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Now playing at your house

Forget fans with cellphones. Websites and clubs are getting into the act.

February 01, 2007|Margaret Wappler | Times Staff Writer

LIVE performances have made for some of rock music's most exalted moments. Some were recorded, but many were simply chattered about until they became legend. The Velvet Underground at Warhol's Factory parties raised an unknown art-noise band to mythical status. The Ramones at CBGB's defined the sweet trashiness of '70s punk.

Increasingly, music fans can watch live performances on the Internet -- as they are happening, or a few hours or days later.

At a grass-roots level, tech-savvy kids slap up cellphone videos of the Trail of the Dead's onstage meltdowns on You Tube.com or upload MP3s from the Midlake show onto their cleverly named blogs. But there's also a concerted effort by powerful Web entities and local clubs to bring the live experience straight to home computers and portable communication devices.

By far the biggest Web presence to get involved is My Space.com, which presented its first live webcast last November. Strategic marketing director Ted Dhanik selected Interference, a live club night featuring DJs Sandra Collins, Paul Oakenfold and VJ Vello Virkhaus, to capitalize on electronica's devoted fan base.

"We wanted to pilot the program with a smaller genre of music before we went to something bigger, like hip-hop or rock," Dhanik says. "It also matched MySpace's reputation of being edgy and revolutionary.... The event was a total success and surpassed all our expectations."

Since then, MySpace has webcast concerts from My Chemical Romance, the Roots and Clipse, but unlike Interference, which played in real time, those shows have aired after a couple of weeks of editing.

"We feel like it has more of an impact to wait and release the concert as an edited package," Dhanik says. "We're still going to have live broadcasts once a quarter or so, but there's not enough urgency to have it all the time."

Burbank-based Rehearsals .com, a division of CenterStaging Corp., provides high-definition streaming video of musicians at practice. Rehearsals.com utilizes its parent company's formidable resources -- a 150,000-square-foot facility with 11 studios and a high-definition broadcast center -- to record a wide variety of musicians, including pop stars Norah Jones and Burt Bacharach and indie band Aviatic, performing and often retooling their songs.

According to Tommy Nast, executive vice president of CenterStaging, Rehearsals.com was conceived to capture the "the quiet, magical moments that usually happen when an artist is practicing alone." Instead of cameramen zooming in on a performer, Studio 11, where Jones was filmed, was equipped with 10 robotically controlled cameras.

"In 10 minutes, the performers forget where they are," Nast says. "It allows them to focus on the music."

THE Gig, a cavernous club on Melrose, eschews the quieter moments in favor of conveying the full-throttle passion of a live show from its roster of mostly unsigned bands. For the last eight months or so, owner Peter O'Fallon has been recording five or six a week in the hopes of capturing "a Beatles in Hamburg or another U2." The club's website, liveatthegig.com, has audio and video archives of about 600 acts; all of the footage begins with the Gig's black velvet curtain rising onstage.

As director of cult favorites "Northern Exposure" and the feature film "Suicide Kings," O'Fallon saw the Gig's website as not only a way for many unsigned acts to promote their music to fans and potential labels, but also as a place where Hollywood music editors could shop for new talent.

"There's a lot of demand for unsigned acts on TV," O'Fallon says, "which is a terrific way for a band to break." Absinthe Academy, a local glam-rock outfit, will appear on the upcoming FX series "The Riches," with Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard, based on its Gig performances.

For Silver Lake's indie rock haven Spaceland, recording bands is important for posterity but also as a way to catapult up-and-comers to the next level. Last summer, promoter Mitchell Frank recruited Kamran V. from Universal's New Media division to launch Spaceland Recordings, a label specializing in multitrack audio recordings of Spaceland regulars such as Thunderbirds Are Now!, Irving and Darker My Love. The albums are then distributed to Internet retailers iTunes and Napster, as well as brick-and-mortar stores Amoeba, Sea Level and their equivalents across the U.S.

"We're hoping to help the bands grow beyond the club," Kamran V. says. "The live records are capturing all of these unique, memorable, coming-of-age moments for the bands.... What if we had that kind of recording for Beck?"

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