My wife and I walked out on a Neil Young show in the Centrum some time around 1990. Sonic Youth and Social D opened up, both of whom were quite good. Neil came out on decided we all needed to see how loud and alternative he could be. He came off like a confused old fart playing bad rock (much like the Todd Rundrgren performance I just saw on Letterman). It was awful. I had seen him play before that at Jones Beach, just after Freedom came out, and it was unbelievable. Before that, I went to see his blues band croak out “This Note’s for You” which I would have walked out on, if I had been driving my own car. In the end, he played a great 5 song acoustic set that made it worth staying. So, with all the ups and downs, if you enjoyed the show, you should consider yourself playing with house money from this point forward.
The bigger picture is the inherent letdown of finally seeing one of your favorite artists live. The whole concept centers on the fact that this artist has been around the block a few times, so you’re pretty much ensuring that you’ll be seeing a show by someone way past their prime, in bad voice, with poor energy, without the spark and fire they probably had in spades when they built their well deserved reputation.
I’ve been to too many of these shows to count, and they nearly always leave me feeling the same way. I spend the first five minutes thinking, “Holy Crap! That’s famous recording artist Joe Shlobotnik! He’s actually here in front of me.” That is combined with the silly realization, “I’ve seen this guy in movies, videos and TV. He looks just like himself.” Then I’m good for 20 minutes of convincing myself he’s not some washed up has been. You get a couple flashes of genius and pretend that it is a good time. Finally, the boredom sets in. Look around the room. Check out some old guy with a pony tail wearing a 150 dollar made in China tour jacket. His wife is drinking a plastic yard of frozen margarita that cost $28. The boredom might be abated if the artist dips into some obscure catalog piece and it just happens to be MY FAVORITE SONG. Then, more boredom. There is a really depressing realization when the artist has left the stage and hasn’t played one of their most famous songs. Then the lame encore that surprises no one. As I make my way through the inevitable traffic snarl at the Odorono Deoderant Enormo Arena I think, “Well, I’ve got that out of the way. Joe Shlobotnik can die now.”
Consider the following list:
The Allman Brothers
Crosby Stills and Nash
That’s just off the top of my head. Nearly all of these shows were, by any standards other than nostalgia, simply terrible, and followed the formula above. The Rolling Stones and the Who were both professional but totally boring. Shane McGowan was the most embarassing performance I’ve ever seen, and some of the shows, like watching John Sebastian trying to croak out a song past his shattered vocal cords, were simply too sadly painful to endure. Cheap Trick, for some reason, sound exactly now like they did at Budokan. How in hell do they do that?!? That was awesome, but not transcendent. Randy Newman was not in the best voice, but was so damn funny everyone had a really great time, including me. Plus he played MY FAVORITE SONG. The 90 minutes just melted away. The only one who seemed to give off the spark you get from a great new band in their utter prime (like the first time I saw Sloan) was Tom Waits. He finished the show, and I told my friend Mike how much I liked it, but I thought only playing an hour, with no opening act was kind of a rip off. Mike looked at his watch and told me he played for nearly three hours. Incredible.
So, the motto is, go see new music in small venues, so that you can tell someone someday, “I saw the Police play at the Channel in ‘78, and they were the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” That memory alone will tip the scale over a hundred mediocre arena reunion shows.
Sorry for hijacking your blog.