Live vs. Recording

I saw and heard Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds on Thursday night at the Beacon Theater in NYC. For an added treat, Sharon Van Etten opened the show and later joined the Bad Seeds and the Harlem Voices as background singer. Cave opened with a few tunes from his newest LP, Push The Sky Away which is a wonderful record if somewhat lyrically superficial. As a show, the show was first-rate. When Cave started in on his older heavier material, the audience stood up and many remained so for the duration. At one point Cave encouraged as many people as could to squeeze down the isles toward the stage, much to the chagrin of the security forces on hand. "It's OK" Cave told them and added, "Don't worry, it's a union thing".

As I watched Nick Cave strut his skinny stuff all over the stage, less like the defrocked preacher of old and more like a man on a musical mission, I thought how silly we are to think we can reproduce this without him. Without all of them. A concert is a performance for all of your senses, a recording isn't. This should be painfully obvious and I for one consider watching Sharon Van Etten and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (spitting) from a few rows back to be a very different experience compared to staring at the space between my two speakers. Ideally, listening to records will bring us closer to the music and with some care and attention paid to the quality of this experience we can for those moments in time get lost in it.

oldominion's picture

For me, the show is the artifice, the recording real.

I much prefer listening to a record than going to a show. It could just be a highly subjective thing, but I get restless and bored during shows. The pomp, the forced interest in keeping the 'show' suspended, the fakery involved, all points (for me) to an empty experience.

Meanwhile I know that Cave and the rest obsessed over that record in a way that's far more interesting to me. Nothing went unconsidered.

When I read about Glenn Gould's lack of interest in performing I recognized that my own disinterest in seeing live shows did not make me a crank.

Regor Ladan's picture

I feel very sorry for you. You  are dead wrong. The PERFORMANCE is the real thing, not the record.

Stay in your little cave and don't out.  It's a scarey world out there, so stay safe in front of your fancy boxes and speakers.

Restless and bored? Fakery? No fakery is the record.

Parlour audiophile.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

While disagreements are inevitable, name calling and unnecessary stuff like this...:

Stay in your little cave and don't out.  It's a scarey world out there, so stay safe in front of your fancy boxes and speakers. something I prefer to keep out of AudioStream.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Regor Ladan's picture

You hit it right on the head ML.

"A concert is a performance for all of your senses, a recording isn't"

Unfortunately, far too many parlour audiophiles never leave their airless man caves to experience the communication between artist and audience in a live setting.

I find this sad and a major reason why the hobby has declined.

jim tavegia's picture

The only real performance is the acoustic one. Once you run it through even the best mics and the rest of the sound reinforcement system you have a recreation, just like like the lp or Cd or download.   You have way more control in the studio and in 24/192 or DSD can capture way more of the "actual performance" than even the most expensive sound reinforcement system could never, ever hope to.


Beside the patrons inside the venue are a constantly moving room treatment system. It can be a great, fun experience, but accurate to a standard that only each patron can decide upon. Compression, limiting, amplifier slew-rates, speaker non-linearities all come into play. 


A guitarist/singer on a stool in front of you live is real. On stage through a PA system...not a chance.  You have a much better chance of capturing that person in front of you in a studio every time. 

Regor Ladan's picture

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! (Banging head against wall)


The viceral excitment of a live band has NOTHING To do with "capturing" the sound accurately. For goodness sake.

Live PERFORMANCE is a totally different form of communication.

Stick with your manicured studio recordings in your nice comfy chair.


jim tavegia's picture

Absolute rediculous comment you made. Get off the Kool-Aide. Go listen to  you WaveRadio. 

Regor Ladan's picture

Utterly hopeless.

No WaveRadio hear. More like $50,000 worth of ARC and Sonus Faber muscle.

See ya, cranky old gramps.

jim tavegia's picture

WHAT you own is hardly the point. 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

See ya, cranky old gramps.

I never cared for this kind of thing when I encountered it back on the grammar school playground so I'll ask you leave it at the door, so to speak.

Martin Osborne's picture

I have always presumed that hi fi gear is about pulling the best possible sound from the media it plays, not the technically impossible capture of the full spectrum sensory hit of live sound. I'm a 100% comfortable with that.

I think most muscians are aware of what can be done/can't be done in the respective mediums and treat them as 'versions' of each other. My own listening pleasures are sufficient proof for me that the recording studio has been a place for mad invention and innovation from pop to modern art music that would have not been possible in a 'live only' world.

As to suggesting that someone who doesn't go to concerts is killing the hi fi industry, well, it is just a little melodramatic.

tnargs's picture

Just typed my first post and it got deleted by the system. Goodbye

christopher3393's picture

Michael: Thanks for this. Wise words. Sounds like a great show. Happy Easter.

whell's picture

I so often find that I enjoy a version of a song that an artist performs live versus the version that appears on an album.  I learned this lesson years ago when I first started going to live concerts.  Many times the version of a song the artist performs live is the version they might have preferred to release on their album.  However, many times in the studio the artist has to bow to the producer or record company execs.    In these instances, the live version is the real treat.  

Bmurph7's picture

I am not able to go to much live music often but when I do, I usually enjoy it.  Live is always different from recorded, and usually is an experience you can't get at home.  I also remember being really disappointed by a performance, but then there are the amazing times, like seeing Buddy Guy from a few feet away in a small club and showing why he is an inspiration to so many musicians!  Can't replicate that at home, but you can listen to great music through your system and always know you'll hear great music.  

Drtrey's picture

can be wonderful! I sing in a fairly large choir with a band of talented (and money earning) session guys and love it! I have also attended some wonderful concerts!

And then I have attended some that SUCKED! The sound was horrid, the venue awful, and the performance bit the big one. And I paid a lot of money for that.

Last night, I got a new Emotiva DAC and stayed up late listening to Ella (deceased) Bruce (old and not currently in town) David Grisman (not touring or in town) and even some Dead (well, dead.) Get those tickets then talk to me!

Otherwise, why would what I did last night and what I prefer to do with my audio dollars upset anyone who's opinion is worth being concerned about?


Ejlif's picture

Looks like a great one and I'm sure nick cave demands an excellent sounding show. I have been to many amplified shows and been put off by the sound thinking I'm not going to another one again but old masters like nick cave or Neil young seem to somehow transcend the PA system and make it sound good or either they have a better sound man. I was at a festival where Neil young headlined and the sound just totally sucked all day. It was somehow instantly fixed when Neil young played. I still think though for the ultimate comparison of stereo vs live there must be no amplification. There is nothing like the whack of a drum right in front of you by a musician that knows their craft. Gerry Hemingway, Lucas Niggli, Tom Rainey and Jim Black especially have left strong memories that I'm happy to have.  

dff's picture

I go to about 40 live concerts each year, mostly classical but some folk and jazz.  For me comparing a cd to a concert is rather futile since they are quite different. In the concert you are a participant in an unique event. The music, the performance, the audiance all combine to create a special event. The result when all of these are alinged is an experiance never forgotten. No cd can duplicate that memorable experiance. CD's are fine but they are not a substitue for a live concert nor is a live concert a substitute for a cd. I enjoy large scale orchestral works and I enjoy seeing the how the composer makes use of the various instruments to create his sound. Over the years I have come to realize that I do not fully understand a piece of music until I see a live concert of that work.

Gmidd's picture

I wanted to weigh in on ths subject because it is something I've been thinking a lot about lately.  I've recently started describing myself as a 'recorded music' fan rather than a 'live music' fan.  I enjoy listening to music recorded specfically for the 2 channel listening experience.  I do not think recordings are necessarily an attempt to recreate a live music event in the studio. Overdubs, EQ, mixing, sampling and all of the various processes that go into the engineering of recorded music means that we are never really hearing an exact replication of a piece of performed music.  Instead what we hear is what the artists, producers and engineers assemble and present to us in recorded form.  Take the album Rumours, for instance, the finished work is the basic tracks along with a collection of various sound snipets added in the final mix by the band and Ken Caillat.  It works, not an an honest document of a live performance, but rather as a sound painting assembled with various colors and brush strokes.  I love to sit back and listen to well assembled studio recordings and hear instrument placement and sense that wide sound stage in front of me.  It's immersive and relaxing and magical.

My enjoyment of live music on the other hand always depends on the venue.  I'm lucky enough to live near San Francisco where there are wonderful venues like the Fillmore; however, what you hear is often over amped... or, you could be forced to stand, because of the size of the crowd, at an extreme edge of the stage... or, surrounded by people who are more interested in talking than listening... each contributes to a less than wonderful listening experience. Classical music, of course, is a different beast, but my tastes do not run in that direction.  Recordings of live music are almost always 'corrected' in the studio.  Most live guitar parts are typically ovedubbed to correct mistakes.

There is something wonderful about a piece of well recorded studio music.  Unlike an amazing live performance, the well recorded piece can always be returned to for multiple listenings. I'm happy to have a modest but well assembled system that lets me enjoy Hi Def Audio files in all of their glory.  Great recordings are a combination of the artist and the engineer and the magic is always in the mix!