Go figure! It’s looking like 2016 will prove to be the year I check off more boxes than any year before in the category of “artists I’ve loved and never seen live.” Poor Ann! I keep telling her I feel like I’m ready to slow down on the concert front…and then a year like this one comes around and trashes that good intention.
How this came to be is a mixture of unexpected opportunity and having the right attitude.
Who would have thought so many of the bands of my era, the 70s, would still have the gumption (let alone the energy) to get back out there on the road? For that matter, who would have thought there’d be anything but embarrassment for them for doing so? I mean, rock ‘n roll is kids stuff, right? ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30,’ ‘Live fast, die young, and make a pretty corpse,’ ‘It’s better to burn out than it is to rust,’ ‘What a drag it is getting old,’ and all that, right?
Well, love ’em or hate ’em, the baby boom generation has done nothing if not defining the rules of engagement at every stage of their lives. So sometime in this past decade a lot of the old bands realized that a) there was still a huge appetite out there to see them live, and b) their fan base, the boomers, were now flush with cash, so these bands could ask for and fetch a truly stupid amount of money in ticket prices (what did Ann and I pay for the Stones show a year or two ago? Was it $350 a pop?).
It’s about 50-50, I’d say, the reaction I get when I say I’m going to see this or that old fart. Some folks get it, while many invariably say, “Really? Man, they must be SO OLD!” And they are, of course. But for a handful of reasons, beyond the fact that I never saw them back in the day, I still think it’s absolutely worth going to see the old farts.
First, some of them still have it and deliver a great performance. Two immediate examples of this worth mentioning actually toured together this year: Sting and Peter Gabriel (not that this was my first time seeing either). Sting’s voice can’t hit all of the high notes he used to, but it can still cover a lot of that sound, and the guy is simple the epitome of vitality. Peter Gabriel’s inherently haunting voice flat out still has it (well though he looks like your puffy old uncle by now).
Second, many of these artists surround themselves with young stud musicians that still do have cause to prove themselves so blow it out performing live. It’s never a bad idea to avoid appearing to be a stage of cadavers up there. Chucho Valdes, the brilliant septuagenarian Cuban pianist, toured this year with the band that was his original afro-Cuban contribution to jazz fusion back in the early 70s, Irakere. Except the only original member of that band on stage this night was Chucho himself. Otherwise, the band was recreated using all of these young Cuban jazz gunslingers, and those bastards blew it brilliantly OUT.
Finally, who gives a shit if they are old, look old, and even sound old? That performer up there doing whatever faded version of the hit song they’re capable of doing at this point is still the artist that created the version you LOVE, that genuinely moved you once upon a time, had you stopping everything and leaning in toward your Coke can radio to hear it as fully as possible, the version that now colors some chapter in your life that means something special to you. What matters to me more in going to see these folks now–way more–than hearing great renditions of their songs is the privilege to be in the same room with them at all, and to clap my ass off in thanks for what they contributed to my life, plain and simple. That some of them truly do deliver pretty impressive performances? Just icing on the cake.
So for what it’s worth here’s who I’ll see this year that I never have before: Alice Cooper, Joe Perry (I saw Aerosmith in 1978 during that stupid short span when Perry went off on some hissy fit for a while), Diana Ross, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Cat Stevens (!), Paul McCartney (!!), and The Who (what remains of them), Wilco (not the same kind of old farts, I know). Let’s throw in some comedians: Bill Maher (6 days after the election!), John Cleese and Eric Idle (!!!). Let’s go back to include from October of last year (and not necessarily old farts but bands I just haven’t seen): My Morning Jacket, Blur, Irakere, and the comedian Jim Norton. Reaching forward in time: Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman of Yes, and Graham Nash. Check, check, check, and…check.