Classic album tours: Celebration or cash-grab?
Is the “album tour” a chance to celebrate a classic work, or a desperate attempt to resuscitate that expiring career? ANDREW P STREET says it can totally be both.
Album tours have become the acceptable way for bands to cash in on their legacy without actually saying, “Dear valued fans, ka-ching.” They’ve become ubiquitous now, but the form didn’t really exist before the All Tomorrow’s Parties “Don’t Look Back” spinoff shows in the UK in 2005. The series came to Australia briefly for some Saints and Laughing Clowns gigs and one Sonic Youth/Scientists tour (doing Daydream Nation and Blood Red River, respectively), but the idea of a band playing their classic album start to finish has proved a potent one. For one thing, it meant that bands could reunite for a nice, acceptable reason: it’s not that they’ve realised that the career has stalled, but because it’s the 20th anniversary of their debut. See? Totally legit.
And let me make clear, I have no complaints about bands doing this: hell, a living’s a living, and many of my favourite gigs over the last few years have been album shows (off the top of my head, I was agog for the Pixies’ Doolittle, They Might Be Giants’ Flood, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, Hoodoo Gurus’ Stoneage Romeos, Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle, Low’s Things We Lost in the Fire, Spiritualized’s Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space… and let’s pretend the Hummingbirds’ loveBUZZ show at Manning Bar never happened, OK?).
Even so, looking at the slate of album tours coming up, which are confident celebrations of masterworks, and which reek of desperation?
You Am I
Albums: Hi Fi Way (1995); Hourly Daily (1996).
Number of album-era members appearing: 100 percent (plus later member Davey Lane).
Public interest: You Am I always pull, even if their more recent albums haven’t been exactly record-smashing hits – but their tour supporting their self-released deluxe reissues of their first three albums has just about sold out, showing just how freakin’ central those albums were to the kids in the ‘90s now living the exact desperate suburban existence that Hourly Daily lampoons.
Verdict: There have been calls for this sort of tour for years now, and they’ve timed it just right to make it both a dignified celebration and a late-period shot in the arm.
Album: Last Splash (1993)
Classic? Difficult to dispute, mainly on the basis of ‘Cannonball’.
Number of album-era members appearing: 100 percent.
Public interest: Hard to say, but this tour is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band’s breakthrough album release, as well as 20 years since Kim Deal was last not in the Pixies (though this time she quit rather than having the rug pulled out from beneath her via a brusque fax from Black Francis). Then again, only fairly obsessive fans are going to be going “Why, they’ve got bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim MacPherson back? Huzzah!”
Verdict: Given the anniversary aspect, that it’s the long-disbanded line-up rather than the more recent-look band and that Last Splash is very definitely The Breeders Album You Have If You Have A Breeders Album, it’s probably a safe bet they can carry it off with style.
Album: She’s So Unusual (1983)
Classic? ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, ‘She Bop’, ‘Time After Time’. We clear?
Number of album-era members appearing: Well, 100 percent since Lauper’s a solo act – although if we’re being technical about the folks who played on the disc itself it’s unlikely that studio-sessioneers-turned-terrible-band The Hooters will be backing her on the tour. Which is a shame, because then we could get them to play ‘And We Danced’, and then throw things at them until they were too badly injured to play anymore.
Public interest: See, if this was being written a month or so back it would have seemed like a desperate ‘80s retro-fest, but now that Lauper’s back in the public eye for winning Tony awards left and right for her musical Kinky Boots, it makes this more of an unexpectedly convenient career-boosting bonus.
Verdict: Even leaving aside the 30th anniversary aspect, events have conspired to make this weirdly timely.
Album: Raise (1991)
Classic? Well … it’s a fan favourite?
Number of album-era members appearing: Fifty percent – classic guitar line-up, fresh-ish rhythm section.
Public interest: Swervedriver’s return a couple of years ago was met with giddy delight by the folks who expected shoegaze to change everything, only to be thwarted by the first stirrings of Britpop by 1993. And Raise does have ‘Son of Mustang Ford’ and ‘Rave Down’, both of which are mighty singles – but it’s the sort of thing that makes dedicated fans go “this will be amazing” and everyone else go “what by who?”
Verdict: Beardy men and people who love guitar effects have already booked their babysitters. You people who don’t know this album are just plain wrong.
Album: 1977 (1996)
Classic? No-brainer in the UK, but here?
Number of album-era members appearing: 100 percent.
Public interest: Presumably people curious to see how dreamy Tim Wheeler is these days – bet the bastard’s aged really well, actually. And if Ash isn’t exactly a household name these days, there are still plenty of people that’ll start grinning nostalgically if you started playing ‘Girl from Mars’ or ‘Kung Fu’.
Verdict: Well, nothing else is likely to kick-start that Ash revival, certainly.