Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tuscadero to Perform "The Pink Album" Live

Tuscadero will perform their 1994 classic The Pink Album live in its entirety in a series of special concerts this summer. Each performance by the newly reformed indie-rock legends will feature an early and a late show. In the early show the band will perform the lo-fi indie version of the album as released by Teenbeat in 1994, and in the late show they will play the remixed major label version as released by Elektra in 1996.

Alright, that's not really happening. To the best of my knowledge Tuscadero has not reformed and I know of no plans to perform The Pink Album live (remixed or otherwise). But how surprising would it actually be? The "classic album played live" phenomena has gotten so entirely out of hand at this point that little would surprise me. If you don't think so please consider this--by no means complete--list of albums that have been performed live over the past several years:

Built To Spill - Perfect From Now On
The Meat Puppets - II
Sebadoh - Bubble And Scrape
Thurston Moore - Psychic Hearts
Tortoise - Millions Now Living Will Never Die
Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
Mission of Burma - Vs.
Lour Reed - Berlin
Patti Smith - Horses
Primus - Sailing the Seas of Cheese & Frizzle Fry
Killing Joke - Killing Joke & What's This For...!
Jethro Tull - Aqualung, Thick As A Brick & A Passion Play
Mountain - Climbing
REO Speedwagon - Hi Infidelity
Cheap Trick - Live at Budokan
Alice Cooper - Greatest Hits
Died Pretty - Doughboy Hollow
Ed Kuepper - Honey Steel's Gold
The Scientists - Blood Red River
Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation
Slint - Spiderland
Redd Kross - Born Innocent
The House of Love - The House of Love
GZA/Genius – Liquid Swords
Cowboy Junkies - The Trinity Session
Comets on Fire - Blue Cathedral
Teenage Fanclub - Bandwagonesque
Girls Against Boys - Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby
Green on Red - Gas Food Lodging
The Stooges - Funhouse
Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles
Melvins - Houdini
Belle & Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
Cat Power - The Covers Record
Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me
Dirty Three - Ocean Songs
Gang of Four - Entertainment!
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Orange
The Lemonheads - It's A Shame about Ray
Echo & The Bunnymen - Ocean Rain

I won't pick on any band in particular and claim that any of these albums don't deserve this kind of treatment. It's just that, considering the phenomenon as a whole, we clearly have a trend that has gotten ridiculously out-of-control.

The whole thing started off innocently enough. Brian Wilson, recovering from years of creative inertia, self-abuse and seclusion triumphantly took to the stage to perform the Pet Sounds, and later Smile, albums in their entirety. Troubled Love front-man Arthur Lee, fresh off a stint in a federal penitentiary, followed suit by performing Forever Changes live with his new band. Only a horrible cynic would begrudge these artists the right to revisit these long past moments of glory, especially considering the years of hard living that followed them. These concerts were triumphs of the human spirit and demonstrated an inspiring level of artistic resilience.

Following up on those successes, an organization called All Tomorrow's Parties created the ironically titled Don't Look Back series, in which complete albums from the more recent past--mostly from the indie-rock cannon--were performed live. Divorced from the emotional back stories that made flawed live performances of Pet Sounds and Forever Changes interesting, I would have expected such an undertaking to fail miserably. After all, live performances and albums (however good they happen to be) have their own unique virtues, most of which don't overlap. The great thing about albums is that they can be played back in their entirety (or in part) at any time. By contrast, the best live concerts present a once-in-a-lifetime, never to be duplicated experience. Favorite albums comfort us with the familiar and the expected, while the best live shows surprise us ("Wow! Are they really covering Klaatu!").

It's frankly hard for me to imagine why someone would want to know exactly what song is coming next in a live performance. Back in 1987 when Hüsker Dü chose to promote their then new album, Warehouse: Songs And Stories, by performing it in its entirety, in sequence at their live shows, I felt slightly ripped off upon leaving the show. I wanted to hear some of my favorites songs from their other albums performed live too. And with such a structured, predictable set-list it seemed like it was difficult for the band to turn in a truly inspired performance.

But now for some reason, this is exactly the kind of predictable live music experience listeners seem to crave, and I find it difficult to understand why. Let me be clear: I don't blame any of the artists for doing this. It's harder than ever to turn a buck in the music business these days, and this is a perfectly honest way of doing so. My beef is with the audience.

For me, this is the equivalent of taking a particular moment in time and fossilizing it in amber. Why fetishize Bandwagonesque when Teenage Fanclub has released a string of fantastic (in some cases arguably better) albums since their brief commercial apex 15 years ago? Worse, I believe the music on the album--presented in the right context--can still be vital and alive, but presenting it in this way risks turning it into a staid museum-piece.

This is an overly long post, and I still don't feel like I've articulated what really bugs me about this trend. I only hope it runs its course soon.

1 comment:

DigMeOut said...

Check out a podcast review of The Pink Album by Tuscadero on Dig Me Out at digmeoutpodcast.com, a weekly podcast dedicated to reviewing lost and forgotten albums from the 1990s.