Are too many bands trading in their legacy for money?
January 25, 2012 by Joe Marren
So there’s been much talk of big comebacks in recent days. The other evening I found myself halfway through watching a rather soggy Arsenal performance that was itself eventually enlivened by the return of a much heralded legend when I received a phone call from a friend informing me that At The Drive In, one of our favourite bands from our teenage years, are to get back together.
Now at first glance, despite their considerable egos and knack of trending simultaneously on Twitter, a cult Hardcore Punk band from El Paso and a Parisian, Renault-endorsing footballer might seem to have little in common. Admittedly when investigating musical landscapes, the world of football is not an obvious first port of call (I don’t think Paul Scholes attends Hardcore Punk shows in his spare time) but think more broadly and there may be comparisons to be made. It got me thinking about why, when they should really be looking forward to the next best thing and revelling amongst the current exciting crop, fans of music and sport alike are more concerned with dragging up the old masters and prodding them onto the stage once again for a dose of sweet nostalgia.
It Came From Texas…
Despite gaining a reputation for their energetic stage shows accompanying accomplished albums, Acrobatic Tenement and In/Casino/Out, It wasn’t until At the Drive In’s fourth album and a link up with producer Ross Robinson that they really broke away from the crowd. If there is one thing Robinson has a knack for, by all accounts it’s getting a band to give it their all and 2000’s tour de force, Relationship of Command was the sound of a band giving it their all, so much so that just as the At The Drive In tornado was gathering full speed it dissipated and amongst petty arguments and claims of exhaustion the band broke up, with its two factions going their separate ways.
Back then I remember watching a band that looked and sounded like nothing I’d ever seen before. Sometimes you know when you’re witnessing something truly original and I consider At the Drive In one of those bands. Lots of bands shout, lots of bands smash equipment, lots of bands jump about while they play but they all look choreographed compared to At the Drive In in full flow. There was something about that combination of the grinding Fugazi mettle, Omar’s flamboyant guitar twiddling and Cedric’s blood curdling screams and cattle-prod charged rumba dancing that made At The Drive in seem really, well, real.
When twelve years later a band like this announces that they’re going to patch things up and give it another whirl it really should come as a surprise. Great bands often come together like chemical reactions, certain elements meeting in the right place at the right time, flaring up and then dispersing. As much as the music will exist harmoniously for years and years after it is very often the case that band mates can’t exist amicably for the duration of a concert and as such the band capitulates as quickly as it formed much to everyone’s disappointment. But it is in that capitulation that part of the romance lies. But there is question of whether it is more romantic for a band to leave it at that and sit in the ‘what could have been’ chapter or to cave in, accept their reliance on each other and satisfy those that never made a show the first time around, it seams that opinion now favours the latter.
We’ve seen so many bands reunite in recent years that it’s hard to say anymore “oh those guys will never reform” or “they’re not in it for the money.” It’s rare now that a major festival line-up is released without rekindled past masters gracing the top lines. Since the rise of bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes and in the UK, The Libertines the Arctic Monkeys, rock music has been where the money is at so there’s never a shortage of demand to see older alternative bands reform. In fact there always was demand to see good bands reform but the money had to come from somewhere. Bands like Pixies and My Bloody Valentine were never actually that big in the first place so a bunch of forty year old ‘grungers’ had little sway in bringing these bands back but the landscape has now changed. Now Reading festival is mainstream, Glastonbury sells out before any bands have been announced, Rage Against The Machine reach a UK Number One and At The Drive (in an astonishingly un-punk move) are announcing their reformation via Twitter.
In the face of persistent requests for a Stone Roses reform it must be hard for the likes of Ian Brown to keep saying “fook off” and so after so long they could be forgiven for thinking they owe it to the fans to take the money and give it another whirl.
It is understandable that people want to see their favourite bands ride once again and for most the chance that the experience might be incredible makes it worth the risk of witnessing a dire embarrassment but the fact is we are not talking about Duran Duran or Fleetwood Mac, we’re talking about ‘alternative’ bands, the nature being they weren’t that popular in the first place so in many ways it is peculiar that these misunderstood bands are being pressed into action so many years later and that the audiences awaiting them are so massive.
When pressed on the possibility of a KYUSS reunion Josh Homme made his feelings clear.
“…if you weren’t there, well, you weren’t. That’s just the luck of the draw. I don’t feel the urge to do it for somebody who didn’t have the opportunity to see us, or just didn’t take the opportunity to see us. I’ll let other bands alter their great legacies. KYUSS has such a great history that it would be a total error. I like that nobody saw KYUSS, and that it was largely misunderstood. That sounds like a legend forming to me. I’m too proud of it to rub my dick on it.”
Of course the KYUSS reunion tour has now happened, albeit without Homme. You might say that he has little reason to hop off that high horse given that he’s gone on to find so much success with Queens of the Stone Age but his integrity is to be admired.
What Could Have Been?
Back in 2002 fellow Texan rockers … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, released their excellent and highly revered third album Source, Tags & Codes, after riding the same sonic wave as the other American bands Deftones, Queens of the Stone Age and At The Drive In. Since then they’ve struggled to recreate that sublime blend of beauty and carnage, they’ve churned out steady albums and carried on playing mid-level venues but interest has undoubtedly wavered and many of the original fans have strayed. (You might note that whilst many At the Drive In fans were open minded to the first two Mars Volta albums, many have become disillusioned with their ever more absurd and ambitious efforts.)
It’s interesting to consider had … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead broken up amongst the hype of that seminal album could they re-enter the fray now and jump straight to the top of the bill? Would we be waving cheques at them and proclaiming how Source, Tags & Codes… changed our lives. Maybe not, but it is an interesting thought.
It’s been said that financially speaking, it would make more sense for a band to break up at their peak and then get back together than it would for them to stick it out. Now I’m not saying that At the Drive In’s comeback will garner as much attention as those of Pixies, Pavement or Rage Against The Machine, I don’t know whether they’ll make anywhere near the amount of money those bands made, but I do wonder what kind of venues they’ll be able to fill this time around and where they’ll feature on the festival billings.
In the last few years we’ve seen Ashcroft and McCabe put their differences behind them and steer the Verve so far from the Storm in Heaven that they resembled a dodgy cabaret band. We’ve seen Pixies kiss, make up and step over the broken guitars to play to armies of Fight Club fans and we’re about to see At The Drive In, a band about as abrasive as they come, return for an encore. One wonders how long it will be before Morrissey and Marr are seen together again or how talks to bring back Talking Heads are progressing. The shows can be good or bad, there can be tears of joy (I genuinely felt quite stirred watching Pixies perform) or despair (think Smashing Pumpkins comeback) but either way one wonders if at this rate they’ll be any legends left unaltered, anything left for us to romanticize and lament about while we listen to our old, timeless albums.