Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reformation Era

I've been thinking about a comment on Lorraine Crescent:

Nothing bugs me more than people who think they saw the Buzzcocks because they saw them tour Australia in 1990 or they saw the Laughing Clowns because they saw them in 2008. GET REAL!

Well, yes. I know where he is coming from, when I was at high school we used to fucking loathe old cool bands reforming. We would curl up in agony while (still compulsively) watching The Who slaughter their reputation. Now it is hard to throw a brick without hitting a bunch of old audience cunce reliving a teenage dream they never probably experienced, or a bunch of young audience cunce pretending they are at Monterey or something. I am still deeply bummed about Joe Strummer having died when he did, but there is one good thing about it.

The Who are an interesting one because when I saw them on their tour here a couple of years ago they were still absolutely terrible. That isn't necessarily interesting in and of itself but many bands have, since the 80s nadir of bloated session musos and backing vox, become extremely adept at serving up a convincing replica of their classic sound (ie Stones) whereas the Who murdered all their songs with Pete on a horrible Eric Clapton Strat. I suppose that shows some sort of integrity, although they advertised the tour with the old Marquee Club poster so they lose several thousand points for that.

(Often my highlights of these shows are the moments that break the inexorable flow of "classic" narrative a bit - ie one of my favourite bits of the Who show was Pete doing nasty 80s post-Moon single Eminence Front.)

It is a thorny one because if you go to far in one direction you encounter that rotten old bore, "authenticity" in rock - and if you go too far in the other then you endorse the sort of pathetic fantasy facsimile of experience that the 21st century seems so good at serving up.

Also, Prince was shit for ages and didn't play any of his old songs. When I saw him he was good and played heaps of his good old songs. Technically, had he reformed? Bowie poses similar dilemmas.

On a small tangent, I reckon that in the future we will have BAND BRANDS that receive their imprimatur from corporate ownership rather than actually containing any original members or anything. Ie there will be a touring version of The Rolling Stones long after Mick and Keith are dead, and then if you're gonna have one why not have a couple to maximise your ability to exploit multiple markets simultaneously? This is a lot like cover bands, sure, but with audiences who will say "I SAW THE STONES LAST NIGHT" and think that it is what they ACTUALLY DID.

ANYWAY. The unfortunate fact is that while these reformation shows are mostly terrible, some are really good.

I have been mulling over my personal Band Reformation Acceptability Index for a while now and while I don't have any answers I believe these are all pertinent questions.

Are enough significant original members present?
Did the band have a sound that was unique to the players involved?
Is there new material?
Does the new material suck?
Are they finding new things to say through the old material? This is a bit mystical but it does happen.
Was the band cruelly ignored back in the day and hence possibly genuinely deserving of a moment in the sun?
Were they inextricably linked to youthful rebellion?
Do they have a point to prove?
Can they pull it off without looking stupid?
What are they wearing?
Are they too fat?
Does anybody care?

There are very possibly other factors that I have forgotten. The answers to many of these can be nuanced, and the way to an Acceptable Reunion can lie in the alchemical combination of a few of these criteria.

The "does anybody care" one is interesting to me, because if they don't it takes away the twitchy suspicions of THE CASH IN (another one of those dumb rock double-standards, as if the whole fucking edifice of 20th century pop/rock wasn't a highly commercial venture). When Tactics played shows to support their discography compilations, there were probably a couple of hundred attendees across all shows - but they were all people for who Tactics would have been really bloody important band, and Studdert etc played in a way (and with an attitude) that honoured that respect. It was like a private celebration and it was intense and awesome because of that. They were really good nights, it would be a drag to have missed them.

Anyway, I got an awful lot out of seeing Laughing Clowns. I heard the people who made that music play it live, and that gave me some priceless insight into the songs and their power. This in turn deepened my already substantial love for the band. At their first Basement show in May last year I reckon they were commanding all the fire and darkness that I've heard on the records and bootlegs and it wasn't in a lazy walkthrough or simple nostalgia exercise.

I draw a very sharp distinction between this experience and having seen them as a skinny-suited working band back in the day, but I still don't think the more recent experience is invalid. Being cautious of reunions is a sound policy I think, but at times the music (and/or our response to it) can transcend all the social constructions we place around it and I'd always want to experience those moments regardless of their "authenticity".

Finally, I often think of the beautiful LP title from the (reformed) New York Dolls - one day it will please us to remember even this.

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