Monday, November 29, 2010

Here’s To The Past: Why Anniversary Tours Are All The Rage

When you think about nostalgia-minded single album tours—ones where a band play a classic album front-to-back in its entirety—it used to be old-timers dusting off the hits of yore for one more go ‘round. When Roger Waters or REO Speedwagon do it, it seems like a case of fueling up the wayback machine for Granddad. If it’s an actively touring icon like Bruce Springsteen, it’s a chance to break up the monotony for fans who’ve seen him perform dozens of times. You probably don’t think about the type of bands you actually give a shit about doing the same thing—maybe indie heroes like the Pixies performing Doolittle for a long overdue makeup call cash-in or Slayer,  Megadeth or other metal vets who’ve done similar tours. But those are acts with some serious miles on the tires. When Nine Inch Nails performed The Downward Spiral front-to-back at New York’s Webster Hall in 2009, Trent Reznor told the audience it was something he’d always wanted to do and would probably never do again. They were witnessing history, he said.

Precisely, it was history. But history has a funny way of creeping up on music fans. Lately, some of our favorite scene bands are reaching back into their own pasts for tours that will find them revisiting classic albums. Last year, Jimmy Eat World performed Clarity on tour while New Found Glory performed their self-titled debut for its tenth anniversary. Weezer are about to embark on their much anticipated Blinkteron tour, in which they’ll perform the Blue Album and Pinkerton in sequence. Thursday will head out on the road in January to celebrate the decade anniversary of their breakthrough, Full Collapse, as will Dashboard Confessional, who’ll be marking a decade in business later this month with a tour commemorating the 2000 release of The Swiss Army Romance.

The reasons for attempting something like this vary from a simple marketing concept to revive interest in a band to straight-up nostalgia retread for a band out of creative steam to a quick and easy buck. For DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL’s CHRIS CARRABBA, the inspiration was paradoxical: pushing himself to try something new, by training something old. Although he started Dashboard as a solo vehicle, Carrabba has largely become accustomed to the full-band set-up. “The reason I stopped [playing solo] was because I didn’t find it interesting,” he says. “I’d learned to do it pretty well, and it wasn’t infused with terror, which would lead me to kind of a greater high, you know? It’s been long enough now that the room for error has increased exponentially. I feel like I’m bad enough to do it again.”

Carrabba was reminded of the appeal of his one-man show during  an unannounced gig in his hometown earlier this year, where he packed three times the capacity into a tiny club. It reminded him of the connection that can be built with the audience at shows that size. “I started thinking, ‘This is just like it was,’” he says. “I thought it was this energy that I got lucky to tap into at one point. I felt encouraged that I could still be in that place. To be honest, it’s a much more rewarding place. We’ve played for thousands and tens of thousands, but that, kind of, lack of air conditioning, no lack of enthusiasm show, is a phenomenal place for live music. That’s when I started thinking about going back to those roots.” That show coincided with the approach of the 10-year anniversary of Swiss Army Romance, so it seemed logical to take the album on the road the way fans probably first heard it.

Carrabba says he didn’t realize the front-to-back album tour was a trend among other bands until people started asking him about it. “I kind of missed the boat on that,” he says. “I would have liked to have seen more than a few of them do that. I’m pretty pissed off that I missed Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity tour. I followed them around for, like, 12 shows [when they first toured on it]. That record was important to me.”

It’s connections like these bands are hoping to recreate by digging into the archives for songs they may have lost track of themselves, yet remain vital in many fans’ hearts. “Almost half of these songs are semi-retired from my live set,” Carrabba says. “For no good reason. There’s just piles of songs to sift through now. To say it’s nostalgia isn’t quite right. For me, it’s more invigorating than that. It’s less passive for me than nostalgia can be. It’s a bit of a new life to visit those songs again.”

Perhaps for him, but for original fans—some of whom didn’t go along for the ride when he went electric—it’s old life revisited. “I have very loyal fans to two different eras of Dashboard. Thankfully, there is overlap... There are fans of the first two records and the next few records. I think I probably lost a good amount of fans when I picked up an electric guitar. Some of them trickled back and some of them didn’t. Some that didn’t are coming back to these shows, which I enjoy, because I’m happy they’ll give it another crack. Or if they’re still in touch with my record that touched them in some way all those years ago, even though they didn’t follow me down the rabbit hole.”

For a band like Weezer, that’s precisely the case for a lot of fans. Carrabba, who toured with Weezer around the time of the 2001 release of their Green Album, recognizes a similar turning point for that band, as well. Many of their older fans, the ones for whom the Blue Album and Pinkerton represent their halcyon days, aren’t interested in seeing a set packed with newer material.

“That happens to every band, your fans are like a turnstile,” says ZACH SMITH of PINBACK. Under the moniker Pinback Presents, he and partner Rob Crow will perform their first two albums, 1999’s This Is A Pinback CD and 2001’s Blue Screen Life, in their entirety early next year. “It’s funny, we play shows now, and there are 15-year-old kids that weren’t around when we were doing the first album. And then there are people that were there who go, ‘What? I didn’t understand that last album.’ It’s a little bit of both now.”

Smith admits the concept seems like it’s a fad right now, but he and Crow had been talking about doing it for a long time as a means to get back to the vibe they had when they first wrote the records as a duo. Crucial to that process is getting fans to re-listen in the way they did when the records came out in 1999 and 2001, when picking and choosing songs from an album to download wasn’t nearly as common as it is now.Listening to an album from front-to-back is practically unheard of anymore. “That’s another good reason to do it,” he says. “Hopefully fans will have listened to the albums from front to back, but if they haven’t, they willBlue Screen,’ maybe they’ll listen how we intended for them to. Doing it live, it reinforces what we wanted it to be like when we wrote it.”
when they go to the show. Maybe making some people who didn’t listen to the album from beginning to end and just went, ‘Oh, ‘Penelope,’ that’s that one song from

LESS THAN JAKE drummer and lyricist VINNIE FIORELLO—whose band performed six of their albums from front-to-back recently—says after leaving Warner Bros, the shows were a way to start fresh as a band. “Playing all six records was very cathartic,” he says. It’s a treat for fans as well, he admits, because they get to listen outside the usual playlist standards. It doesn’t hurt to inject new life into your band commercially, either. “I think the popularity came with the fact that with album sales down and tickets sales slowing down, bands are looking for a hook to bring people in for a one-of-a-kind event.”

It’s caught on to such an extent, you don’t even need to be an older band to do it anymore. A LOSS FOR WORDS, a pop-punk band on Paper + Plastick Records who will be touring with Streetlight Manifesto (who played their old band Catch 22’s Keasby Nights in its entirety recently) and Terrible Things, plan on performing their 2009 record in sequence next year. Singer MATT ARSENAULT says the reason for that is people were complaining about songs being cut from the set. “Every time we play a show, someone’s bummed because they didn’t hear the song they wanted, so this way everyone will be pleased.” Arsenault saw New Found Glory’s tenth anniversary tour and loved the idea.

THURSDAY frontman GEOFF RICKLY says the excitement goes both ways. “It’s as interesting for the band as it is for the audience,” he says. “Like any artistic pursuit, it’s meant to engage the imagination. I find it interesting that a band continues to age, learn and change, but a record stays the same age forever. By revisiting an older record, you can find out whether momentum prevails or inertia is more powerful. When we wrote the record, we intended to tour for a year, end the band and finish school. I was sure that I was going to be a teacher and not a full-time musician. These last 10 years have been an incredible surprise.”

Performing Full Collapse is a way for his band to recapture the innocence and the excitement of what it was like first starting out a decade ago, albeit perhaps with a slightly more polished delivery this time. That’s one thing bands that have grown exponentially in popularity have to consider: how will these songs we wrote for clubs and haven’t continued to play over the years translate to larger venues? “If you come to see our band on a regular tour, you’ll see some sort of cross-section of material from throughout our history,” says Rickly. “So it’s quite a bit different for us to go out and focus on one specific group of songs... Some of them might sound ridiculous and dated in a larger venue, but overall, I’m looking forward to playing these songs with the added skill that the band has gained.”

Aside from that, anniversary tours can simply be a way to celebrate the fact that bands still even exist at all. “I think it’s rare for a band to still be touring on a 10-year anniversary of any of their records,” says Rickly. “So if they want to celebrate that, they should go for it.”

Carrabba echoes that sentiment. “It’s unlikely for anyone to get a break at all. To get a break is the first miracle. It’s even more unlikely to be there 10 years later and still have a job. I feel fortunate, and I’m not sure what I would be doing if I hadn’t gotten so lucky with this record.”

There are a lot of fans out there who can probably say something similar about their own lives in relation to these bands’ music. You can expect to see them in the front row at the show, singing like they never forgot any of the words.

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