[29 November 2009]
I can understand why a writer from the Washington Post was skeptical about so-called album performances where a band recreates an entire album. I agreed in theory that this seemed to kill the spontaneity of a concert and sometimes it could back-fire, not just for the audience but also for the performer(s). When Wire reformed in the mid-‘80s, they had a cover band called Ex-Lion Tamers (featuring future scribe Jim DeRogatis) perform all of “Pink Flag” in order but when Wire themselves came on afterwards, the crowd still wanted to hear the old songs. Similarly, when I’ve seen several acoustic/solo Neil Young shows, the audience would be either warned not to shout out requests or politely told “why don’t you just see what Neil has in store for you?” Of course, the crowd will still yell out requests, once causing Neil to snidely reply “Thank you for reminding me of the titles of my songs.”
So I kept away from these album-creation shows, missing Sonic Youth doing Daydream Nation (wonder how they handled “Providence”). But just by chance of seeing bands I loved, I did catch a number of these types of shows, including:
Built to Spill—Perfect From Now On
Bruce Springsteen—Darkness at the Edge of Town
They Might Be Giants—Apollo 18
Lucinda Williams—Lucinda Williams (her 1988 album)
Devo—Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
And a funny thing happened. Not only was I was graphically reminded about how these albums still sounded great but I loved going through them and hearing all of the songs played in order. After all, at a regular show, what are you seeing except some songs from the latest album mixed with a ‘Greatest Hits’ revue? Sure, you lose some of the spontaneity but if it’s a record you really like, you won’t be disappointed seeing all of it played in front of you live. Anyhow, since the ol’ style albums all clock in around 40-50 minutes, that still gives the band time to play other goodies from their catalog. And if you don’t like the album they’re gonna be playing for a particular show, just skip the date, right?
The whole idea of album as its own entity didn’t really take hold in rock until the mid-‘60s so no one’s gonna create a demand for a live show made up of a band’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 for a group though some fans would surely like it—I’d love to see the Stones do More Hot Rocks, but I ain’t holding my breath for it. As such, it’s a multi-decade phenom by now that (relative) oldies acts can exploit for misty-eyed fans (like me). It might also give bands some impetus now to create records that would stand the test of time and get the album-recreation treatment years from now.
It makes me think of other albums I would have loved to seen done from start to finish: XTC’s Drums and Wires, Captain Beefheart’s Doc at the Radar Station, the Fall’s This Nation’s Saving Grace, Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones and so on. It also makes me feel dumb that I skipped Daydream Nation, even if I like Goo better…