Live documentation

Bloc Party releases their first DVD, God Bless Bloc Party, today in stores. As much as I am a fan of this band, I'm holding off on picking this up for the moment. Why? Live releases (whether they're on CD or DVD or both) are getting out of hand these days.

The way things used to be was that a concert on vinyl, CD or video showcased an artist's material over the span of a few albums. You could hear and see the development of the artist with the variety of songs that are played. The concerts were long, thus giving more bang for the buck. Now, more and more young bands are putting out DVDs after only one record. The result: there is a dearth of material to choose from. Essentially, it's the first album played live without much variation from what is already on tape. A cover, a b-side and/or a new song often fill out the setlist, but the bulk is from the first album. I don't know about you, but I think this is a rip-off.

It seems like the sights of a long career in music are dimmer these days. Maybe these young bands know they won't last long so their labels try and pump as much gas out of them as they can. Is the thought of longevity a bad thing?

I was listening to Wilco's 2-CD live record, Kicking Television, yesterday. This is an effective live collection as it's two CDs filled with a variety of material and zero filler. With five proper albums, two volumes of a collaboration with Billy Bragg and a whole score of b-sides, Wilco had enough to pick and choose to make for a really cohesive document. There's sunny stuff from Summerteeth and the Mermaid Avenue collections while there are a number of tracks from their darker, more ornate albums like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. Live, the arrangements of songs differ in quite a few ways from the original album versions, thus showcasing good alternate versions for your listening pleasure.

Wilco's got the right idea here, as do a number of time-tested artists. For a band like Bloc Party, they're just getting started. Having a live document from their first album is cool, but is it really going to offer more of the experience of hearing Silent Alarm from start to finish? I doubt it, but for a band like Bloc Party, it's good to have a well-done concert film for the long run. Who knows what the band will do next, but they can always have this as a document.

In the case of Franz Ferdinand, a band that has two albums out, they released a 2-disc DVD set late last year. The filming took place as they were working on material that surfaced on their second album, so this DVD features almost the entire first album over and over again. As much as I like their stuff, the thought of having four live versions of "Take Me Out" is too much to handle. Combine this DVD along with the album's initial release and the reissue with a bonus EP of b-sides and chances are good that you have a fan that has spent a large amount of money on the same songs over and over again.

There are a number of defunct bands that this newer model of live concert DVDs would have been perfect for. Case in point, Joy Division. All that I know that is somewhat available is the VHS collection, We Are the Young Men. With live footage looking like it was filmed as a bootleg along with promotional videos, there is a lack of good-sounding, well-shot footage on this tape. This really sucks as JD was such an incredible band and they continue to inspire those who listen.

Maybe the record companies are trying to preserve a band's progress inch by inch. The technology is available and affordable, so why not use it? It may be good for Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand, but in the case of all these young pop-punk and emo bands, I wonder what is being preserved for the long-run. Maybe it's youth, maybe it's naivety, but definitely not variety or a body of work.