Live and direct all the way from London Town, give it up for the one and only…
Here’s what I love about experiencing music live. People. The hustle and sweat of people, the shared moment of euphoria, the feeling of being at one with strangers, the ambience of the environment as lights and sound combine to create an all-engulfing atmosphere. The times of losing yourself to those moments, music, atmosphere, ambience, people all fusing to support total immersion. Great live music is about the experience, with people at the centre.
Here’s what I hate about “live” albums. They’re not about people, but music – and music alone. They’re not about the experience, but the producer’s version of the musical event. They’re rhetorically ‘live’ recordings but with the individual experience removed in favour of an official version of the experience. They lack the unpredictable essence of the live moment.
Simian Mobile Disco’s latest set is begging to be added to the small list of enjoyable live albums, though. Not because of its live-ness. Indeed, this is a straight recording from the desk of a performance in Philadelphia, with no post-production and only ambient mics for crowd noise. As such, it represents everything I hate about live albums. It makes no attempt to recreate the experiential side, which is strange considering the importance SMD place on gimmicks and gadgets to enhance that live experience. Instead, ‘Live’ brilliantly brings together the shards of their career into a cohesive whole. The end result is more focused than any of their studio albums.
Where previously SMD seemed fractured, inconsistent and overly self-controlled, here they push harder towards the unexpected. This is most evident on ‘Hustler Jam’, which finds ‘The Hustler’ being stretched in all directions before evolving into an acid belter that melts into a storming rendition of ‘Aspic’. ‘Cruel Intentions’ offers a hands-in-the-air wash of house jouissance before becoming dominated by the filtered drops of ‘Interference’. It’s music for the rush, an ecstasy inspired trick used to even better effect on ‘Put Your Hands Together’, which evolves through a series of vocal, 808 and handclap crescendos before the b-line drop.
‘Live’ feels like Simian Mobile Disco programmed for a live performance. It may have the ambience, the experience and the people removed, but it does represent the duo at their absolute best. Even if they don’t quite let go of their self-control.