Some artists and groups add another dimension to their songs playing them live, others just repeat their recorded versions.
Some of the all-time greats such as Bob Dylan are guilty of destroying the very essence of their back catalogue : altering songs beyond recognition and, above all, mangling their meaning.
Last Friday I went to see Villagers at The Gate in Roath, Cardiff ; first time I'd ever seen them/him.
Villagers are really Conor O'Brien of Dun Laoghaire with different musicians along the way and a latest album 'Darling Arithmetic', on which he plays most instruments.
The Gate's a great venue : a converted chapel, like Soar in Merthyr, but with a bit more comfort for posteriors.
Its acoustics are perfect for the largely muted songs from the new album and a band which included harp and double bass (though the latter fought with sound gremlins all night).
What impressed me most were two things : the older songs were subtly re-interpreted and those from 'Darling Arithmetic' given renewed depth and vision.
I have to admit I much prefer the two previous albums, both Mercury Prize nominated : 'Becoming a Jackal' and ' (Awayland)' (love the brackets!).
It's unfortunate that Villagers have released it at the same time as Sufjan Stevens' 'Carrie & Lowell', because there are many similarities.
Both O'Brien and Stevens are poetic and literate lyricists and talented multi-instrumentalists. Both albums are starkly confessional, yet 'Carrie & Lowell' ties together as an entity and explores much darker areas, sometimes with characteristic humour.
However, a number of tracks were given new life when performed and heightened the homophobia which O'Brien addresses with candour in certain songs.
I particularly liked 'So Naive' with its Zen philosophy never pushy ; it was even more mysterious but at the same time grounded, embracing contradictions as that 'religion' should.
'Little Bigot' was more fiery , carried by the pounding rhythms and O'Brien's high , sustained notes.
Playing live, I forgave the occasional cliche because of the powerful vocals and a band playing with such unity of purpose.
As to the older songs, I was especially moved by two favourites : 'The Waves' from '(Awayland)' and 'Pieces' from the first album.
The former began with such passion and energy and didn't follow the rather familiar pattern of crescendo as the songs progress. It's also something of an exception : looking outwards and taking quite awkward viewpoints along the way.
The whole band seemed to sense this and brought out its apocalyptic feeling.
'Pieces' is a contrast : an emotive song of mental torment which, on the album, totally fragments and ends in a howl.
Yet , on the night, it was given a gentle melancholic treatment, which complemented the recent inward-looking songs.
It will be fascinating to see where Villagers go from here.
Too many bands and solo artists are lyrically bland and O'Brien needs to return to his strengths, with imagery which entices like footpaths to the hills, not the too familiar landmarks viewed from motorways.
Strange village where
bodies clap the bells
and wolves in the forests
call but are not heard ;
the few flowers wither,
bees struggle to find them
among the coloured umbrellas.
The donkey at the fence
sports a dog collar,
brays at a congregation
of scattering hens.
In dunes, a young man stands
and howls towards the trees
and seeks a path of light
to lead the way ;
a boat's moored, ready.
His lover is hiding
among the marram grass,
but the sea storms
too loudly for any response
to be followed, to be found.