RANTING ON THE OLDIES: PACKAGED TOURS WITH A QUESTIONABLE SMELL

This piece was originally published September 28th, 2009

Sack O' Money IconYou’ve seen them advertised, and perhaps you’ve even attended a few: The packaged oldies/nostalgic concert tour.

The tours that bring together several musical acts who had a pop hit or two back during the same decade and now have been relegated to sharing a bill with another act that they probably never had much in common with, other than coming out of a similar genre, a similar time period and a willingness to lump themselves in with these others to play at some amphitheater, local car show, or casino.

Personally, I get a twing of uneasiness whenever I hear about one of these musical extravaganza packages, and I get mortified if one of the acts happens to include a band or artist that I really really like.

I fully understand one of the primary reasons for jumping on board one of these tours—money.

Let’s say that your band had a hit 20 years ago and then for whatever reason, things went south of the border: original members holding necessary creative sparks jettisoned the mothership, talent dried up due to lifestyle changes, aging or was snorted, shot up or smoked out of existence, or any other reason that would result in a loss to any bank account funds that may have been originally gained via that one hit song or some past semi successful younger days of touring.

They say a paycheck is a paycheck and for many folks, just playing music full time is a wonderful way to spend a life. I can understand that motivation, but it still doesn’t mean I have to buy into it.

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In the fifties and sixties it was common to have a number of bands, vocal groups or solo performers share a bill and then embark on relentless tours where each act would perform their current radio hit and perhaps a few other songs, totaling a set time of perhaps ten, fifteen and usually never longer than twenty minutes of set time with two or three shows per night. There was little doubt that the intention then was to boost record sales and gather more radio time for these acts. Factor in payolla and the cash rolled in a plenty. Usually though, these tours were still a wonder to witness, and as the above poster exemplifies, the line-ups were incredible and almost too good to be true.

Aside from the extremely high level of quality, the main difference between these classic tours, along with their close cousins, the many huge and small musical festivals such as the Newport Jazz and Folks fests, Woodstock, Monterey Pop, Lollapalooza, Ozzfest, All Tomorrow’s Parties etc. and the tours that this column calls into question—the nostalgia tour—is not merely that of semantics; for me it is more a question of integrity, why the acts are touring at all, and how the tour is ultimately promoted.

The former usually had music that was being provided by artists currently in the act of creating, not coasting. I’m all for differences in style and genre appearing on the same bill and I have always relished the thought of wildly varied acts appearing alongside one another. My own personal experience in assembling a music festival used my prerequisite of juxtaposing as many varied acts as possible. I’ve always felt that the more different, the more stimulating an experience for an audience.

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“Mr. Roboto” indeed…

 

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A perfect example of the tours that ring of bleech would have to include the Styx/R.E.O. Speedwagon/Night Ranger triumvirate (at times the tour has also included Journey). Well, perhaps a case could be made that each of these bands had their origins as American light progressive rock chumps before the bad ballads and infomercials took over.

Sometimes truly great bands get swept up in the nonsense. As a big fan of The Psychedelic Furs, It has been disappointing to find that their last actual album was in 1991 (with only one more single studio track in 2001) yet the tours keep going, pairing them with other “stuck in the ’80s” acts that paled comparatively. Lead singer Richard Butler has, however, hinted at a new album, so perhaps I will someday be able to take them off my mental list of bands relegated to only doing the dreaded nostalgia circuit.

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The gastly poster for this tour.

 

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Another package tour that smacks of wrong is that of Blondie/Pat Benatar on their current Call Me Invincibletour. Sure each act had some major hits, but that is where this ungodly pairing should have ended. Blondie not only was the first of the punk/new wave underground acts to break out with a massive single and album, “Heart Of Glass” from their Parallel Lines album, but in recent years Blondie continued to record and release new material, so I’m not sure that hanging out with Ms. Benatar’s tired new wave lite-rock is something that can be looked at as anything positive, only perhaps tainting Blondie’s until now, credible reputation.

Some bands, regardless of the decade they emerged from, choose not to stroll down the thorny path of bad oldies nights and boat show appearances. Perhaps they feel that whatever made them a great band in the first place stays with them throughout. Maybe they are borrowing from the paths of Bob Dylan or Neil Young, looking to their own musical heroes such as these, artists who have kept on touring and making new albums, whether liked or disliked in terms of sales or fans fair-weathered of the moment tastes.

Echo and The Bunnymen are a great example of this. Admirably, they are always pushing forward with new albums, tours of varied sized venues and a seemingly willful desire to meet any obstacle head-on (two out of the original four band members have died, and recently their unofficial longtime fifth member was also killed).

We also saw the B-52’s recently. While the show was indeed at a local casino, it never smacked of a sad trip down memory lane. In fact, the venue really suited the groovy fun of the music and the band’s image, they had no opening act, and recently released an album of new material. Good on ’em.

So blame tactless booking agencies who corral these artists into their money generating stables, a willing number of punters who have no problem paying to see these tours or the true culprits: greed, a loss of integrity and a lack of imagination on the part of the performers.

All I know is that I can tell a bad cheeseball tour from the moment I smell one…

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