WASHINGTON, November 19, 2014 – There’s an old adage among music fans – or at least a specific kind of music fan – namely, that one absolutely has to see a band live to really get a full appreciation for what they do. A certain pretentiousness usually goes along with whomever is making a statement like this. But like in most things there’s a certain nugget of truth wedged in.
It’s impossible to get anywhere when discussing whether Cymbals Eat Guitars’ recent show at the 9:30 Club was better than their recorded material, current or more vintage. But to claim there isn’t a noticeable difference might be missing something important from both experiences.
The reason for this is that there’s a definitive distinction between their live show and, at least, their most recent album released this year: LOSE. This also cuts to the heart of what people mean when they draw the line in the sand about live performances and a band’s recording.
This isn’t to say one way to experience Cymbals Eat Guitars is better than the other. But they are different ways to view Cymbals Eat Guitars. Various aspects of the band are highlighted in each medium. Whether the audience prefers one or the other is entirely subjective.
The one thing that usually gets overlooked in a discussion like this, though, is the inherent differences between the two ways of experiencing a performance. The main reason someone might prefer the live show to recorded material. As a general rule, when someone is talking about a live act, it’s usually to promote or favor the live show over the recorded material.
At heart, the main difference is the unpredictability of the live show. Once a band records something, it’s always the same on the CD. The listener might hear things differently or have changing thoughts about the material. But every time, the actual product is exactly the same as it was the time before.
This isn’t true with seeing a band like Cymbals Eat Guitars live and in person. They might try to reproduce the same show they offered the previous night or even the last time they went on tour. But as a band in constant flux, nothing is ever quite the same.
So instead of focusing directly on a reproducible product, they head in another direction to give the audience an enjoyable experience when they’re listening to a live performance of the band.
Cymbals Eat Guitars are by nature an intricate and melodic band. They most closely identifying with shoegazers, but with a healthy dose of post-punk aggression bubbling underneath the surface of each song.
That aggressiveness is brought clearly to the forefront when they’re playing live, since a good portion of the band’s subtlety is pushed back in favor of it. The band’s live musical presence is greatly concerned about the directness and immediacy of their sound. The quieter and slower moments of a song are ditched in their live performance to favor the kind of louder and denser rock sound that generally does their name proud.
Nothing about the changes Cymbals Eat Guitars make during their live show changes the ultimate outcome of the band’s sound. All these elements exist in whichever version of the band an audience hears. But the moods and variation you hear on one of their recordings are significantly altered.
Performing live, they seem to adhere to the idea that when in doubt, just blow everyone away. It’s this kind of tempo they keep up for the nearly 40 minutes they’re on stage.
Seeing Cymbals Eat Guitars in a live performance isn’t necessarily the definitive way to experience the band. It’s simply a part of the available choices for experiencing them, just like any other band.
When listening to LOSE, it’s easy to get caught up in the melodic nature of the twisting guitars, the strong warbling vocals, and the general spacey atmosphere. But that doesn’t quite work for them live because sometimes a band just wants to rock as hard as they can.
Ultimately that’s what Cymbals Eat Guitars did at the 9:30 Club, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks as they blasted through each song in their set.