Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

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Zog
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Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

#1 Post by Zog » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 10:36 am

Normally I'd start a topic like this as: "Is it just me, or ....", but in this case there's no question that Neil's live singing is often approaching studio quality these days. I realise "practice makes perfect", but being a lapsed classical musician (flute), I've always had a pretty good ear, especially when a singer is off pitch, or their basic tonal quality changes.

I remember, when they first started touring live, Neil's voice was quite acceptable. But the classic PSB "Neil sound" was always that laser-like pure quality that instantly attracted me to the PSB in studio recordings.

However, the first hint there was something slightly odd, was the big South American "Disco-Very" tour, captured well on video. I remember being mostly impressed, but couldn't help noticing that Neil, especially in the slower music was often out of tune (not wrong notes), and his voice quality sounded rather nasally. Not exactly an appealing sound to my ears. It's a well known classical music phenomenon, that if you can't properly hear yourself as a singer or a violinist, say... you will subconciously help hear yourself by playing too loudly or slightly out of tune, so your ears can hear yourself. In live pop/rock music, this is why good sound monitors for the musicians are essential. Anyway...

Then there seemed a gap Bilingual came out about the time I renewed by interest in the PSB (I saw the Discovery Tour video later on). Neil wasn't bad at the Savoy Somewhere tour that happened around that time. Then there was the notorious gap. Poor Chris seemed to age 20 years within about two years, and nothing was released aside from the substandard "Screaming". And then came the CreamFields live concert, featuring some very cool new mixes of older songs, but with, IMO an utterly atrocious vocal performance by Neil: he was very badly out of tune, and his vocal quality was to be generous very poor. I heard many different bootleg recordings of the event, and I found myself utterly embassed to be a fan. It was then I decided that Neil, while superb in the studio, was to my ears unlistenable live. 1998-99 was not a particularly pleasant time to be a PSB fan.

This was redeemed by Nightlife, but I was dreading the live tour. The first performances were poor and then they became acceptable, but not overly so, IMO. The live video of the event is clearly better, because I think they had a chance to "tweak" it somewhat in the studio. Nevertheless, even when Neil was in tune, his live concert voice, on the whole was sonething I came to accept.

Today, I don't know if it it's just far more live experience, and possibly going to see a professional vocal coach (live singing is tough, even opera stars constantly go though this)... but 80-90% percent of the time his live singing is infinitely better (and I don't just mean auto-tuned). No, his laser-like vocal quality has returned too. I've not seen them live, but now they are superb live... well pretty much most of the time. I find myself enjoying that unique, effortless PSB voice that Neil has learned to use live. The improvement is dramatic, and it's easy to see why they love touring so much now. It's second nature to them now. :)

I just needed to get that off my chest... mission accomplished: and what a superb live act they are now!

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Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

#2 Post by goughsjd » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 10:49 am

I completely agree , I remember the Release tour I thought the Vocals were less than good but at the fundamental show really increased an I think half the time I'd rather listen to the new live stuff over studio stuff because songs like fluorescent, leaving the way it used to be and especially Vocal sound much more superior .

And Chris does seem to age pretty quick- between the fundamental shows and the Electric tour there is a massive difference , but he is still pretty awesome mind
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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #3 Post by No Muscle Mary » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 10:54 am

    Agree that Neil's voice has massively improved live.

    Poor Chris went through tragedy in his personal life in those years. It's no wonder he aged.
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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #4 Post by West End Boy » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 11:18 am

    Undoubtedly, Neil improved his live singing technique over the past 15 years. However, I also believe that a decent part of this improvement can be attributed to technical progress and certain, for lack of a better word, "tricks" the sound engineer can now apply to his live singing.

    First of all, Neil's voice is often clearly "double-tracked" or whatever you all it in English. Don't get me wrong - he is not lip-syncing. Rather, he seems to be singing over a recorded projection of his own voice, if you know what I mean. 70% of what we hear is his own actual live singing, but 30% is a near-perfect pre-recorded track running in the background. They do not apply this effect for the entire length of a song, but rather during certain parts of a song where they think it is necessary, for example during the "la la la la" part of "The last to die":

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0qdx43QBvw (at around 3:36 you can first hear the projected voice in the background kick in, and a couple of seconds later Neil starts singing over this recording of his own voice).

    The other thing they do is they simply give him back ground singers - either back ground singers that are physically present (doesn't happen that much these days) or back ground singers that again are pre-recorded. For instance, the back ground singing in the chorus of "Did you see me coming?" during the Pandemonium tour was pre-recorded, the background dancers with the cubes on their heads simply held a microphone to their heads to sort of keep up the illusion.

    This is not meant to diminish Neil's achievements - he clearly improved his singing technique. All I'm saying is that a part of this improvement is due to effects they put on his voice, and that the singing we hear at their concerts these days is not as "live" as it used to be. A recent example of a concert where Neil did a lot of "real" singing (without technical aid, that is) was the Royal Albert Hall concert with the orchestra. And there, you could hear that he was at times massively off key, for example during "Tonight is forever" which was pretty awful in my opinion.

    Still, I really love his live singing voice and I don't see anything wrong with them "enhancing" his voice from time to time, as long as he doesn't end up lip-syncing anything. After all, we all know that not all of Chris' keyboard playing is, strictly speaking, "live", am I right? ;)
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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #6 Post by West End Boy » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 12:38 pm

    agent doris wrote:Not true re pandemonium dancers. All their vocals were live.
    I have a hard time believing this. Take a look at this video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkIggfIi0Q4

    From 2:50 onwards, we can hear the background singers very well because this is the part where Neil and the singers don't sing at the same time, but rather one after another (e.g. Neil: "Did you see me?", choir: "Was I that obvious?"). I really, really don't think that their singing is live. Actually, the more I listen to it the more it sounds like a multi-layered recording of Neil's own voice.
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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #7 Post by Piotrek » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 1:50 pm

    Neil and many pop singers sing along to a pre-recorded track of their own voice. It's not exactly lip-sync, but it's not pure live performance either.

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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #8 Post by DJ Pat » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 4:30 pm

    I'd prefer backing singers and real vocals. Let's get tottally honest here, their current set up is pretty much large scale karaoke however much you dress it up or argue this point on the forum.

    The Pandemonium show had several questionable moments, just one example was All Over the World that showed the dancers with no mics then they got mics and the backing vocal was exactly the same!

    The fans at least deserve a bit better than that. And if they wanna be inducted into some hall of fame.
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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #9 Post by raggatwin » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 4:42 pm

    'Reproduction ' in postmodernity is entirely acceptable to my ears.....
    Hello my name is Neil Tennant and I'm Chris Lowe and we're of the Pet Shop Boys.

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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #10 Post by glennjridge » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 6:18 pm

    If they ever....put out another live album I would prefer...he redid the vocals in the studio.
    George michael can sound better live than the studio.....most singers cant.
    Rather than listen to awesome new or older live psb tunes with great new arrangements yet paired with subpar thin vocals is not what I want to hear. In neils case I dont require real.
    Having said that he sounds loads better live now.he sounds more confident with his voice like he knows he is singing better now.

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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #11 Post by Ramzy » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 6:32 pm

    All of which makes it strange they didn't in any form release a recording of the Electric tour, despite how desperately good many of the arrangements were.
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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #12 Post by joe stalin » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 6:58 pm

    For a long time, its been obvious that Neil sings over a track with his vocals on. Its also obvious that some form of autotune is at play. I thought I read somewhere that Neils voice took a turn to the better when Bob Kraushaar got involved, especially during 'live events'. Could be wrong of course.

    Is this good or bad ? in my opinion, its good because if anyone else was unfortunate enough to hear some of his live performances without autotune, well they weren't pleasant to the ears at all.

    Glastonbury 2000 had some tough moments. The University tour had some particularly tough moments.

    Is it a problem ? Not really as nobody really thinks Chris plays live so why should Neil

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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #13 Post by Neilatrone » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 8:25 pm

    This topic is interesting. My 11 year old daughter said to me a few months ago, I love the Pet Shop Boys but the singer isn't very good............she spent hours on the naughty step for that comment!

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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #14 Post by TheGhostOfMyself » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 9:00 pm

    I don't think anyone is expecting Neil to sing like a solo vocalist in a choir would? We know when he gets the words wrong or lets the crowd sing that there's no substantial backing so it's real enough for a live experience. 'nuff said.

    Just read another post on here - I thought we all knew that Chris plays live these days? Mistakes here and there give it away too.

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    Re: Neil's vast improvement in live singing over the past decade and a half

    #15 Post by Waffleon » Tue 26 Jan 2016, 9:15 pm

    Neil's not a singer's singer for sure but he has a beautiful voice. I think some recent songs are easier to sing than their early stuff too. There's an obvious vocal advantage to writing music with simple melodies and fewer words. Shame he's not a dancer's dancer though. ;o)

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