Life after death: Musicians find ways to resurrect songs

The talk of Coachella: Virtual 2Pac.

It’s only fitting that the first words that the world heard from an amazingly lifelike rendering of Tupac Shakur were “What the f– is up?”

Many wondered the same thing as they saw on the stage at the Coachella festival a rapper who had died 16 years ago.

The answer to the question posed by the entity that has come to be known as Virtual 2Pac is that with music and technology we have arrived at a crossroads of the future and the past. For members of the generation who are growing up in the information age, they have only known a time where every piece of recorded music is at their disposal. This accessibility has created listeners with wider ranges of musical taste and knowledge than ever before, but also a sense that being able to hear or see whatever you want whenever you want is a right, not a privilege. When it comes to musicians from the past, the ability to witness these acts live has traditionally presented some difficulty. Many artists from the dawn of the recorded era are past retirement age and even more have died.

But within the past year concertgoers have been able to experience performances that few would have thought possible even at the beginning of the decade. The Beach Boys are sounding better than ever on their 50th anniversary tour, the songs of Queen are coming to life in a brilliant new way and Roger Waters has brought “The Wall” to arenas and ballparks with a production that is so big it was only performed in four venues when the classic Pink Floyd album first came out.

Roger Taylor of Queen says he had to do something to reawaken the sounds of his former band because he knew that audiences wanted to hear it.

“There are so many tribute bands around and not all good,” he says. “If anybody’s going to play our music, I want them to do it in a brilliant and scintillating way.”

So in addition to playing a few gigs with Queen guitarist Brian May and Adam Lambert, Taylor recruited members online and became the musical director of something called the Queen Extravaganza. He taught these young musicians himself how to play these songs and sent them out on tour. Could this sort of apprenticeship be a new model for passing down the sounds? Will other bands follow suit?

“I’d be interested in seeing if they did,” says Taylor. “It takes a lot of work. They might be too old and gray to do the work. I’ve done the work and I can say that I think we’ve been very lucky in terms of who we’ve found. We have two of the most genius guitar players, and we have four amazing singers and a great rhythm section and just a great band.”

This is a band who when they were active had four members.

“We’re going to do all of those buried parts, all of the six-part harmonies,” says Taylor. “It was a labor of love, but it was a lot of labor.”

On the Beach Boys’ current tour, they’ve found that augmentation has helped bring their recordings to life in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Guitarist Al Jardine says having so many more people on stage has been a bonus.

“For the first time in the history of our music-making, we’ve had enough people on stage to do all the parts,” he says. “We overdubbed so much — we were like harmony fanatics — that we never could put all of it together in one place at one time. Now you have the original voices and pretty darn good players and singers doing the parts that the three or four of us haven’t ever done. We used to combine everything, like in ‘Good Vibrations’ it was like, ‘OK, either we have to do this part or that part. We’ll leave out the “Ooh-bop-bop’s.”‘ Now you’ve got the ‘ooh-bop-bops’, the ‘good good’ and you’ve got the whole thing.”

But this isn’t the only measure in place to ensure that Beach Boys music lives on. A group called California Saga, who performed their fourth gig earlier this week, has been formed by the spawn of Beach Boys members. The group is comprised of Jardine’s sons Matt and Adam Jardine; Wilson Phillips singers Carnie and Wendy Wilson, who are the daughters of Brian Wilson; Mike Love’s children Christian and Ambha Love; Carl Wilson’s son Justyn Wilson; and Dennis Wilson’s son Carl B. Wilson and they specialize in deep cuts from the catalogue of their fathers. Their first official gig in June was a short set to open for the Beach Boys, the ultimate seal of approval.

Damian Darlington is the musical director, guitarist and lead singer of the Pink Floyd tribute act called Brit Floyd. Among his seals of approval; an invitation to play a birthday party of Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. While performing “Comfortably Numb,” the tribute band was joined by Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright, who died in 2008.

“It’s very sad. A lot of these people seem to be passing away,” says Darlington. “That’s all part of the attraction of tribute bands, I suppose. There’s less and less chance as the years go by to actually see the original people play this music, but there’s still the demand to hear this music live. This whole other generation is discovering it all the time and they’re equally enthusiastic about it.”
 

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