One thing I miss the most due to COVID-19 is live music. The buzz of trying to guess when the act would arrive on stage, to that euphoric feeling as you walk out of the venue, your ears still ringing. Over lockdown, I’ve fed this nostalgia by listening to live music. This has made me question whether live versions are better than studio versions or, even more, if live versions are any good.
David Bowie’s live album, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, is a great example. The insane quality of ‘Moonage Daydream’ and haunting vocal performances from Bowie on ‘My Death’ are two examples of high moments on an album that is filled with them. But would I take this over Hunky Dory? The Rise and Fall…? Aladdin Sane? I wouldn’t.
Likewise, with Kanye West’s Late Orchestration I can’t help but feel the same way. Backed by a seventeen-piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London, Kanye performed tracks from what many consider to be his greatest two albums: College Dropout and Late Registration. It’s an immersive experience. You feel as though you are there in the crowd and the use of an orchestra gives the album a new dimension to it. Yet it doesn’t have the same impact on me that the original albums have.
Although there isn’t a studio version of Kanye’s ‘Pinocchio Story’, I don’t feel that it’s needed. The track from 808s & Heartbreak is so authentic as though it is being recorded through a phone and the emotion within this track is something that can’t be replicated in a studio recording.
Overall, studio versions are better than live recordings. But while we can’t experience live music right now, live albums help to fill this void. In some cases, such as ‘Pinocchio Story’, a studio recording isn’t even needed.