Live performance of song and dance with the latest special effects, lasers, massive screens and other technical tricks now covers everything from Cirque du Soleil shows to Taylor Swift.
The show has always been part of the music performed live.
Classical music has charismatic conductors and guest performers, jazz has its virtuosos, and Broadway musicals have their stars, but the real productions of song and dance these days are in the big, popular bands, especially in hip-hop, country, pop and rock.
As technology has improved, there has been an arms race of what can be done live. When the Beatles played stadiums on their 1964 North American tour, the sound was so bad the band could barely hear themselves playing, let alone the fans, and the light show was equally primitive.
But just as the Soviet Union and the United States began piling on enough nuclear missiles in the 1970s, things quickly changed on the scene. The Who set world records for loudest shows and KISS, already decked out in costume and makeup, added flamethrowers and fireworks to their concerts.
Bigger, stronger, more has continued since, but with some interesting artistic flourishes. In 1984 the Talking Heads released Stop Making Sense and it remains one of the greatest concert films ever made. The band didn’t just take the stage and crank up to 11, they performed their greatest hits, using what was then state-of-the-art digital sound, along with choreography, moving sets, humour, monologues and fashion. Remember that huge, crazy costume David Byrne wore during Girlfriend Is Better? Classic.
Byrne is still doing musical theater like this, just before he turns 70and birthday. Check out his track American Utopia on Crave, which mixes his album of the same name with some nuggets from the Talking Heads in a film directed by Spike Lee. As Byrne explains at one point in the show, his goal was to strip the stage of everything but what’s important – people, in other words. As a result, thanks to modern technology, the performers and their instruments are completely wireless and the stage is bare (and so are the performers’ fees, including Byrne’s).
Peter Gabriel went even further in his live shows in the 1980s and 1990s, adding magical elements to his choreographed concerts, from a beam of light shooting from his hands during San Jacinto to opening the show during the So Tour in 1986, to Gabriel packing his backing band members into a suitcase at the end of the night on the 1994 Secret World Tour.
Live performance of song and dance with the latest special effects, lasers, massive screens and other technical tricks now covers everything from Cirque du Soleil shows to Taylor Swift. The Weeknd seems determined to outdo everyone with his North American stadium tour this summer, but the bar is already high enough. Check out Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour on Netflix, U2’s Innocence + Experience Live In Paris on Crave or Roger Waters’ Us And Them for some recent examples of out-of-this-world live music experiences.
Sound and light technology has now evolved to the point where fans seated in the nosebleed seats of an 80,000-seat stadium can have an experience as incredible as someone in the front row and even take part in the show with lights. cellphones and wristbands.
This does not only belong to the big names who play in huge halls. Anyone who saw Brit Floyd, the most famous of Pink Floyd’s cover bands on tour, when they performed in Prince George in late 2017, saw such elaborate technical production as the real band took with them on their last tour in 1994. The difference is that the technology 25 years later is much improved and much cheaper.
I’ve included three videos on this week’s playlist of relatively obscure artists that I really like and who add incredible theatrical and technical flourishes in small theaters, concert halls and even outdoors.
Whether it’s music videos or live broadcasts, many musicians today don’t just want to create and perform great songs, they want to create incredible and memorable experiences for their fans, whether they’re at home or cheering them on live.