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Comments

PB

Mainly, the reunions and "orders of magnitude bigger" indie audience mean that I don't get to see the Clean on Friday in Brooklyn because it's sold out. Some folks who were way into Tool 10 years ago have usurped the ticket that should be rightfully mine. (Please don't think I'm being fatuously elitist here. I know this to be the literal truth.)

I hate to be the person to plug my own blog in someone else's space but I will, only because it's relevant. My take of reunions and 21st century indie culture:
http://theunblinkingear.blogspot.com/2009/10/project-mersh-21st-century.html

Jonathan

Your closing sentence sums up why this post makes no sense. If the audience wants it, and if the band wants it then it is the right thing to do. It may not be as good as it was the first time around but it gives new fans a chance to interact in person with a band they love. The Spiderman comparison is strange because the first Spiderman sucked and Almodovar's early movies are great. Spiderman III offers no promise whereas Almodovar's new movies do. That comparison eludes me. I personally have never gone to any of these reunion shows because I don't care much for reunions, but I am not so self righteous as to call them wrong.

Also, have someone explain the vinyl "fad" better to you.

Michael Azerrad

PB, no need to apologize for elitism -- it makes sense that the best and brightest should get the spoils. As far as seeing the Clean, you should see if the club is going to release some tickets closer to the date of the show, perhaps even that night. Just call, they'll probably tell you.

Michael Azerrad

Jonathan, you're taking my movie comparisons a bit too literally, possibly in an effort to show off your superior film literacy. The point was obviously that people flock to sequels of blockbusters more than they do to challenging indie movies with a smaller marketing budget. As far as reunions being "the right thing to do" just because the bands want them and the fans want them, well, I just finished explaining why that's not necessarily a good thing artistically. (For instance, everybody wanted the Pixies reunion shows, but they were pretty boring.) That was the explicit point of the entire post. Regarding your snarky comment about my take on the vinyl fad, I'm truly sorry that you don't have an illustrious career as a cultural commentator, but try not to take out your frustrations by making cowardly little comments on other people's blogs.

Eric

A few thoughts:

I was lucky enough to see the Pixies the first time around. Not so the Sex Pistols, and so I gladly shelled out to see them on their 90's the reunion tour. But I harbored no illusions that what I was seeing was in any way "punk", or could possibly hold a candle to seeing them in a dank London club in '75. Still, it was worthwhile for me to go and see the band that changed the way I thought about music.

There was a time when I thought reunions were crass and lame. Then I decided that, y'know, there are probably some reunions that happen (or at least start) because the people in question actually enjoyed playing with each other, and felt like doing it again, and hey, if we're going to do it again, why not share it with a whole bunch of people who would be happy to see it? I'd find it weird if I was once in a band that I really enjoyed, and then me and the gang decided to do it again 20 years later for fun, and a bunch of people we didn't know told us we were being lame.

Is it bad that I sort of don't want to see Pollard do a Guided by Voices tour because I want to retain my fond and special memories of seeing the final GbV show in Chicago?

Michael Azerrad

Regarding the Sex Pistols reunion tour, Johnny Rotten was very explicit about how they were just out to soak the fans for as much money as possible. In fact, as you'll recall, it was called the Filthy Lucre Tour for that very reason. It was expressly and astutely designed to take advantage of precisely the impulse you describe, which was the urge for people who missed them the first time to pay homage to an influential band. However, the Pistols played no new music and was essentially a cover band playing 20-year-old songs that had only a tiny fraction of the impact they had when they were first played. So although there was some chemistry there, mainly it was either a conceptual art piece or a hilariously cynical exercise, take your pick.
Yes, it is an odd feeling to do something creative, only to have people disapprove of it. However, this happens perhaps millions of times every day and any artist worth his or her salt gets used to it very quickly, or else they move on to some other endeavor.
As far as whether it's "bad" not to want to see a putative Guided by Voices reunion tour, that's something only you know the answer to. Nor am I going to give you the brownie points that you so clearly crave for seeing their final show in Chicago, especially since that line-up sucked. But it's entirely possible that the classic line-up would still have the magic that made them great, in which case I'd see them reunite in a heartbeat.

Jonathan

Why cowardly? Is that how you react to a critique of your work? I didn't post a reply on that post when you wrote it because I wan't even sure where to begin. The basic premise wasn't that you don't like vinyl, but that people who do are wrong. Really? Seriously?

Anyway, in the name of discussion, I hadn't realized that the movie comparison was in fact a complex metaphor. I still don't quite get the relevance, but as you said that's why I don't have an illustrious cultural commentating career. I'm not even sure what that would look like.

Does assessing the Pixies reunion as boring qualify reunions as boring or just a Pixies reunion as boring? You name several bands that had positive reunions, so though they aren't necessarily a good thing artistically (in one person's estimate) they are capable of being a good thing artistically. After all, this is the nature of art and more so, of performance. Sometimes you don't know if it's going to be a good show until you play it. Maybe the sound was bad, or the crowd didn't dance, or the soundman was an ass. Or maybe the band shouldn't have reunited after all. I guess my point is that IMHO there isn't a general rule here. Just instances of successes and failures, critically speaking, which is pretty much just describing artistic endeavor as a whole.

Jonathan

Eric, I think your comment makes a lot of sense. And hopefully in a lot of cases that's the impulse that leads to reunions. In some ways it seems like it would be more common. A lot of these alternative bands that have been mentioned are bigger now then they were in their hey day. If they are still on good terms, and still like their songs, why not give the fans and themselves a treat? It might not be as good as it was 20 years ago, but who cares?

To answer my own rhetorical question, if a concern is tarnishing a lingering good taste in your mouth from an actual hey day show, then maybe a coveted ticket should be left for some young buck to see a band they love for the first time. I've definitely passed on repeat performances because I didn't want anything to come between me and a perfect memory.

Michael Azerrad

"You name several bands that had positive reunions, so though they aren't necessarily a good thing artistically (in one person's estimate) they are capable of being a good thing artistically." Which, as I'm sure you'll agree, also means they are just as equally capable of being a bad thing artistically. Perhaps you now understand the point of the post.
"It might not be as good as it was 20 years ago, but who cares?" Who cares? You see, that is what we in the business call "an uncritical attitude." Conversely, what is known as a "critical attitude" dispenses with blind allegiance and explicitly addresses the distinction between "good" and "bad." In the post above, I have assumed a "critical attitude," rather than the attitude of a fanboy eager to add another legendary band to his ticket collection. Capisce?

Michael Azerrad

"The basic premise wasn't that you don't like vinyl, but that people who do are wrong" Well, no. You're just seeing what you want to see in that post; if I had to guess, I'd say that's because you're a vinyl buyer yourself and feel defensive about it. The fact is, I'm quite fine with vinyl. I grew up on vinyl. Vinyl is a friend of mine. My line of inquiry was about why people are suddenly so attracted to vinyl when it's been there all along. But perhaps you don't think anybody should dare ask that question, not to mention speculate about an answer.

Jonathan

Yeah, that makes sense and I guess gets to the heart of a matter, namely what someone wants out of a concert. The business of being critical of music is a rather strange business and forces a foreign set of rules on something as visceral as live music. It's not about blind allegiance, it's soooo much more complex than that. There are soooo many ways for a show to be good or bad from an individual's point of view. I realize that being critical of criticism on a critics blog reflects more on my poor choice to read what's written here than any judgement on your choice to write it. I just get frustrated sometimes when I read music criticism and feel that the music writers are more focused on a "critical attitude" than music itself. Basically, there is a lot of grey in between hater and fanboy, and in that grey lies the complexity I was looking for.

Michael Azerrad

I'd guess there are as many definitions of a good concert as they are people who attend concerts. It's just that some people dissect why they react the way they do. And that's not a value judgement for or against anybody.
You're so right, critiquing art is a strange business. It attempts to describe and illuminate the reasons why one thinks the art is good or bad or somewhere in between; because it's so subjective, it is an art in itself and thus subject to critique itself. Personally, I don't want or expect people to agree with my criticism; I just hope they're provoked by it. And in that sense, my criticism has clearly succeeded with you.
I'm sorry that you think it was a "poor choice" on your part to read what I wrote. But that is your, well, criticism and you have imposed your subjective opinions on mine. Fair enough, although I reserve the right to let you know when you've miscpnstrued what I wrote.
And if you're frustrated at certain critics' approaches, well, you can't please everyone, you got to please yourself. Rick Nelson said that.

Hugenjolly

So Gang of Four in 2005 didn't really resonate with you, Michael?!

Rob Levine

Interesting story. I've enjoyed a lot of the recent reunions, especially the Stooges, Mission of Burma, and above all Gang of Four. Nostalgia or not, they were great shows.

Here's my question: Why are people are so down on the idea of bands reuniting for the money (assuming, that is, that they put on a good show)? I'm sure some of them do. But is this necessarily a bad thing? I get up and work every day for the money. I'd guess that most other people do as well. If for some reason I believed that Gang of Four only reunited to put their kids through college - and how the hell would I know, anyway? - I wouldn't have liked the show I saw any less.

Michael Azerrad

Rob, I think a lot of people embrace the romantic notion that bands should only be in it for the art. Many musicians encourage this idea by emphasizing that they're in a band so they don't have to have a job. So if you're doing it for the money, you're doing it for "the wrong reasons." I actually think that notion is starting to die out though — thanks to the collapse of the industry music, consumers are increasingly savvy about the financial realities of being a musician and much more forgiving about things that would have been considered "selling out" a generation prior.
How would you know if someone was doing it for the money? Well, sometimes it becomes, seemingly, very clear — there's no heart in the music, ticket and merch prices are absurdly high; the concert experience isn't a communion, it's a transaction. And sometimes the bands just say as much: the Pixies were pretty up front about doing it for the money. So was Johnny Rotten about the Sex Pistols reunion tours.
Hugo, I always love to see my dear friends play music. But that show at the Austin garage was bad-ass no matter what.

McGillicuddy

Consumers aren't suddenly attracted to vinyl - it's just that the market has contracted so much that labels have started to look for profits anywhere and even with tiny, tiny sales, the vinyl market has increased EXPONENTIALLY! WOW! It seems like vinyl is a big deal, but 100X .001% of recorded music sales is nothing. Furthermore, if my soundscan experience is any indication, the numbers are skewed because vinyl is so heavily weighted due to soundscan's formula. I worked on projects where the first week soundscan numbers for vinyl were multiples of the full run of vinyl manufactured. I'm glad that vinyl is being made again, and I'm glad that it's contributing to the survival of record stores and that a handful of consumers are buying it again. But it's hardly worth the ridiculous amount of press and cheerleading it's garnered.

Michael Azerrad

McGillicuddy, what is the difference between many consumers being suddenly attracted to vinyl and the vinyl market increasing exponentially? Isn't that saying exactly the same thing?
I would never claim that it's a huge part of the business. But interest has exploded.
Also, the Soundscan numbers leave out the market for used vinyl, which I assure you has exploded. Here in New York, people make pilgrimages to the Princeton Record Exchange and come back with arm-loads of records. A friend of mine has a knick-knack shop upstate and does great business with great used LPs at serious prices. There are vinyl blogs all over the place. The Bell House in Brooklyn recently had a 78-only night (although I guess that's shellac, not vinyl). The vinyl thing is much bigger than what can be seen on Soundscan.

Jim

A little-band perspective: We're not any more famous than we were 10-15 years ago, when we were one of many bands trying to break out of the East Village scene. We're not reuniting for money, since nobody is paying us. We're getting back together because we still love each other and miss playing together, and we know there are still a few fans who remember us and want to hear us again. That's all there is to it. Come to the show, Michael, it will be fun.

Michael Azerrad

And FWIW, Jim, I think that's great and just really sweet. I hope you and your fans have lots of fun.

Molly

Having been in a reunited band and it not totally being what I imagined originally, I tend to agree it's a bad idea. But I never would have guessed I would be as excited as I am to see Unrest this summer. It truly is giving me goosebumps in anticipation.

Eric

Michael, I don't know if you've ever loved a band deeply and sincerely enough to find the thought of earning brownie points from it to be silly and childish. I'm going to assume you have. And I'm going to further assume that you're capable of seeing that quality in others.

Michael Azerrad

Sorry I nailed you, Eric. But this ain't my first rodeo.

thomas siler

Remember how Dylan went back on the road with The Band in 1974, and how sucky the music and voice actually was? I'm glad he learned on HIS first reunion/comeback tour that you can never step in the same stream twice. It's much more satisfying to see him alienate most of his original audience whilst continuing to "keep it real".

Michael Azerrad

Agreed, Tom. Reinventing your old stuff seems to be the only long-term way to keep your sanity. McCartney stays extremely faithful to his vintage material but then he plays a tiny fraction of the number of shows that Dylan does. Also, there are only so many facets to gems like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

Rob Levine

>>>How would you know if someone was doing it for the money? Well, sometimes it becomes, seemingly, very clear — there's no heart in the music, ticket and merch prices are absurdly high; the concert experience isn't a communion, it's a transaction.

I'd like to challenge that - very politely, of course. Heart could depend on a number of things - a bad night, a head cold anything. Ticket pricing also might depend on a few things, including, frankly, what the market will bear. Let's take Pavement, which is charging more for their new shows. Are they doing that because their hearts aren't in it, because they wanted to charge more before but no one would pay, because their fans are now older and have more money, or some mix of these. I don't know how I could possibly know.

Once, in a radio show interview, I was asked if I thought Miley Cyrus fans should be upset that rich people got all the best tickets to her concerts. I replied that they should be more upset that rich people, by and large, receive better health care.

Point being, rock stars' kids need to go to college too!

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