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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Our Generation's Packaged Nostalgia - Touring Edition

Remember that Diet Dr. Pepper commercial where there is a group of Village People lookalikes performing under the name, the Retirement Village People? Well, if you don't, the point was to show that most revised versions of something popular are not the same as the real deal. Apparently the Dr. Pepper company thought their diet version was as good as the regular version, but I'm still not sold on any kind of diet cola. Nevertheless, a really interesting subject to ponder is this: when should a band call it a day?

After years of seeing oldies acts come through town, it doesn't surprise me that a number of acts that I grew up with are doing the same thing. A most recent and notable example is a tour featuring the "New" Cars and Blondie. These tours are nowhere near the caliber of reunion tours from indie acts like the Pixies, Mission of Burma and Dinosaur Jr. These kinds of tours are not for the hardcore fan. You're gonna hear the songs that you hear on the radio and/or on their greatest hits albums. If you want to hear these songs live and relatively cheap, these shows are the place. However, they are not the same as seeing a band back in their heyday.

For many of the musicians, this is the only thing these people think they are capable of doing for a steady income. Of course it's better than working a crap job, but I'm not so sure if I would be much happier playing songs that I played in high school. Those songs had a place in the past and while that place is well-regarded, I don't want to be stuck in a timewarp. However, not everybody feels that way.

I'm sure there are a number of other factors as to why these groups reform, but I think this is not the best for these bands' legacy. Call it throwing dirt on a legacy or dragging a known name through the mud or whatever. These rarely help preserve band's past by rehashing the songs in the present. For acts that want to play new material along with the hits, their crowds are probably not going to get the same kind of enjoyment. I've found that most mainstream audiences like the familiar more than the unfamiliar. Blockbuster acts like Paul McCartney and James Taylor will play some new material to promote their latest releases, but people are there to hear stuff like "Hey Jude" and "Fire and Rain."

A frequent feature of these packaged nostalgia tours is that not all of the original members of the bands are present. Regardless of which act it is, when crucial members are not there, it's not the same experience. When a band gets popular with a certain lineup, most people want to see that lineup in a live setting. Of course there are factors that may prevent such from happening (from legal reasons to members no longer among the living), but the biggest bang for the buck is that all original members are back together.

In the case of the Cars, original bassist/singer Benjamin Orr passed away a few years ago and original singer/guitarist/songwriter Ric Ocasek did not express an interest to reform the band. Regardless, a version of the Cars is back on tour. The "New" Cars feature original members keyboardist Greg Hawkes and guitarist Elliot Easton along with legendary singer/producer Todd Rundgren on lead vocals and guitar, bassist Kasim Sulton and drummer Prairie Prince from the Tubes. Interestingly, this revamped lineup sounds a lot like how Creedence Clearwater Revisited's lineup is arranged. That version of CCR features two original members of Creedence Clearwater Revival (bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford) playing all the hits and deep album cuts. By pure coincidence, Elliot Easton's previous gig with the "New" Cars was with Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

Every band is different. Some keep going without all the original members present and still do a decent job (like Journey and the Ramones). I argue when a crucial member is not a part of the reformation (especially in the lead vocalist slot), I usually believe the band should stop. Though there are exceptions (like AC/DC and Van Halen) but most of the time, I think the bands should call it a day. As much as I love Queen, I'm not about to see the latest incarnation with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company on lead vocals. There's only one Freddie Mercury.

Now, bands that I grew up with in middle school are going down a similar path. Alice in Chains, the hard-rockin', alterna-metal band had a mysterious but enigmatic lead singer named Layne Stayley. Stayley passed away a few years ago, but now there is word that original members Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, longtime bassist Mike Inez and a rotation of lead singers will be touring soon. To quote Mumbles from Dick Tracy: oh boy . . .

As the Split Enz song goes, history never repeats. I agree with that statement to a point. History technically never repeats, but patterns repeat over and over again. Speaking of Split Enz, the True Colours-era lineup has reunited for live shows this summer. I think they'll be able to pull it off because brothers Neil and Tim Finn still have that spark. I'm more familiar with Neil Finn's work with Crowded House and as a solo artist. Maybe this is a way to be formally introduced. Maybe that's a major impetus for bands to reform: play for a new audience while also respecting the older fans. But as I said, this mindset doesn't work for all bands.

3 comments:

Long_Division said...

I wonder how much of an exception Van Halen is. Sammy Hagar is the worst! Do you know that Nerf Herder song "Van Halen"? That's my sentiment, exactly. (Dave lost his hairline/but you lost your cool, buddy/Can't drive 55/I'll never buy your lousy records again).

Eric Grubbs said...

I thought Van Hagar produced some of the most mature stuff they ever did. "When It's Love," "Dreams," "Right Now," . . . so many great tracks.

I remember that Nerf Herder song very well. Funny little ditty. I also remember Sammy saying in Rolling Stone how he refused to be in the video.

pimplomat said...

I'm sorry Eric, if you're choosing Van Hagar over Van Halen, then I may just have to move out.