Monday, November 08, 2004

I'd held off on commenting on the Ashlee Simpson SNL lip-synching debacle because I didn't want to repeat all the obvious reactions. What I do find troubling is the idea that lip-synching is now so commonplace that our youngest generation of music fans might not be appalled. One of the Simpson camp's myriad justifications is that every major star these days does it because fans want the live performance to sound like the record. Maybe this is an inevitable expectation in this age of overproduced albums, particularly with the widespread use of ProTools for pitch correction and other technological enhancements for "singers" who can't really sing. By extension, it implies that fans expect live performances to replicate overproduced videos in which singers (and I again use the word loosely) execute precision dance moves, never running out of breath because they are mouthing along to their own recordings for filming.

I guess this is where I'm hopelessly old school. For the bands I love the most, the challenge of recording is to capture the energy of the live show, not the other way around. When this controversy arose a decade ago regarding Janet Jackson's "live" performances, I opined that I'd rather take a chance on a Replacements show, where they might be horrible or they might be utterly amazing, then get the predictability of canned performance.

I have my doubts about all the "major" artists resorting to backing tracks and canned vocals. Many minor ones certainly don't; you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone doing this among the determined fringe who play venues like the Empty Bottle and Schuba's. Considering that she charges hundreds of dollars for the best seats, Better Midler would qualify as a major artist, but she made a point of the announcing at a recent show that the voice and the tits were real. Which makes Bette Midler more punk rock than Ashlee Simpson.

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