Wednesday, January 9, 2008

One more time, from the top

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2008 at 2:56 AM

I'm not the first person to note, and scratch my head at, the curious phenomenon of bands playing whole albums in their entirety, in concert. That being admitted, though... well, it's still weird. Roger Waters may have started it by recreating "Dark Side Of The Moon" live on his 2006 tour - but the demand for such a thing was clearly evident from decades of sold-out, cannabis-scented laser light shows at confused but happy planetariums. Sonic Youth continued the trend by thrilling thousands of cerebral indie-rockers with a start-to-finish performance of their landmark 1988 album "Daydream Nation" at a few dozen American and European gigs (and more to come next month in Australia and New Zealand.) More recently, the Stooges did it with "Fun House," Lou Reed with "Berlin," and Jethro Tull with "Aqualung," the last on an XM satellite radio show dedicated to the practice. Let's say that's all well and good, for now. To be honest, when I see a classic rock n'roll artist (and that term is now starting to include punk) I cross my fingers and pray that the desiccated, leathery lead singer will never utter the dreaded words "And now here's something from the new album..." (New York Dolls. Need I say more?) Then today,

I read that the Black Crowes have set the unsettling precedent of playing their new album "Warpaint," and only that album, in order, in its entirety, on their upcoming tour. This is a project that's barely hit record stores* yet. Back in the day, long-playing record albums were a finite platform that genuinely forced artists to think about how their work interfaced with their medium. It was like telling a painter she only had a canvas of a certain size, and had to fill it all, but could only fill that much. A cohesive record album - like "Dark Side" - was a thing of well-honed beauty.Revisiting an iconic album live is a potentially interesting and worthwhile endeavor. And pop and hip-hop artists, for the most part, rely on so much studio trickery that (Ashlee Simpson, I'm looking at you) it's almost impossible to vary on the form live; when you see Britney or Lil Mama at the New Orleans Arena, you're pretty much going to get exactly what you heard on the record. But rock n'roll? Especially new rock n'roll? One of the best things about live shows used to be seeing how the artist would mix it up - medleys, surprise covers, alternate versions of favorite songs. Why do you think armies of die-hard weirdoes obsessively taped every Grateful Dead show for twenty years?It wasn't just the mushrooms. It was that music - unlike almost any other art form - remains a living, fluctuating thing in performance. You never get to see a sculptor hack away with a chisel; you just see the finished piece, which never changes. But with a song, or with a band, you see personalities and technique and timing and whims interact in subtly different ways every time a song is played so that a live show can be a joy - or utter crap. In 1970, when the Stooges released "Fun House," there was no way you would ever hear the same songs played the same way, in the same order, twice. Because back then, Iggy et alia were too bombed out of their minds - and weren't good enough at playing instruments - to do it, even if they wanted to. And that was rock n'roll. *record stores, (n.): Archaic establishments, quite popular before the advent of MP3s, where cash was exchanged for music in tangible forms known as "albums," or later, "CDs."

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