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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Backing up.

There must be something in the air. Over at Candleblog, a couple of pals are engaged in a frisky debate about a proposed Blogger Code of Conduct. Murf from False 45th and I are having a back and forth about the validity of backing tracks in live performance. I'm not sure I'd call our exchange a debate I have a feeling we'll end up making nearly the same point.

But I wanted to put the question out there to the rest of you. When does the use of triggered accompaniment become sonic chicanery?

Here's a helpful list of hipster-approved acts who engage in the practice (partial source: Wikipedia). Not that I'm trying to influence you or anything:

The Album Leaf

Death Cab for Cutie

The Go! Team



And so on.... I'm sure you guys can come up with more. No diva-hop or club-tronica, please.


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It kinda comes down to what the backing track is supposed to accomplish during a song, and a matter of degrees:

Is it adding to the music, filling a sonic void that someone in the band can't recreate on their own?

... or simply replacing something that could easily be played by a human being (like Buckingham's backing bass).

The Album Leaf, DCFC, and Mogwai only use backing tracks on select songs to enhance what's going. There's still real drums, bass, guitar, etc going on there. And it's never for a whole set, o'course.


I think Brad summed it up very nicely. I remember seeing R. Carlos Nakai at the Flynn Theater a few years back & being really impressed by the interplay between flute & recorded nature sounds that he used for a couple of songs. I believe Greg Davis did something similar during his performance at the Firehouse Gallery.

I find this kind of creativity more appealing and thought-provoking than someone playing over a recorded bassline, which seems to me to be the equivalent of Guitar Karaoke. That said, I'm sure there are creative ways to utilize sampled instruments for use in live performance--for example, check out Panda Bear's live performances of songs from his new "Person Pitch" album--it's all sampler and vocals. Very clever & effective.


It's important to remember that none of us can say for sure in what context Buckingham used pre-recorded tracks. Unless, of course, we take Kaza's review at face value. My guess is that light sampling was employed in order to keep the concerts "intimate," while providing boomers with some familiar musical cues. It sounds like we might have a case of embitterment towards aging icons of radio-rock going on here. That's cool. I have embitterment towards scrawny white kids with guitars and adenoidal voices.

But I love me some dick slap!


No embitterment on my end, to be sure. Hell, I love me some Fleetwood Mac. Not that I'd go see Buckingham now, but still. And yeah, you're right, it really depends on exactly how he used the backing bass track. If it really assisted him during entire songs, and stood in for a live bass player... then we might be looking at a guy who didn't want to pay (or just didn't want to deal with) an extra tourmate.

the le duo

thats the way i see it- i dont care if an 'artist' lets say uses some pre recorded whatevers to make beautiful & new, strange & enchanting music...but when its an 'aging radio rock god' who is just trying to recreate hit songs from 30 years ago, i say- hire a bass player! or arrange the songs differently to cut out the bass... but who am I to say? just a disgruntled musician with no band...


i imagine there are a million and one talented bass-playing fleetwood mac fans that would jump at the chance to play bass in lindsey's band (and maybe even for free, although i really dont think money is the issue). i thought lindsey was touring with a 3 piece band on this recent tour?

everyone and their mom uses backing tracks for live music these days, so i dont really see the problem i guess. but i wasnt there so i cant really say...

casey dont forget The Books in your list up there & every hiphop artist / act ever except for The Roots maybe.


sometimes backing tracks or sequenced tracks can add a new level of difficulty to a performance. I'm thinking of The Who talking about what a bitch it was to stay in time with the Baba O'reilly tape. Sequenced parts definitely call for a new level of tempo awareness on the part of all the musicians. fake or authentic is another question, but backing tracks definitely don't always mean slacking.


Being the other (and much less frequent) poster on False 45th, I'm nearly going to fall on the other side of the fence. I find it easy to agree with Brian and the rest here in theory when it comes to pre-recorded tracks substituting for performance, but one of the best musical performances I ever witnessed was a Flaming Lips show where all the drumming was pre-recorded. Heavy emphasis on the "performance" for sure - it was the headphones tour from '99, the venue had a big top styled roof and the stage was centered so it was almost like they were "in-the-round" (Ziggy's in Winston Salem, NC), all of the normal Flaming Lips theatrics were present (fake blood, mouth cam, videos, confetti, life sized bunny giving hugs) of which I knew nothing about until I was there - but I found it to be fantastic. At certain times the screen behind the band would show a video of the drummer, which just added to the surrealness. At the time I had no issue with the lack of drummer. On the drive home I realized how schlocky and weirdly canned the whole experience really was, but in the moment I was taken in. I could see myself writing a review similar to Kazas if I had sat down directly after the show (but I would hopefully refrain from say dick slap worthy statements). But after a little introspection and thought I’m pretty sure I’d realize how sterile and boring a show is night after night with the same static beat, no matter the glitter and packaged mayhem.


I'm gonna default to Ben here. Additionally, I'll state that I think Buckingham might have been either been A: playing a "live loop" bass part on the e-string with a Line 6 (and Kaza just missed it entirely) or B: it was a sampled tuba from a tune like "Tusk." We weren't at the show — we don't know. But it's foolish to say that just because a band or artist chooses to employ backing tracks in their sets that it isn't a potentially rewarding experience for an audience. But best VT performance since '77? Probably not.

PS: I just got back from a show in which there were both loops and laptop triggers and it was "fine," as it were.

the le duo

ok, so we werent there and cant say for sure- but i figure it was nothing like the flaming lips or every hip-hop act ever, where pre recorded loops are an important part of the just seems a little lazy to me...most classic type rock and roll needs a bass play that kind of music...get a bass player! i understand if he was touring alone but there was a, i would even be willing to learn the bass parts for 'go yr own way' if he needed a hand


It's official! No one wins this argument!


Wow. I'm sorry I missed out on this top shelf debate.

To clarify, the problem I had was with Kaza's comment about it being the one of the best shows in thirty years. I didn't really rip Buckingham for using pre-recorded tracks except to suggest that any show using pre-recorded tracks would remove the show from being consider on of the best shows ever. It could have still been a swell show but to call it one of the best ever is silly.

To clarify my feelings about pre-recorded tracks, I largely agree with Brad. I like live music because it's a bit of a trapeze act without a net. Shit goes wrong sometimes. Using a pre-recorded track simply to ensure that the live performance sounds just like the album, is safe and boring.

And just to show some consistentcy on this, I ripped The Go! Team when I saw them live and realized they were mixing in pre-recorded horn tracks.

Lastly, I see a distinction between what Buckingham and The Go! Team seem to have done and bands/artists that use pre-recorded samples and mix them together live into unique creations each time.

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