...

    I'm gonna echo the whole, live visual spectacle being more fun than watching note-perfect robotic performances.

    When I see bands just staring at their instruments and staying put, that bores me. It's no different from watching a bedroom playthrough. Part of the live spectacle is watching the struggle, the fight or the completely dominating the guitar, all while captivating the audience. This is why Vai and Yngwie are always fun to see live.

    Another big thing for me is the element of surprise.

    Satriani doesn't show a big flamboyant show like Vai or Yngwie, but part of what makes his live show so appealing to me is that he doesn't play or arrange his songs the same way as he does on record. Instead he makes does with whatever band he's touring with. He started with just a trio with Stu Hamm covering all the musical background while Joe filled more space by embellishing his melodies even further. It's a blues mentality that's incredibly unsafe for Satch's style, but it's also very appealing. Even with a more full ensemble, part of the appeal is when the performer decides what parts to eschew and strip down for a live band. Satch is still fun, especially now when he has Mike Keneally juggling back and forth (or even simultaneous) between guitar and keyboards mid song.

    Using Vai as an example again, he loves changing things up. Keneally and Tony MacAlpine doing double duty on guitar/keys, Dave Weiner busting the mounted sitar, 2 violins, a harp, it's a great show when what happens to a familiar song when a new sound is brought to the table.

    I tend to get disappointed when instrumental bands play exactly like the album (and with over reliance on backing tracks even with a full band), as the element of surprise for me is gone. No jams, no dynamic shifts, no new and interesting retakes of live favorites, none of what I consider the fun stuff of what makes an intense live show. :2c:
     
  5. broj15

    broj15 SS.org Regular

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    Godspeed You! Black Emperor was the best non heavy (but still insanely heavy in a non-metal sense) live show I've ever seen. It was honestly like a spiritual experience. They were insanely loud, had great control over dynamics, and did a great job of playing off each other and deviating from what you'd hear on their albums while still keeping things recognizable and being extremely tight with each other. A good instrumental band is one that can play with emotion and create an atmosphere that you can completely lose yourself in.

    Edit: The visual aspect was amazing as well. For those who've never seen Godspeed they play with a projection screen behind them that shows black and white images of everything from bombs being dropped from planes, train wrecks, people in distress or just pure static all synced up very nicely to reflect the mood of whatever particular movement they were playing at the time. It really ties together the whole apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic (but also uplifting at times) atmosphere that they achieve through their music.
     
  6. Science_Penguin

    Science_Penguin SS.org Regular

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    Well, my band is instrumental at the moment. We can't afford any fancy visuals yet, so what we try to do when we play live is just really get into it. Me and the keyboardist both move around a lot (he has a keytar), we'll all interact with each other, I tend to go into my "melodramatic rockstar" mode for certain parts. Also I, who kind of assumes the ad-hoc role of MC at every show, try to get some audience participation going, even just something as simple as "Scream for me, [insert location here]!" or having them clap along with a straightforward rhythm section (depending if they're willing to participate- you kind of have to gauge the reactions and not try forcing anything.)

    Seems to work, we get positive feedback at our shows.

    Honestly, though, I'm really just doing stuff I'd want to see at a concert, regardless if they're instrumental or not. I've gone on record as saying, as much as I really enjoy Animals as Leaders' music, their live shows look incredibly boring to watch. Same with Dream Theater, to a degree, too. They tend to just kind of stick to their places and focus on what they're playing.
     
  7. CGrant109

    CGrant109 SS.org Regular

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    My bandmates and I have discussed this quite a bit given we're an instrumental metal band. We've always focused on playing as tight as we possibly can when we do live. We've learned along the way to find a balance between being engaged in this aspect, but also being engaged with the crowd, and read/feed off of how they are reacting to the music. We do want to add a visual element to our liveshow to make everyone feel more engaged and add a center of attention to the performance aside from watching us play.
     
  8. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    You don't need fancy stuff to be visually engaging.
     
  9. Drew

    Drew Forum MVP

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    This, really. A band with energy, clearly having a great time playing, is going to be engaging, no matter WHAT the genre.

    Porcupine circa Deadwing was one of the best live performances I've ever seen for this reason - they were tight as hell, but they were also clearly just totally getting off on being on stage and having the audience so into the show. It was awesome.
     
  10. GunpointMetal

    GunpointMetal SS.org Regular

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    All of the instrumental bands I've seen rely mostly on their light show and cool special effects to keep the show interesting because they are for the most part just standing still and trying to play super clean. Of those bands, Scale the Summit was the only one that I felt like was doing enough "rocking out" and passive crowd interaction to make me want to pay for a ticket to see them live a second time. No matter how cool your light show and projection setup is, standing still and staring at your fret board and occasionally smiling at the crowd after a cool riff is BORING AS .... to watch. I love AAL, but I probably won't ever need to see them live again.
     
  11. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    :2c: I've seen Buckethead a number of times, and I've never seen him rely on expensive light shows, yet he manages to be quite entertaining just being Buckethead between songs.

    Man...or Astroman? are also very entertaining on a modest budget, or, well, at least, they were when I saw them more than a decade ago...

    On the other hand, I love listening to Jeff Beck, and seeing him live, I just got a bit of a weird vibe and couldn't really get into it.

    Having also seen King Crimson in Royal Oak, MI, on a night when their sound system .... the bed, they managed to rebuild their momentum that evening as an instrumental act (well, mostly Fripp and Levin did) by interacting through gestures and conveying their energy on stage. Adrian Belew did just kind of sit there and play, though, but, then again, he's tied to his rig with a multitude of audio and midi cables.
     
  12. Blasphemer

    Blasphemer Bird Law expert

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  13. Mathemagician

    Mathemagician SS.org Regular

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    It has to SOUND good. Big, clear, etc. then? They need to look like they're having fun. Don't just stand & play, move a bit. Dick around during another instruments solo, whatever, just don't make me feel like I'm listening to it at home.
     
  14. 4Eyes

    4Eyes SS.org Regular

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    create atmosphere on the show - lights/ambient sounds/tracks, video projections, if you're charismatic person be yourself - think of Devin Townsend (well, not instrumental, but take a look at his stage presence), Steve Vai ...this apply to both instrumental bands and bands with singer. while there is still group of karate kids who don't care about that kind of aspects at shows, there is much bigger and growing group of people at shows who want to have pleasant experience both musically and visually.

    shows are not about just playing music anymore - look at pro bands and you'll see that they pay attention to details like how their stage does look, lights, visual effects, how they act on stage - think of it like it's theater performance
     

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