On September 20, 2005 the popular rock band Bon Jovi released yet another successful album, Have a Nice Day. One of the tracks is called Last Man Standing written by Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Falcon, penned some years before this release. The song tells a not too distant futuristic story from the perspective that no musicians actually perform live anymore except for one. It describes seeing a real human being singing, playing, emoting, sweating, and dancing live in front of an audience as a rare spectacle.
This is becoming an all too real forecast of what's to come in live concerts. Most recently in the media was the singer Beyoncé Knowles with her last minute decision to use a pre-recorded track instead of performing live with the Marine Corps Band for President Barak Obama's 2013 inauguration ceremony. All other performers at that event including Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor performed live.
In fairness Beyoncé is not the first to give a fake performance before an audience of millions. Ashlee Simpson failed to recover when the wrong recording was played on SNL. She made matters worse with her reactions during the botched performance by going into an embarrassing ho-down dance and walking off stage instead of even trying to sing or recover her performance. She blamed her band for playing the wrong song-though they only started playing after the recording had started and were the only ones still performing anything when SNL cut to an early commercial. Lip-syncing cost Ashlee Simpson what was promising to be a rather successful career.
In the early 1990s Mili Vanilli were stripped of their Grammy award when it was revealed it wasn't even their voices on the album's recordings. Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson, and Whitney Houston have all similarly pretend to be delivering amazing emotional live performances to their fans. Even two of my classical heroes Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma pantomimed their performances of the music John Williams had composed specifically for Obama's inauguration in 2009 due to cold weather affecting their instruments. The use of electronic stringed instruments or remote heating and a makeshift clear enclosure could have allowed them to actually play their instruments. Does The White House not have such resources or at least the personnel and brain power to improvise such solutions? What's the point of having some of the world's all time greatest musicians for a performance and not having them actually perform on their instruments?
When the planet's most adored artists are routinely lying to their audiences yet carrying on with great success in their careers I feel concerns should be raised regarding the current and future state of the arts and their connection with the consumer based general public. It is an insult to truly talented hard working musicians around the world when the most successful touring “musicians” can't even carry out a live performance.
I've played violin, guitar, and sung in below freezing conditions. Many of us have been in school bands performing during snowstorms; some of my Alaskan students certainly did. The average professional musician doesn't have an entourage that will fetch a hot drink, secure a heater, or change your broken guitar string at the last minute. Big stars have every convenience availed to them with the absolute best performing equipment and technicians anyone could ask for. They receive every opportunity to have the best imaginable circumstances when they take the stage. When they don't even sing one must wonder, how did they ever achieve the success they've garnered? Good question. Fame obviously isn't reflective of talent.
When a singer like Bon Jovi, Alicia Keys, Taylor Swift, or John Legend perform you can hear imperfections. They don't sing every note in tune; they're human. They don't sing every song the same way each time. Listen to some old recordings of the band Queen live in concert. Freddie Mercury was an amazing entertainer. His abilities of singing and showmanship granted him great freedom in his performances. This freedom to express himself in the moment was moving to his fans. As a professional he knew to modify his melody if he couldn't hit a certain high note without sacrificing the mood of the song. And the band was so tight they could follow his leadership and make whatever happened still sound good.
The Doors used to turn some of their radio length hit songs into 45-minute jam sessions. They knew each other musically and had trust in each other's talent. Not to mention they could even do so with far from clear minds. For any musician to successfully turn a 3-minute ditty into a near hour-long trance of entertainment before a live audience a band can't fake their abilities. Part of the excitement of such a show is the unpredictability. The anticipated modulations from the norm can be some of the most musically exciting moments of a live show.
I used to be harshly critical of famous singers who occasionally botched a note. Now I cherish those few moments as proof of their authenticity. Singers nowadays are more famous for their appearance than their singing. There still exist many great singers who consistently deliver impressive vocal performances. If given the chance to see them perform live you will know you are in the presence of true talent in the audience of an artist like Richard Marx, Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, The Civil Wars, Jewel Kilcher, Alison Krauss, or Sarah McLachlan. Such artists are true musicians, masters of their craft. They have decades of experience and maybe they'll forget a few words of a song once every few shows but you'll know you're getting the real thing.
Integrity is an essential societal quality. But honesty is increasingly more easily disguised. With all of the flashing lights, smoke, dancing, and heavily produced modern music it can be difficulty for even the most discerning and educated musicians to discern those who pantomime and lip sync their performances. This is all the more reason to go out and support the live bands on your local music scene. These are the honest, hard working musicians who've spent their entire lives studying, practicing, and being trained to do what they do for you. They do what they do out of passion and because they can't keep silent the music that exists within.
When you have the choice between hiring recorded music from a DJ or a live band consider how much more there is to appreciate about having skilled entertainers there just for you. And if they sound really great, be that much more impressed!