Monday, September 19, 2016

Currently Listening 9.19.16

I love music. This is a surprise to no one who knows me, because they also know I am a composer.

Music is one of the most essential needs of my being. It’s what powers me, what molded me, what crawls through my essence and creates my world. In my hierarchy of needs, it falls just under food and shelter--though it’s often kept me from eating. (Composers often forget to attend their basic needs when composing.)

I rarely go more than a few hours without listening to something. My tastes are spread out over most genres, the only vague exceptions being for EDM and country--and even those have their exceptions:


My closest friends are also musicians. (At least of a sort.) And as such--they get me. They get my quirks and my volume and my inevitable "day after a concert" deafness. (Because, loud.)

They also understand what I like to call "the cycle." It's not a rut, per se, but I will absolutely obsess on an artist or genre--or even a specific aspect of a song--and listen to all of it. On repeat. For a really long time. (I have ADHD pretty severely, so a long time could be 3 days, it could be 3 months, it depends on OH LOOK, A SHINY!!!)

Right now, I am INTO songs with kickass guitar solos. Just, boss as hell interludes that typically fall between the verse and the hook. That perfect moment when a guitarist just LETS IT FLY. When his or her body is taken over, and the gods of rock and roll or blues or funk or whomever it is that gave Eric Clapton magic fingers, and they soar as their hands fly across the frets. 

If you've ever experienced one live, you know that it is a very special moment. As a guitarist, and as someone who is friends with many guitarists, I will let you in on something. The solos you hear on recorded performances could be the 1st, 10th, or 20th take. There is the time to work it out so that it sounds exactly how the producer thinks it should. But live on stage--and privately--they're much more exciting. Captivating, even. 

Por ejemplo,

Skip to 4:10, or just a little bit sooner if you want to see some serious "church tongue." Also, that church is the freaking Tardis.
Skip again to 7:24, because if Slash is your guitarist, you don't waste that.

Skip to 3:58 and then 7:00

Slash SWITCHED FROM ACOUSTIC TO ELECTRIC IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PIECE. Sweet baby jeebus on a g-string, that is something. I can't exactly see from the craptastic video, but it looks like he goes from one of his Martin guitars to a Gibson Les Paul. The video is undated, but my best guess, and the guess of the musician I am sitting beside as I write, is about 1993. This was the height of their fame, when they had reached peak crossover appeal with this very song.  

But the solos. While the electric solos that follow the bridge are very similar, there's also a real difference in the emoting of the chords. He pulls off (pulling the string with the hand on the fret as opposed to picking the string at the body) a lot heavier live than he does on a recording. 

As for the acoustic solo? That was pure magic. Just, pure magic. Here is this guitarist, known for these insane pull solos, picking an acoustic as Axl Rose just plays the hell out of the 88. I keep trying to imagine being there, but nothing I imagine could be nearly as great. 

Ok, Nancy Wilson, everyone. The intro to this song is legend. It's this deceptively simple sounding, yet very complex audio narrative.  The recorded version is very polished and precise, and you can hear her fingers sliding down the strings--that's what gives it that slightly distorted/spring sound. It's wonderful.

Live, Nancy Wilson goes bananas. She really lives in the moment and plays there. Because of the nature of live performance, you miss some of the intricacies you can hear in the studio version, but you get more in the way of the joy of the play.

There's also a huge difference between live performances--and even more when compared to the original. Take "Rock and Roll is Dead" by Lenny Kravitz. It was originally recorded in 1995 for his album Circus. It's not a song he plays frequently during live performances. There is a reason for this. He plays his own guitar solos on this song always. During most live performances, he plays rhythm guitar and sings, and leaves lead guitar to Craig Ross. Craig Ross is an insanely underrated guitarist, and more than capable of playing whatever Lenny writes, and improvising/riffing like a madman. (Lenny Kravitz plays most of the instruments on his albums and only has a touring band. Save for brass--because no man is an island. Ok, Prince was. But Prince was, well, Prince.) Over the span of years, the solo becomes a living thing. It's apart from the song. It may always have the same roots, but the leaves change with the seasons/years. It's kind of wonderful to see someone play something, and then play it again at intervals, to learn the evolution of not only the song and solo, but the artist. We get to see this with artists like Lenny Kravitz, Joe Perry, Slash, Joan Jett, Chuck Berry, etc. 

Solo at 2:05

Literally just the solo and commentary. This was 2007.

Solo at 3:25. This was in 2011. Also, the hair got progressively shorter. Reverse Dorian Gray dreads?

All of these were recorded and performed on Gibsons. (Flying V and Les Pauls) They were all obviously played by the same person. They're strikingly different. 

Hence the reason for my current obsession. I often wonder how I will evolve as a composer. I know how I have evolved, but wonder how I will evolve. Will I mellow out like Joe Perry? Will I get incrementally better like Joan Jett and Orianthi and Mumford? Will I start going (lady)balls to the wall like Lenny Kravitz? Between my 20s and my 30s, I know that as much has changed about me as about my composing, and I ponder the correlation, will that trend continue?

I don't know if it matters so long as I can keep playing. Keep writing. Keep making music. 

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