The venues I perform in do not affect the set list I put together for my band, Doctor Nerve. I usually do that on the train on the way to the venue. If we make last minute changes, it’s usually due to a management request like, “We’d prefer two sets instead of one, so we can sell drinks.” As for the performance itself, it can be pushed a number of directions based on a lot of environmental factors, including the space itself. We played under the Brooklyn Bridge, in the anchorage spaces there, for example. Acoustically it was a disaster, but musically it was extremely inspiring. I think I react more to the vibe of a place than the acoustics.
Audience reaction is definitely an influence on how we play. A polite, quiet audience, for example, is not a neutral audience; it can be detrimental to the energy on stage. It’s best when the audience is working as hard as we are to make the event happen. Especially when we improvise, the audience can be very present in the performance.
Recording is a radically different experience than performing live. The realtime experience is necessarily different than an experience where you have non-time-based control over content. The music we make in 60 minutes on stage takes exactly 60 minutes. The same amount of music made in the studio can take hours, days, weeks…
The biggest problem I have with concert halls is looking off the stage at the audience, and my eyes have to cross a vast gulf before I can barely make out shadowy faces in the distance. That’s not a lot of fun. With the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, at one point I suggested we turn the house lights up for the second set. Audience loved it. Everyone had a much better time. We play for people, not shadows.