Tonight, at the Bell House in Gowanus, The Breeders play the first in a series of concerts reviving their 20-year-old record Last Splash in full, ahead of a recently announced lavish anniversary re-issue. They are hardly the first band to go this route. The practice has gotten more and more common over the last ten years or so, with legacy record sales going to total shit and festivals coughing up more and more money for ticket-moving attractions. The Breeders’ Kim Deal herself spent much of the last decade trotting out old Pixies material for everyone in the universe who wanted to hear it. And, from a fan point of view, there’s always going to be a strong lure in knowing, just knowing, that every song you loved from a specific point in time is going to be recreated and none of them skipped. Hopefully the feelings you had back when you loved a band the most will be rekindled as well. I bet everyone at the Bell House tonight is going to have a great time! Still, thinking past a universal desire to relive something that reminds you of hazy days of youth, I can’t help but feel that this is getting increasingly toxic, culturally.
Isn’t there something inherently ghoulish in making someone slavishly recreate their young, vital selves? I realize that the definition of “make” is pretty loose here. There are presumably no guns involved at the contract signings. But we do vote with our wallets, and these shows continue to be wildly popular. People want to see music that meant a lot to them, it’s not a hard concept to get. There seems to be a slight difference in degree though, between a “reunion” show, where a full body of work is celebrated, and these specific album shows which demand, “No. We liked who you were in 1994. Be that band.” It’s backward looking and stagnant, and we should be a little embarrassed about wanting it so badly.
I loved the hell out of Kraftwerk’s Man-Machine MoMa concert last year, so I’m as guilty as anyone. But at least that had the proper context, a literal museum piece. Going to clubs, trying to feel the ol’ 1993 magic seems almost like a parody of art appreciation. It makes you wish we could collectively choose to support new work by artists we love as our tribute for meaning so much to us once, instead of time-stamping our appreciation so specifically. Wasn’t making a new album that tackles the frailty of old age a better use of Bowie’s time than hitting the road to tour Hunky Dory in 2013? There are more important ills in the music business, for sure. This is just one that’s sort of increasingly bumming me out.
All that said, it isn’t going away. Nostalgia is super bankable, in a market that remains pretty rough. So, fuck it, here’s 5 albums I might swallow my sadness to go see in full, as time marches cruelly forward. (Your sadness-swallowing triggers may differ):
The Amps – Pacer
As long as Kim Deal is where she is, why not get really rare with it? At least this one never really got its due, so it would be more of a late vindication than a boomerang back to past glory.
Brian Eno – Any of His First Four Albums
File this one under never, but what if…Brian Eno, sensing his own mortality, and offered a museum retrospective a la Kraftwerk, put together an ace live band to perform his first four pop album, and maybe, like, Music for Airports, and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (David Byrne, everybody!) as a week-long MoMa residency??? Theoretical griping be gone! Let me start bitching on Twitter about the ticketing in advance! Cynicism would be partially waved because he barely ever played this stuff out in the 70s, even.
Poor sound quality, eaten by cocktail party chatter, yeah, but there are scraps of evidence that these esoteric songs did, in fact, rock live.
And expect 00s records to start getting their nostalgia tours any day now. The loop closes in…
Clinic – Internal Wrangler
They’ve kept chugging along as a career band, and I respect that, honest. But the sloppy push and pull of this record is elevated by moments of true grace. It’s a masterpiece that keeps aging like fine wine. It’s now coming up on it 15th anniversary, which no one celebrates with a big to do. But it’s as arbitrary as any other. And I’d go. I mean…
…swoon, still. And surgical masks will keep us from the ghastly specter of mortality!
Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary
Given that both chief songwriters from the group have gone on to acclaimed solo work, and multiple other bands, a return to playing the album that made them famous could either be a sad future retreat or a fun reunion with old pals. Either way, it’ll be a personal early 20s nostalgia bomb. Plus, I remember them being super drunk the first time around, at least to the degree that I, super drunk, could discern such a thing. Someday we’ll be dignified and old, together.
From the band’s “last show ever”….until the next one.
The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
Staying inside the mid-00s Montreal guitar rock boomlet…I mentioned this album yesterday, in reference to something new and good, but it’ll be a heart-bound favorite of mine forever and ever. And bands who only ever made one record have the added benefit of being able to play a single album AND celebrate an entire body of work.
Guiltily rooting for this one the hardest. Don’t listen to me guys! 10 years! Milestones!
I was at the Breeders show. It was completely awesome. There was no ghoulishness to speak of. It was really fascinating and fun to see how that complex, weird long-player all fits together. Pedals, tiny amps, different guitars, gigantic Hawaiian wind chimes, violin, distorted harmonica microphone. It was rad. The Breeders are a breath of fresh air in these culturally toxic times, whether they’re playing new stuff or old.