It seems like guitarists have finally figured out that ear-splitting volume is not a good thing. My guess is that this may have at least a little to do with the quality of the gear that’s being used these days. With reasonably affordable PA systems readily available that offer great fidelity without the need for volume such as the Bose L1 series there is just no need to blast the audience out of their chairs to get their attention. This is a good thing!
In the same vein, electronic add-ons are being used to better effect. I well remember when acoustic guitarists became enamored with the phase shifter and chorusing back in the 1980s. Like a cook who uses too many spices in a dish, those boxes were used to the point that they were overbearing and sometimes almost unbearable to the listener. Sometimes they were used to good effect (although they sound kind of dated now) – think Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon.” But usually they ended up disguising the sound of the guitar to the point of bringing on a slight feeling of seasickness. Today, many solo performers use loopers, compression and even Auto-Tune to add depth and interest to their performances. Some even use harmonizers with their vocals and while it may be a bit disconcerting to see one person singing while multiple voices are coming out of the PA, all those add-ons can make for a very good performance. If they are used with some degree of subtlety of course.
I also find it interesting that many single performers and bands have no qualms about attaching an IPad to their mic stands to keep a limitless supply of songs at their disposal. This is not a bad thing, just a bit curious to me being an “old school” guitarist who was (and still is!) proud of having his repertoire memorized. There was a time – believe it or not – when having a music stand on stage with you kind of implied some degree of amateurish musicianship. Why that was, I do not know. I subscribed to it, however. I think the idea of having an IPod in front of you when you perform may be a much better idea. In fact, I’m in the process of building files on mine that will surely make my performances more interesting. I hope so anyway.
Another observation, and I find this the most curious. While some solo performers and duos I’ve heard in the last few years in many places, from local bars, to places in the Florida Keys, and even on cruise ships do play a few modern pop songs, for the most part they still lean heavily on older songs. Why is it that “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Sweet Caroline,” and (gulp) “Margaritaville” are still sure to be heard when you listen to almost any solo guitarist anywhere? Does it have to do with the demographic of the audience, i.e., the age group? I thought so for a while but after spending an evening at a local bar not too long ago where the guitarist banged out those songs and dozens of others of the same genre to a great reception from the audience I came to a different conclusion. Those songs are tuneful, familiar and just downright catchy. The age group in the packed bar ranged from early 20s to oldsters who could remember when those songs were brand new. The performer threw in a very occasional tune by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Kenny Chesney and John Meyer but the audience reaction was much more subdued and no one sang along, like they did to “Take Me Home, Country Road.” And again – I’m talking the youngsters too, who may have first heard that song at their grandparent’s house! Are we in an era when strong melodies are just a rare thing? Or put another way, will anyone be singing a John Meyer song thirty years from now?
I don’t have an answer to those questions. All I know for sure is that I’d better be sure to upload some of those oldies to my IPad.
Peace & good music,