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Don’t Look Back

Surfer Rosa was released in 1988. The Beatles had split up 18 years previously. To an 18 year old, there was a reason why that sounded like a lifetime away. That album is 25 years old this year. It’s history. Sure, to a lot of 40-somethings, it’s desperately important personal history but that’s about it. With hindsight, the classic album reunion shows is the logical culmination of the course that gave us Mojo and the deluxe CD reissues. I’m not sure where it kicked in, but I blame Barry Hogan and his inaugural season of Don’t Look Back in 2005. “It’s a Shame About Ray” was a huge album for me, but I don’t think the Lemonheads were ever a significant live presence, and the gig that we went to demonstrated why some ideas were best left on paper.

Since then, I’ve seen a raft of these shows, and the strengths and weaknesses are pretty obvious.

Pro : You know you are going to get to hear your favourite track. It’s a great trawl through the archives unaffected by the promotion push for the “new songs”.

Con : They have to play the duff tracks. The audience know the sequencing so they know when to head to the bar. There is not a lot of surprise.

So, the question is, in the era of the full album nostalgia show, how do bands balance this with the requirement to keep an element of surprise.

I went to two gigs this week and they dealt with this in different ways.

On Wednesday, the reunited Breeders Last Splash lineup touched down in London to play the hit album, from start to finish. They were as great as they ever are – all of the band seemed to be having a genuine ball, and and it was great to see Josephine Wiggs and Carrie Bradley back onstage with Kim and Kelley. But, we know the setlist. As well as greats like ‘Drivin’ on 9′, we get ‘Hag and ‘Mad Lucas’. So, when Kim comes back for the encore and says that they wanted to do something special for London, so they’re now going to play ‘Pod’ from start to finish, it’s a genuine surprise. To me, it’s better than Last Splash. The material is more raw and although this isn’t quite the lineup that originally recorded it, it’s no less thrilling. ‘Oh’ sees a guest appearance from ‘The Wolfgang Press” Michael Allen, whilst Iris is brutal and brilliant.

A day later, it’s off to the footy stadium in Coventry to see Springsteen and the E Street Band. Springsteen is famed for chopping his set around from day to day, changing it around on the day as the mood takes him and more recently, using audience signs for requests. He’s also taken to playing a trio of his most famous albums in full, but unlike the traditional album show, he doesn’t announce it before hand so you’ve got no idea what you are going to get. At Wembley last Saturday, the audience were treated to ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’. A couple of days later, in Glasgow, the band played a more traditional set with no album section. Coventry could of gone either way but about ten songs in, Bruce announces that they’re going to play ‘Born to Run’ in honour of the actor James Gandolfini, who died the previous day. Up to that point, the show had been fantastic. This made it extraordinary. This was no half-hearted run through a 40 year old album; Bruce and the band performed it as if their lives depended on it and the audience responded in kind. For a performer who tries to deliver a unique show night after night, he’s found a perfect way to deal with the album show. Just don’t tell anybody that you’re going to do an album. I guess its a lot easier to do this when you have around 20 albums under your belt.

So maybe there is life in the album show yet. Maybe it depends on the album, or the performer. Both of these shows proved that even within the restrictions imposed by the album show, you can still find yourself surprised by the show.

1 comment to Don’t Look Back

  • Rol

    My brother mentioned the full run-through of Born To Run, but I’d thought he must be mistaken. (He’s hardly an expert.) Now I really am seething with jealousy!

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