Should your live show sound just like your recording?

Queen couldn’t pull off live the operatic middle section to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but they knew damn well that fans wanted to hear it. So instead of attempting a second-rate imitation, they left the stage and let the studio recording (and some dramatic lighting) take over. When they reappear, bursting into the rockin’ third section of the song, those riffs and Freddie’s vocal shredding seem all the more glorious.

But if your band happens NOT to be Queen, and you’re not performing music as iconic as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” queuing up the studio tracks in the middle of a live show might fall a bit flat — which makes me wonder, how drastically can your live sound differ from your recordings before you start to piss off fans?

Some audiences are willing to follow the artist anywhere and love the spontaneous feel of re-interpratation. Other audiences want an absolutely faithful recreation of their favorite songs.

Personally, I’m somewhere in between. I got really annoyed once at an MIA show when she basically performed a giant  medley of her songs, only with all the best parts (in my opinion) taken out. Then again, I’ve been super moved by some of John Vanderslice’s solo acoustic shows, even though what I admire about him most is his production/arrangement ear. I roll my eyes whenever a singer won’t stick more-or-less to the recorded vocal melody (I’m looking at you, Adam Duritz!), but I’m often OK with radical changes in instrumentation, tempo, groove, or key.

So what’s the deal? Is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed when bringing your recordings to life? If you know you can’t pull it off in front of an audience, should you restrain yourself in the studio? The Beatles certainly didn’t hold back with their albums — but then again, they stopped playing live too! (I guess that’s one way to solve the problem).

Let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below.

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