I went to see Sharon Jones & The Dapkings last night. Among other things, it reminded me a lot of James Brown’s 1962 album “Live at the Apollo”. I mean there’s the horns, the backing singers, the R&B. It was an immensely fun experience and was the closest thing I’ve seen to what I imagine the “Live at the Apollo” show was like.
I’d been listening to the fantastic Sound Opinions podcast retrospective on the Brown album and one of the things that was raised was how Brown created the show that was recorded at the Apollo – but performed countless times before and after – with the aim to make a show that was absolutely arresting in every way, something that was absolutely seamless and completely engrossing and that would hold the audience in thrall throughout the show. One of the key elements to doing that was having a show that was so polished, so perfectly performed, so well scripted that you simply had no reason or desire to look away. Even the interludes in the show, short 15 second intervals where Brown was gathering himself, are tightly choreographed with music.
By now if you’re a music fan you’ll have heard the complaint that digital music has killed the album – that being able to pick and choose songs means we’ll never see an album that’s as seamless as, for example, Dark Side of the Moon, again.
And as an extension, it’s generally agreed that live performance is much more important today as a source of income for an artist. But the way artists are performing live hasn’t really changed along with the shift, as far as I can see. If live performance’s significance to an artist has increased, surely the amount of craft put into a live performance should increase accordingly.
I’d say about 99% of concerts I’ve been to have followed the format – song played by band, between songs the singer introduces the song/thanks the audience, band plays next song, rinse and repeat. Perhaps there’s two songs in a row without the patter, but there’s always a break of some kind. There’s always a pause where the audience can catch it’s breath and remember that they’re not elsewhere, that they are, in fact, just at a rock concert. That seems like a missed opportunity to me.
So why not think of your live show as a single unit, with the aim of being totally engrossing throughout – what about aiming for 45 mins of seamless choreography, music, sound, light – relentless, uninterrupted entertainment?
I guess my point is that I know I’d spend serious money to have a concert experience today like the one James Brown rolled out in 1962. And I know I’d be telling everyone I knew about a show like that – just like I’m telling everyone about how great the Dapkings were last night. That kind of completely immersive escape is what everyone needs now and then.