Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Last Gasps of Arena Rock

Arena Rock will die with my generation. Music is immortal and will always find ways to thrive, but arena rock? It’s doomed. A grave has been dug and awaits relatively imminent arrival of arena rock's embalmed corpse.

Of the 25 highest-grossing tours of 2011, none were rock acts born after 1983. Bon Jovi is the baby of the super-successful arena rock acts; U2 and Journey and Iron Maiden all began in the late ‘70s. Many scientists theorize that Neil Diamond and most of the Eagles have been dead for quite some time, but that their fans project their astral forms onto the stage for concerts out of sheer stubbornness.

Other musical genres -- pop, country, R&B -- are well-represented in that Top 25 list, and they include acts born in the ‘90s and ‘00s, but not rock. No matter how much endless praise I heap upon Foo Fighters, their awesomeness does not draw in enough cash to crack the Top 25 tours. (Somewhat surprisingly, The Boss also failed to make this list.)

In 20 years, arenas will still mostly fill with teenaged screeching fans drooling to watch their hunky or sexy idol artist from the nosebleed section, or fill with gray-haired Upper-Classers who happily dish out $100 to pretend they're not old, but contemporary and legitimately alive rock bands will downgrade fully into theatres, pavilions, and auditoriums. This is Spinal Tap is proving to be more prophetic than mockumentary.

In this bit of dark news flashes a sliver of light, and it’s this: Rock is about rage. Human nature requires that most of us rage, rage against the dying of the light, and rock feeds this urge. If rock is caged in auditoriums, it will rage. If rock is freed to roam an arena, it will rage. Some rock rages quite violently, while some seethe and some rage downright politely. All rock rages compared to Kenny fucking Chesney.

Into this dying light soars, appropriately, Battle Born, the fourth album from The Killers. The album is an in-your-face homage to their home state of Nevada, whose motto inspired the title. The entire album sounds as if lead singer Brandon Flowers knows the gauntlet has been thrown, as if the entire burden for keeping arena rock alive must be shouldered by a cheesy synth-based rock band.

I enjoyed Hot Fuss and believe “All These Things That I Have Done” is one of the more under-appreciated songs of the early 2000s. I skipped out on Sam’s Town and Day & Age, but something about Battle Born called to me. Maybe my attraction is as simple as not wanting to let arena rock will die, not on my watch.

Any song on Battle Born harkens to at least two or three classic arena rock acts from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Fleetwood Mac, Queen, U2, The Boss, Journey, Genesis, Survivor, Simple Minds. (Hey, I didn’t say they were all critically beloved arena rockers...)

Their first single, "Runaways," is just an amazing mashup of some of the best arena-ready rock from the '80s.  "I knew it when I held you I wasn't letting go" are words that could well have been sung by Michael Lee "Meat Loaf" Aday 30 years ago. Their closing song, "Battle Born," begs to be sung into the open air of Sun Devil Stadium by tens of thousands. Hell, I wanna go on the road with them just so I can be a backup singer who belts out "Well you can't stop now!!!"

Up against the wall
There's something dying on the street
When they knock you down
You're gonna get back on your feet
Well you can't stop now ('cuz you can't stop now!)

That, my friends, is arena rock: Cliched but heartfelt, and belted with enough strength and conviction to inspire 20,000 rabid fanatics to scream along in unison. If Lady Gaga indeed outlives this sound, surely the next generation has lost something precious.


troutking said...

Bruce is awesome but even he couldn't make the top 25 in 2011 without touring in 2011.

Billy said...

Confession: I mentioned Bruce solely to guarantee myself a chance at a comment.

TommyD said...

Muse = arena rock

ronpaul said...

MUSE. Arena tours this year, next summer comes the stadium tours.