There's been a lot of interesting opinions voiced on this thread - from Jerry, Anahata, Frank, Kat, Sedayne and others - thanks... Some of it may have even made me change my mind about a couple of things! I certainly think its interesting how some of the musicians that contribute essentially see a recording as a song source - a link in the chain, if you like: another place to learn a song and then take in out into a performance setting, and let it 'come back to life'.
I tend to agree with and like the approach proposed by Michael R who suggests a live performance is like a snapshot and a recording is like a painting. When I do get to listen to live music, which isn't anywhere near often enough to allow me to take it for granted or to replace my beloved CD collection, it can be really frustrating if the acoustics of the venue or the sound engineering is rubbish, or the performer is having an 'off' night or the audience is talking through the performance or I'm sat behind a pillar or a person in a very tall hat (all these have happened - just say NO to tall hats!). To take the snapshot analogy further, when you don't take many photos, its frustrating to have them turn out fuzzy or overexposed... I suppose on some levels, the element of chance in the live performance makes it more real than the recording, which by its nature is always the same, but still... Having said that, the other side of the coin is that very little can beat a blinder of a gig.
I think what's frustrating when you get home with the poorly produced, badly presented, shoddily put together album, is the missed opportunity: the artist had a chance to put out to the world one of the best performances of their career, but settled for just okay. Maybe some people don't thrive unless they have the feedback and rapport of the live audience to spur them on? Maybe for some performers the recording process is not really what they're about, a chore rather than a pleasure, something they're just not that interested in? Maybe it can be about not having an objective and critical ear around for a second opinion? I really don't know...
Like Big Mick said of his post above, this is a bit rambling, because some of the responses have given me pause for thought. On last thing to throw into the pot: what do people think of the situation where as a result of relatively cheap home recording technology and the internet, people on different continents, who may have never met, can bat recordings back and forth and essentially do on-line collaborations? Has anyone here tried this?
Matt Milton - as an aside, Nancy Elizabeth Cunliffe has taken to doing a few gigs locally with a full band - the live performance adapting to reflect the sound of the album. Saw her do this at the Unitarian Chapel in Manchester and it was excellent... a different experience to Nancy alone but well worth catching...