Thursday, July 23, 2009

Of perfection and passion

After over a year of trying to acquire it legally, I finally caved and downloaded The Whitlams & The Sydney Symphony Live In Concert. (I still want a legal copy so if anyone knows how I can get one, I'd greatly appreciate it.) And while it is a treat, it didn't thrill me the way I hoped it would.

See, Tim Freedman live is a force of nature - wild, unleashed, full of passion and fire. Yet here he is subdued. I don't know if it's because he was playing with the orchestra or if it was because it was being recorded, but Tim never soars in the recording. The music and vocals are pitch perfect but there's nothing behind them.

This was most glaringly obvious on Made Me Hard, written and originally recorded by Bernie Hayes. Bernie is low key yet intense in how he performs and he sang the song with a mix of wistfulness and bitterness. To get a sense of Bernie (who is a favourite of mine) you can check out this clip:


When Tim recorded it, it acquired a bouncy arrangement and a more upbeat sound but still retained some sense of the pain the lyrics allude to.


But on the symphony recording, it's all bouncy with no emotion behind it. It's just there.

I haven't seen Tim live in over five years so I was wondering if this was maybe just an unfortunate evolution. But then I heard the final three tracks, which aren't part of the orchestral show but are stripped down piano versions of previously recorded songs. (Two of which happen to be ones I have very personal connections to, and the third is a really fun older song I've never had a chance to see in concert.) And in those songs, I hear Tim's passion loud and clear. It comes out in different ways on each track but I can hear the difference. I can hear him in there, reaching out.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I know Tim is a perfectionist. I saw this happen before. My theory is that he got so concerned about getting it perfect that he disconnected from his soul and it dropped out of his music.

I believe that's something we theatre artists, in fact anyone who performs for an audience, need to be aware of. In the end, we need to be compelling, connect on a visceral level. If we worry too much about how we sound and how we present ourselves, we cut ourselves off from our audiences. Yes, we want to pursue excellence but in the end it's about the shared experience. The creator and the receiver. And we forget that at our peril.

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