Wednesday, August 21, 2013

If you want to play a CD, play it on your CD player, not your concert set list

So, lunch conversation today centered on the pros and cons of a band playing one of their classic albums straight through in its entirety as part of a concert.  Certainly the trend is growing, with bands and artists as diverse as the Pixies, Rush, Huey Lewis, and Cyndi Lauper all being mentioned among the road warriors who are playing a record with cult status or big sales top to bottom during recent or current tours.

As far as my lunch compadres and I could figure out, it may have been Steely Dan or Bruce Springsteen who started the trend, though we weren't sure and there is little doubt that both answers are wrong.

Prog rockers were doing it 40 years ago.  The Who did it, more or less, with Tommy way back when the album first came out.

But we are talking about something different, something I would call "The Nostalgic Playback."  The complete album as part of concert playlist craze that is popping up everywhere attempts to lure concertgoers who either a) want to reconnect with one of the great musical moments in their lives, b) want the guarantee that they will get to hear certain favorite songs, or c) want to experience cornerstone songs from before they were born from artists they have come to love through their parents' CD collections.

One has to believe that somewhere Billy Ray Cyrus is mounting a musical campaign to include all of Some Gave All.

The three of us, three hibachi-eating amateur music critics, were of three minds about the trend:

A. One of us had no problem with it, endorsed it, had seen numerous Springsteen shows where the entire album played was a highlight, including numerous songs rarely ever played live.
B. One of us was opposed to it, thought even the Rush concert he had seen where they played all of 2012 got boring after awhile, said of my desire to hear Fleetwood Mac's Rumors straight through, said, "You can do that right now, put on the CD."
C. And then there was me.

I like that Steely Dan does it.  I like that Springsteen does it, but as with most things, from using the flavor of chipotle to the purchase of Frampton Comes Alive!,  if too many people start doing it, that's when I've had enough.  And, in fact, I think it has already moved from a nice treat for hard core fans to a marketing gimmick.

Also, I challenge the notion of a "classic" album.  A classic album is a record or CD that holds up because it is so good, not because because it sold so many copies.  Just because it had a bunch of hit singles or so many weeks or months at the top of the charts does not mean it is a classic.  And we all agreed that this puts Cyndi and Huey in separate conundrums because some of the songs, perhaps most, on their big sellers are not very good.

There is a reason some songs are not played in concert.

And so I find myself straddling the fence.  Yes, there are albums I would like to see performed live.  No, I don't hope the trend lasts.  We even had a good time speculating on some of the weird possibilities that the trend might spawn.  Indeed, Peter Frampton, were he to do it, would have to play his famous live album as a live concert, making it even more redundant.  If Squeeze did, their "album" would actually be a collection of their greatest singles.  If the Eagles did it, I'd have to shoot myself in the head.  But then, I'd do that if I were at an Eagles concert in the first place.

It was Nick Carraway who proclaimed, "you can't repeat the past," and Gatsby who thought he could refute him through sheer force of will.  Who was right?  What if the past you are trying to repeat, as is the case with these artists,  was something that didn't happen the first time around?  What chance do you have when age and desire have taken their toll?

It is interesting to ponder, though it's hard to argue against two realities--that the original recorded version is often impossible to beat, but that there is indeed great joy when an artist performs a song that has always been a private little gem, a "deep cut," if you will, for you that you are now hearing among many people and it feels like you and the artist are somehow sharing it with them.


rodle said...

Every concert I've been to had low moments, and none of them were because they were playing a predictable play-list. I don't really care if this trend continues to grow, or if it stops Tuesday...but I AM looking forward to attending my first "album-concert" Monday night.

Who knows how good Huey will be? And who knows if all of Sports will work live? All I know is it's another new experience for me, so I've already decided to like it.

troutking said...

Right on, Randy! That's one of my favorite trends/practices: deciding something is good before you even experience it!

As if to refute your marketing worries, Bruce did not announce when he was going to do an album on his most recent tour. He just somewhat randomly performed Born to Run or Darkness or Born in the USA at various stops interspersed among "regular" shows. In Omaha last fall, he did six songs from Nebraska to mark the occasion. It definitely felt special to hear full band versions of songs not performed frequently since 1985 and maybe only acoustically then. Springsteen fans always rave about hearing certain song sequences from albums that just sound right Incident on 57th street into NYC serenade or Meeting Across the River into Jungleland. If it truly is a great album there is a heightened sense of focus and living that comes from hearing it live, loud and with 15000 other fans drinking it in just like you are that you can't get in your living room. Especially if you are close to the stage and have been carrying your little flask of vodka. Plus in your living room there's no chance that a little later the Boss will crowd surf right over you during Hungry Heart! Full disclosure: I came close to buying Cyndi Lauper She's So Unusual tickets yesterday, but I've resisted so far. Resistance may be futile, much like it is with "She Bop"ing. Unless you can win a contest, like George Costanza. Though he later admitted he cheated.

G. B. Miller said...

Personally, it sounds like a cool way to get exposure to a given album that may have one or two chart toppers on it.

Bob said...

Author's update: both of the pro-whole album commentators who were going to a whole album concert sold their tickets to the show.