On his latest tour for his Prefuse 73 project, it seems that Scott Herren is trying to bridge this gap. As Prefuse 73, Herren slices, dices and chops up electronic beats and blips, creating a hyperkinetic sound that's equal parts Afrika Bambaataa and Aphex Twin. It's clearly the kind of music that has been afforded only by modern technology. In his wildest dreams, John Coltrane could never have imagined the ability to cut and paste drum breaks as frenetically as Herren has on his Prefuse 73 records.
So naturally, in going to see Prefuse 73 live, one would expect to see little more than a couple of laptops and maybe a synthesizer set-up on stage; with Herren being the lone man navigating it all. However, for this tour, Herren brought with him a complete supporting cast of live musicians consisting of a bass player (Chicago's Josh Abrams), a drummer, a DJ and an additional knob twiddler for the electronics. There was even an additional drum kit set up on stage that Herren used to add a twin skins attack on selected tracks.
You've got to commend the Herren for trying to bring genuine organic elements to his live show, when he could very easily have just brought himself and a a laptop. Unfortunately, I can't say that I really dug the live band set up all that much. Rather than subtly augmenting the pre-programmed electronic beats, the live accompaniment almost seemed to detract from the quality of the source material. It wasn't like the live band made everything sound bad, it was just that they really didn't add enough to warrant pushing the electronic aspects of the music (the shit that makes Prefuse 73 amazing) to the back of the mix.
I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that the band was still tied down to those electronic beats. With a pre-programmed rhythm track, a band has little room or no room for any improvisation or additional jamming on solos. So despite adding the "live" elements, the basic structure of the songs changed very little from the recordings and the musicians were left with little space to truly showcase their talents. The one possible exception to this was when Herren get behind the second drum kit and pounded out the beats himself on a few of the tracks. The twin drum attack sounded great and it seemed to really loosen up the band and energize the crowd. (not to mention Herren himself, who looked like a kid in a candy store behind the kit)
Another thing that seemed to be really lacking from this performance was vocals. While half (if not more) of the tracks on Prefuse 73 albums are usually instrumental jams, Herren also drops in some great vocal cuts on his albums with the help of various guests (Herren just produces, he always leaves the mic duties to others). In fact, his latest album, Surrounded by Silence, consists almost entirely of collaborations with rappers and vocalists. However, I think only a couple of vocal snippets were dropped during the entire night. Obviously, it's impossible to bring all of the vocal talent he's worked with on the road with him, but dropping in some samples here and there would have added some much needed variation to the show. Opening act Beans did come on stage for one track, but his lyrical contribution was a bit rambling and overall it was just a bit too little too late.
Oddly enough, the first time I saw Prefuse 73, it was just Herren manning the electronics and I thought that the performance could of used a little more energy or live augmentation. Now this time I'm complaining that he had too much live shit going on. However, on his last tour (back in the fall of 2003), it seemed like he had the formula just right. The show still centered mostly around Herren, but this time he was joined by Tortoise's John Herndon on drums. Herndon seemed to compliment the music of Prefuse 73 perfectly and overall it was a really memorable performance. For some reason, this most recent show just didn't quite click for me like it did at that one.
To be fair to Herren and his cohorts, this was still a good show. If I had never heard the music of Prefuse 73 before in my life and had blindly walked into this show, I probably would have been blown away. But, after extensively listening to his records for the past few years and seeing him perform live before, my expectations were set ridiculously high and unfortunately this show just didn't quite live up. I can't complain too much though, an average Prefuse 73 experience is still far better than seeing most other artists on their best night.