(Don't) Love You Live: Napster Fears Keep Bands From Playing New Songs

Bootlegging concerns make A Perfect Circle, Neil Young hold back in concert.

A Perfect Circle wanted to do something special for their fans when they hit the road for a U.S. tour in January.

And what better gift than to play the grinding tribal rock tune "Vacant," a much-discussed track from the ever-gestating Tapeworm project, which was started by Nine Inch Nails' Charlie Clouser and features A Perfect Circle's Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel?

It allowed the band to veer from the dozen songs it had been performing almost nightly for a year. Plus it lifted the lid on a project that's been shrouded in mystery for more than two years.

If only that gift had stayed just in the minds of the 2,900 fans at Portland, Oregon's Keller Auditorium.

"We only wanted to give it to that intimate audience," Howerdel said. "That [the song showed up on Napster] takes the decision making out of your hands, and that kinda sucks."

It's another twist to the Napster story. From A Perfect Circle to Neil Young, Staind to Orgy, R.E.M. to Radiohead, bands are re-thinking their setlists in this digital age, thinking twice about whether they want to play unreleased new material that might pop up on the Internet before it's been properly recorded.

What irks Howerdel about Napster and similar programs, he said, is that they take the power out of the artists' hands, tampering with what he considers one of the most crucial aspects of songwriting: timing.

"The sequence of a record, or the way you want to present yourself as an artist — whether you want to attach visuals with your music, or however you want to do it — you start to lose ability to do that," he said.

But when A Perfect Circle decided to put some "not-so-great" recordings of songs from their early gigs, such as "Judith," on their Web site last year, that was fine, he said, because it was the band's choice. But when that power is put in the hands of others, Howerdel feels violated. That's also why the group has held back performing the new A Perfect Circle songs they've written during their current tour.

The online posting of "Vacant" also drew the ire of Nine Inch Nails singer Trent Reznor, who wrote the chorus to the song and sings backup on the Keenan-voiced tune.

"This happened to be the first properly 'demoed' Tapeworm song of a collection of many," Reznor posted to the NIN forum on the band's official site in February. "I have to admit I find it mildly irritating for it to debut in this fashion [APC's live set] before feeling it has been properly realized."

A spokesperson for Napster declined to comment for this article. The embattled file-sharing service is blocking thousands of files from its service as mandated by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel's injunction. (See "The Napster Files" for complete coverage and to weigh in on our current Napster poll.)

Young Holds Back The Songs

If you caught Neil Young on his 1999 U.S. tour, you got an advance glimpse of Silver and Gold, the studio album he put out a year later. Songs such as "Good to See You" and "Buffalo Springfield Again" got their sea legs night after night in a tradition the folk rocker has explored throughout his career.

So you'd better enjoy that old cassette copy of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," recorded from some tour long before Young put it on 1979's Rust Never Sleeps, because you probably won't get that kind of sneak peak again, according to the rock icon.

In a February interview prior to his set at the massive Rock in Rio concert, Young told the Argentinean paper La Nacion that Napster and its offspring are a factor in his decision to hold back the new material he's been working on with longtime band Crazy Horse.

"With the Internet, there is no more privacy and not even the chance to express yourself in front of your audience in the intimacy of a concert that lets songs evolve. You can't do this because they immediately get circulated," he told the paper.

"My job is to make the music, but I don't want people to be able to listen to my music if I don't want them to," said Young. The guitar legend is notoriously exacting about modern audio mediums, lashing out at everything from CDs to MP3s; he has said the latter sound like "crap."

"Controlling the Internet is better than being controlled by it," he concluded.

Love You Live

In the pre-Napster world, hard-touring bands such as Phish and the Grateful Dead encouraged fans to tape shows, many of which featured songs that had not yet been recorded for studio albums.

Phish's "Weekapaug Groove" and "Mike's Song," for example, were performed live dozens of times before they made it onto the group's 1997 live album, Slip Stitch and Pass, while some of their songs never have gotten the studio treatment, living only as concert staples coveted by tape-trading fans.

That ethic is carried on by a number of today's bands, from fellow jam-band cohorts the String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic to new-wave metalists Orgy.

The makeup-wearing Los Angeles band composed a new live drum'n'bass song for their recent U.S. tour, and Orgy had planned to try out a number of unrecorded and unreleased tracks — before the tour was cut short due to guitarist Amir Derakh's illness. Among them was "Sonic," a song they performed every night of the aborted tour that was left off last year's Vapor Transmission album.

"You need to play stuff in front of people to see how it works," guitarist Ryan Shuck, 27, said. Although he and singer Jay Gordon differ as to the benefits of playing unreleased material in concert — Gordon prefers songs to be "exactly how he wants them" before playing them for fans — they agree that an audience's reaction can sometimes help fine tune a track's tempo and arrangement.

"Our songs are a work in progress until they hit the shelf," he said. "If the songs are good enough, I'm sure people will want to buy the record."

Which is exactly what Tool/A Perfect Circle superfan Kabir Akhtar, 26, was thinking when he downloaded a bootleg recording of "Vacant."

"I think that musicians today have to know that live music will hit Napster five seconds after it is recorded," said Akhtar, the Los Angeles Webmaster of an unofficial Tool site, who was unapologetic about downloading the song. "Musicians decide to treat fans in Portland to a song, and there's kids in Philly who couldn't make it," he said. "In the old days, they'd wait months to buy a $30 bootleg of the show. Now they can hear it that same night." And that, he said, is better for the fans.

If You Can't Beat 'Em

Some artists simply shrug their shoulders at the "see it today, download it tomorrow" factor.

Although they didn't officially encourage fans to tape their shows, Radiohead were unfazed that many of the songs from their most recent album, Kid A, were available in multiple versions on Napster months before the album's October release.

"It's a non-issue for them," a source close to the band said. "They're not worried about it. [Singer] Thom [Yorke] even joked about how it would be on Napster the next day, during a show last summer. What are you gonna do, stop playing live?"

Savvy fans can find online multiple live versions of at least six of the 11 songs that are slated for the group's next album, Amnesiac (June).

R.E.M. have long made a habit of previewing songs from their upcoming albums at major live events. "Suspicion" and "Airportman" were among the four new songs the group debuted at the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington. Napster, however, had yet to debut at that point.

The group took several factors into account before playing two songs ("She Just Wants to Be" and "The Lifting") from their upcoming album, Reveal (May), for 190,000 fans at last month's Rock in Rio concert. One of those factors was their realization that the songs likely would show up on Napster, a source close to the band said.

"It doesn't help that you're going to have crappy versions of new songs out there before the album's out," the source said.

"The worst thing that can happen is, fans hear the new stuff in a [substandard] version and decide they don't like it," according to the manager of a major rock act. "In this new world, you do something and it's on the Internet, so there's a certain risk of what will be bad sonic versions of something that won't be out for months."

Other artists seem unfazed by the trend.

As he has for much of the past year, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy showed off a number of songs from his band's upcoming album at a March 8 show in San Francisco. Among them were "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," both available on Napster under several different names.

Bruce Springsteen, an artist who has taken bootleggers to court, has taken no apparent action to stop the online proliferation of several of his as-yet-unreleased tracks. The gospel-soul "My City of Ruins" was debuted at a benefit concert in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on December 17; the track was available on Napster within a week.

Like Orgy, hard rockers Staind initially were reluctant to perform new material on the road, but their desire to move beyond the songs from their debut weakened their resistance.

"They're the same questions we've been dealing with for the last few weeks," guitarist Mike Mushok said. "We knew that as soon as we played some of our new songs live, they would end up on Napster. Lo and behold, after the first show, there they were. Napster definitely played a part in [our] deciding what to do, but in the long run, we felt that we toured on the same record for a year-and-a-half and it was time to play new material."

While he was not happy with the sound quality of the Napster versions of the new songs "It's Been Awhile" and "Open Your Eyes," — both slated for the band's upcoming album, Break the Cycle (May 8) — Mushok said he hoped fans would still appreciate even poor-quality bootleg recordings and look forward to hearing the studio versions when they come out.

"This way, we still give the fans who are coming to see us something different in the set, and we get to play the new material," he said. "Honestly though, it is a tough decision."

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