Guitarist/vocalist Rik Emmett of the legendary Canadian power trio TRIUMPH has weighed in on bands who rely heavily on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances.
In recent years, more and more artists have been given a pass for using backing tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent.
Speaking to The Metal Gods Meltdown about some rock acts' reliance on pre-recorded tracks, Rik said (hear audio below): "We don't live in the world that I grew up in; we live in a different world now. And certainly the whole advent of a digital universe has now firmly taken hold so that the idea of playing along with machines…
"When I was a kid, it was really hard to find a drummer who could play in time and keep the beat from the beginning of a song all the way through to the end like a metronome — they just weren't good at it; their time would be up and down and all over the place. But nowadays, even the most intense metal drummer, or the funkiest of R&B drummers, they have this uncanny ability to be able to play like metronomes — just quantized feel. And it's because they've grown up playing to click tracks and playing to tracks that are all quantized. So it's a different world.
"When it comes to actual live performance, if somebody does too much of playing with backing tracks or lip syncing or whatever, that ends up getting to a point where I'm going, 'All right. I didn't pay so that I would come and watch a TV show. I came here so that I could have music be live and real and in the air, and I could get that magnetic kind of connection with a performer,'" he continued. "And I think the performer has a duty to try and sort of reveal their heart and soul and their intellect and all of that through a live performance.
"So, I think, in the final analysis, there's gonna be some sort of blending or synthesis of these things and integration of modern with the old fashioned. I'm never gonna lose my old-fashioned notions of expecting live performance to be about live performance, but I also understand…
"When I was growing up, there were bands that were putting on makeup and getting dressed in costumes. Ozzy [Osbourne] was biting the heads off of bats. There's always been a lot of crazy nonsense that was theater and that was part and parcel of having a prepared schtick. And I don't think that necessarily is ever gonna disappear from a music experience. There's gonna be theater as part of it, so there's gonna be things that are pre-produced in order to be able to make moments happen.
"I once saw Michael Bublé in concert, and I think he's a great singer," Rik added. "And he gets to the end of his show and he's singing an old Leon Russell song. This was in a hockey arena — 17 to 20 thousand seats. He puts the microphone down, and he just sings a cappella to the crowd. And it's amazing — it's this really spine-tingling, goosebump-inducing kind of moment.
"I don't care what kind of music you make, what kind of style of music you make; I don't care how many amps you've got. I think, in the end, it is about trying to make that live connection."
Emmett recently reissued his 11 solo albums digitally for the first time via Round Hill Records. The titles include "Ten Invitations" (1998), "Swing Shift" (1998), "Raw Quartet" (1999), "Live At Berklee" (2000), "Handiwork" (2003), "Good Faith" (2003), "Strung-Out Troubadours" (2006), "Live At Hugh's Room" (2007), "Liberty Manifesto" (2007), "Push & Pull" (2009) and "Marco’s Secret Songbook" (2012).