That Moment of Recognition

thewho1Live shows are one thing. Live shows are an essential part of rock music. First and foremost, live performances are how most bands make actual money, especially as record sales plummet these days. Additionally, the live show is an opportunity to share the same space as a band, to truly experience their sound without the insular buffer of the recording studio. Some bands are better live performers than others, to be sure, and just having a kickass live show doesn’t necessarily destine you for greatness.

But let’s talk about live albums for a second.

The show’s over. You were most likely not in attendance. A live album is essentially a chronicling of an amazing evening that happened to somebody else.

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And look, there are quite a few classic live albums. This isn’t in dispute. Live at Leeds comes to mind. There are many other examples. But as someone who generally enjoys live albums, I have to question the purpose behind seemingly every band having one. And even if every band has one, does every band need several?

Here are some facts that I am aware of:

  1. Live albums can fulfill myriad purposes, some of them not necessarily artistic in nature. They are generally cheaper than studio albums, and are an excellent way to weasel out of a record contract or make money in general.
  2. Some groups devote themselves almost completely to their live shows, ensuring that each one is a unique experience and that no given set list is ever exactly the same. Recording those shows makes sense.

But there are plenty of groups that are clearly running through the “Standard Greatest Hits Package” live set.The show in Philadelphia 9/18/13 is more or less the same as the one from Houston 4/5/15. What possible reason would they have for releasing multiple live albums? Essentially, the longer they tour, the more we’d essentially be listening to them degrade on record. We’d be able to chart exactly where advanced age and life on the road have taken their respective tolls on this latest album because we’d have the last one for comparison.

In fact, what are most live albums but a collection of greatest hits from a given group, played slightly worse?

Here’s my answer:

Records are sterile. The band is alone in the studio. They’re imagining the crowd. They’re anticipating the reaction. Live shows are the only way you can really see a band engaging with its audience. Whether or not a group has witty stage banter or even acknowledges the crowd at all, there is a dialogue going back and forth beneath the crowd and performer. This conversation manifests itself in the Moment of Recognition, and most clearly explains the necessity of live albums.

The Moment of Recognition goes like this: A band begins the signature riff or lyric of a well-known (or fan-favorite) song. The casual fans need a minute to put together what song they’re hearing. The die-hards get it immediately. They react audibly (loudly in fact) and they lead the wave of cheers and claps as the entire room connects the song in their head with what they’re hearing and seeing onstage.

That tiny bit of silence between the beginning of the song, and the first die-hard realizing what’s happening: that’s the Moment of Recognition.

There’s always a processing delay, and in that processing delay is everything. We reconcile our internal image of the band and our hopes and dreams for the evening with this image in front of us. The band, in that silence, presents their song as an offering, pending acceptance or rejection. When the wave hits, It’s as if the entire room takes a breath of air at once and everyone exhales, officially participating in this experience.

To me, that’s why these albums are still important. Nobody can be at every live show. As I approach 31, I’m not even sure I want to be at every live show anymore. Audio recordings of these shows, though sometimes redundant, are the only way to preserve the conversation between artist and audience. That moment of silence is so loaded with shared history and meaning that it’s worth preserving.

If that means we eventually get Kid Rock: Live at Buddokan 2018  then so be it.

P.S. This version of “Layla” is notable because it has two Moments. There’s one at the beginning like usual, and then one about 40 seconds in, after all the superfans explain to their dates what’s happening. It’s fun.

Photo credit: By Jim Summaria (Wikipedia:Contact us/Photo submission) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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One comment to “That Moment of Recognition”
  1. I always wish I could come up with the playlist before every show I attend… I’d go to a hell of a lot more shows!

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