Posts Tagged ‘NOFX’

Since starting my time at Queen’s studying Music Technology, I have attended a large number of concerts in which the use of improvisation was apparent. An example would be the Olaf Rupp concert in the SARC building, however I decided, as a fan of both bands, and as it seemed to be more of a challenge given the nature of the shows, to compare the use of improvisation in two concerts I attended as a fan as well as a musician; Motion City Soundtrack in the Temple Bar Music Centre, Dublin and NOFX in the Carling Academy, Liverpool. As a huge fan of both bands, I was excited to see how the live performances would differ from the recorded tracks.
The Motion City Soundtrack show was definitely the least interesting in terms of improvisation. They stuck relatively closely to the recorded versions, however there were some moments of improvisation which stuck out in my head. During the song, ‘Time Turned Fragile,’ in which there is an extended outro, which they played in full off the record, but then developed into an improvised instrumental section. It featured all the members of the band improvising on their respective instruments [drums, rhythm and lead guitars, bass guitar, synth]. The synth really came into it’s own during this part of the show, using various effects to create a massive array of sounds from such a small instrument! This section did not seem to have a very set structure and appeared to be very random and thrown together on-the-spot so to speak.
A second section that was improvised was their entrance back onto the stage for their encore. Their synth player, Jesse Johnson, came onstage alone and played a chordal piano piece which seemed to have quite a specific structure laid out in terms of chords and bars etc. He was then joined, however, by drummer, Tony Thaxton, who played a series of improvised beats and fills to complement the keyboard part. They were gradually joined by the rest of the band, including vocal harmonies, throughout a gradual crescendo which led up to a held E chord, which then introduced the first song of their encore, ‘This Is For Real’.
The improvisation in this concert was few and far between, and this is probably natural, considering the nature of the performers and the fact that fans have bought tickets to see their favourite songs performed live, and witness the subtle differences between the live and recorded versions, as opposed to concentrating hard on an improvised piece of music which they need to fully concentrate on. However, the moments of improvisation that the band produced during the concert were certainly not disappointing and most certainly kept the attention of the audience. This could be partly down to the fact that they chose specific parameters to set themselves, for example, tempo: keeping an upbeat tempo could possibly keep the attention of a largely teenage audience more effectively than a slow dirge-like piece which may bore them to a certain extent.
Moving on to the second concert that I attended, NOFX in the Carling Academy in Liverpool. With their reputation as a punk rock band who can actually play their instruments, I was interested to see what surprises they would have in store for the audience. I was not disappointed.
Indeed, the band started with an improvised piece, in a jazz style, featuring guitarist El Hefe on trumpet, a feature that would return throughout the show. While there were definitely specific parameters set in terms of key, dynamics [the whole piece was a crescendo], and tempo, the trumpet line was most definitely improvised. The drum part was a simple swing beat, and the rhythm guitar line was a 12 bar blues pattern repeated. The bass line was improvised to a certain extent in that he played within the chord structure but chose different notes from within the scale to create a walking bassline. The trumpet line then was the melody line, and he played with tied notes and syncopation throughout to create an interesting contrast with the underlying standard blues/jazz rhythm section.
A second example of improvisation was when they played a fast rendition of an acoustic song off their latest EP called ‘You’re Wrong’. The recorded version features just acoustic guitar and vocals. The live version they performed was with the full band and at the trademark NOFX ‘million-miles-an-hour’ speed. This was one of the highlights of the entire show and one of the most captivating examples of improvisation I have ever witnessed.
A third and final example of improvisation was towards the end of their set, when they were joined onstage by their support band for what turned out to be a jamming session. The nine musicians onstage created a piece of music covering a vast pitch, tempo and dynamic range that lasted for about seven or eight minutes, a long time in terms of their usual two and a half minute punk rock songs.
In conclusion then, the two concerts were not the most conventional of settings for capturing improvisation, but I realised that this made me hone in more on what was going on improvisationally, rather than trying to sum up two entire improvised performances in one essay. It was interesting to see how the two bands used their own genres of music in different ways and pushed the boundaries of those genres to create a new piece of music which in some ways fitted into those preconceptions and in others were way outside the box.

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