Play It Again, Band
What’s up with bands playing full albums live?
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: September 24th, 2012
t’s a given at this point that every band that ever existed will reunite and head out on the nostalgia circuit. If you were ever too young to see your favorite band the first time around, there’s a good chance they’re coming to your town soon, and if you’re lucky, more than half the original members will still be in the band. But in addition to the mandatory reunion, more and more back-together bands are doing something bands hardly ever did before: playing full albums in order.
Not new albums, of course—who cares about those? Nowadays bands are performing their best—or fan favorite, or first—albums in concert, in sequence, starting with track one and ending with track whatever. Previously, the full album concert was reserved for rock operas; when The Who performs Tommy or Quadrophenia, or Roger Waters performs Pink Floyd’s The Wall, it makes sense. Those are albums that tell a story, and the songs work best in sequence. In fact, songs like “Smash the Mirror” from Tommy or “The Trial” from The Wall would never be performed outside the context of the album, because they’re not really very good songs.
Playing full albums reminds people of a time when they used to listen to full albums, something that nearly everyone has stopped doing.
But is there any reason why Iggy Pop needs to play all of Raw Power in sequence? It’s a fine album, to be sure, but what’s wrong with playing a mix of songs from the three good Stooges albums? Back before these bands all decided to dust off their rock and roll shoes and hit the “those were the days” circuit, no band in their right mind would have played an album in sequence. Why? It would have been boring, that’s why.
Part of the excitement of seeing a band live is not knowing what songs they’ll play, of wondering when they’ll play your favorite song, or whether they’ll debut any new songs. Also bands typically want to showcase their latest material live, but that obviously doesn’t enter into it when you’re Iggy Pop and no one gives a crap about anything you’ve done since 1980.
But let’s not pick on poor old Iggy. Tons of bands are getting in on the full album act. Weezer recently performed their first couple of albums in sequence, the Pixies did a tour playing Doolittle live, and Kraftwerk recently spent a week at the Museum of Modern Art in New York performing their entire catalog (minus their three first albums, which they are not fond of acknowledging), one album a night. Rush, Lauryn Hill, Snoop Dogg, Belle and Sebastian, Nas and countless other bands have all jumped on this particularly ill-conceived bandwagon.
So why are so many bands doing this now? It’s all part of the nostalgia. Just as bands reunite to play to their now-decades-older fans to help them relive a part of their youth, playing full albums reminds people of a time when they used to listen to full albums, something that nearly everyone has stopped doing in the age of 99-cent downloads, iPod Shuffles, and Spotify.
The album as a cohesive, carefully sequenced work of art is long gone. Its decline began in the CD age, when suddenly the ability to release a 100-minute album led to too many artists throwing all their new songs on a CD without particular attention given to editing or sequencing. Napster furthered the decline, as a new generation of music hoarders just downloaded their favorite tracks, made their own playlists, and didn’t spare a thought for how the artists wanted their music to be heard.
It's a sad state of affairs, not only because bands who do this are clearly out of ideas and content to act as their own tribute bands, but because it shows that the era of the album is truly a thing of the past. These bands are playing tribute to their younger selves, and to a different time, when the album was king. This is a trend that signals the death of the album, or rather, the attempted revival of the album, long dead, and now only on display as a retro curiosity.