Tuesday, December 3, 2019


This trend is getting out of hand. Sure, it's nothing new. But it's getting worse. It used to be that bands used tapes, DATs, samples, triggers, etc. to help replicate the sound effects on their records. That's perfectly acceptable. Some use it to flesh out their sound. Add some soundscapes here, a little infra bass there... no harm done.

Then there are those who need it to replicate, say, the orchestra they used. Next thing you know, their entire backing vocals are on tape.

Last week I was at a metal show and, out of the three bands that played, at least two made extensive use of technology. Not just as enhancement but as replacement for the performance.

This is the part where I show my age. "Back in my day..." and all that. But apparently, it existed in my day too. In Steve Gorman's excellent book Hard To Handle about his time in the Black Crowes, he reveals that Aerosmith was using tapes back in 1989.

Of course, every time I've seen Aerosmith, there was a lot of pre-recorded vocals. Tyler essentially harmonises with himself in the show. But two things matter.

1 - He actually sings. He might sing on top of a lead track, maybe his volume is even turned lower in the mix, but he sings for real.

2 - He admits to it. Last time I saw them, he made a point to introduce the keyboardist who triggers all the tapes and samples by saying: this is the guy who makes me sound good every night.

That honesty goes a long way. Would I prefer Aerosmith to have remained the rough and ready hard rock band of the mid-seventies, warts and all? Of course. But they've become huge with their ballads and over produced AOR. They play enormous arenas and even stadiums. 

Ozzy famously had Robert Mason of Lynch Mob as a ghost singer on some performances. The sound engineer had to find the right balance of Ozzy/Robert, sometimes killing Ozzy's mic entirely when he couldn't hack it. But anyone who has seen Ozzy in the past ten years can attest that he doesn't use help anymore, when he probably should.

Toto, of all bands, have been open about using TC Helicons on stage to help with their famously intricate vocal harmonies. Disappointing perhaps, but not exactly on the same level of the scam than some other acts are perpetrating over their audience.

Mötley Crüe, who have announced a reunion (the third one) a whopping four years after their break-up, are notorious for having a substantial part of their show on tape. Bass, guitars, drums, vocals... All except Vince Neil's lead vocals, which could use (more than) a little help.

KISS, who are embarking on yet another farewell tour (sure, guys) have been using tapes to cover for lead singer Paul Stanley's shredded vocal cords. In what may actually turn out to be a landmark case, a concert ticket buyer got his money back from (I think) Ticketmaster when he said the experience he was promised was not delivered: the performance was not live. Ticketmaster, and the so-called hottest band in the world, granted him his refund, thereby admitting to defrauding fans the world over.

Of course, you expect these types of shenanigans from Britney Spears or Milli Vanilli. This is what Rock and Roll has become. In 2011 I saw the Roger Waters production of The Wall twice and it was painfully obvious that despite a top notch band, Waters' vocals were mostly pre-taped...

Singers get old. Paul Stanley's voice has been an embarrassment for years, so in typical KISS fashion they resorted to this. They also added a little more pyro to cover it up, because that's what KISS fans care about. Smoke bombs, dry ice, lights, special effects. Smoke and mirrors.

David Coverdale of Whitesnake is also struggling vocally, but as far as I can tell he is not using any tricks. His musicians are all excellent backup singers and help out a lot, but it's still him singing.

Keith Richards' playing has devolved dramatically in the past fifteen years. He butchers easy songs that he's played a thousand times before. The last five times I saw him, he fucked up the intro to Brown Suger. Every. Single. Time. But save for a few percussions during Sympathy For The Devil, the Rolling Stones play live. You can't make Charlie play to a fucking click for ninety minutes! They'd lose that swing. They are a Rock and Roll band. And Rock and Roll bands play live.

Shame on the artists that do this. And more power to the ones that don't. You know which artists don't fuck around and play live? The real ones. The good ones. Paul McCartney. The Rolling Stones. The Who. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. The Tedeschi/Trucks Band. Eric Clapton. You know, bands like THAT. And if they make a mistake, if the voice doesn't exactly reach the same notes as forty years ago, if the song ends up sounding a little different from the record, it's actually a good thing. It's called Rock and Roll.

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