Less talking cont’d
In calling out two musically superior live projects for the excessive loquacity (from your garden variety emcee chatter to pietistic testimony to outright blather), I wasn’t so much intending to suggest that talking has no place on stage. Rather, my point was (albeit implicitly) that the function of talking at a live concert is not necessarily the same as on a live album.
Every audience demands a slightly different repertoire of rhetorical tricks and tactics from an emcee and other singers to make a live performance come off right night after night. And I certainly don’t begrudge artists their talking - it’s their decision and their stage after all, and even if it bugs me, I can always take a Hagee Family Refreshment Break.
But live albums aren’t simply a recorded artifact of a particular concert. They are an attempt to capture the essence of an artist’s or group’s music in a live setting, as opposed to the comparatively cold-blooded environment of a studio. My hunch is, people don’t listen to live albums so they can sit at home or in the car and pretend they’re in that audience at that place and time. They listen to live albums to get that charged-up excitement that only live gospel music can give, when the drum kicks and the piano runs off up the scale and the voices fill out an expansive harmony in ever-expanding clouds of glory.
In the live context - sitting in front of a group as they perform - the energy and immediacy of being there colors how we hear the talking between and during songs, and makes us much more tolerant of talking than we are as consumers of recorded music. I’m sure Claude Hopper’s folksiness stories and long-winded introductions and meandering stories about growing in Nawth Caruhlonna seemed right and true and real to most people.
Record those same monologues, though, and they lose their spontaneity, their folksiness and whatever charm they might have originally had. I’ve listened to Live in Greenville so many times, I can tell Claude’s stories right along with him and cue the band at the precisely the point in his intros where the song kicks off. The talking has ceased to be live speech and become tupperware to be burped before the song can start.
Fortunately you can skip most of Claude’s talking easily on the recorded cd, since the sound engineers smartly put his intros for most songs at the end of the previous song track. But the Greenes 10th Anniversary Live is a good example of how talking in the middle of songs does not really age well at all on live recordings.
On both “When I Knelt” and “More Precious than Gold,” there are long monologues in the middle of songs that have - after dozens of hearings for me - lost any sense of meaningfulness, not because I don’t think the performances weren’t given in earnest originally but because the sense of improvisation that gave the music and monologues emotional heft in the original (the fact that you’re experiencing word and song together as one holistic piece of gospel performance art) collapses once it’s committed to tape, and the talking molders and mummifies itself in contrast the eternal vitality of the song.
The egg-head scholar in me is grateful to have these warts-and-all live recordings as fine examples of late 20th-century white gospel performance style.
But sometimes the fan-boy me thinks
Tim’s Tony’s prayer before that final fabulous finale of “More Precious than Gold” will simply never end, and it’s not the good kind of suspense. And I just wish - for the love all things holy and gospel - that Kim would stop cry-talking in the middle of “When I Knelt” so she and boys can end it and heaven can come pouring down on all over.
Update: Reader SDG raises a good point:
Between the vocal stacking and the canned music, what exactly is the difference between “the essence of an artist’s or group’s music in a live setting” and the “cold-blooded environment of a studio” again?
I guess my response is somewhat solipsistic: the discussion above was undertaken with the assumption that the sort of live albums I have in mind are ones that aren’t just full of karaoke cuts with a camera running. We’re not, of course, talking here about full-band live albums, but live recordings that use a mix of tracks and live instruments (Live in Greenville falls into this category) and/or a mix of songs with tracks and songs with just piano and bass (see Alive Deep in the Heart of Texas) in a way that doesn’t manage to lose the warmblooded quality of good live albums.Email this Post