When Buffalo power-pop band Girlpope re-formed to reproduce its album "The Whole Scene Going" in its entirety a few months back, they were delving into a time-honored tradition that seems to be gaining in popularity of late.
Surely, the Girlpope lads would be horrified by the suggestion that they have anything at all in common with the mother of all jam bands, Phish, but that Vermont foursome has been playing full albums in concert for quite some time. In Buffalo, bands like Lazlo Hollyfeld, Rhubarb, Sonic Garden, and in the dim and distant past, Mark Freeland, David Kane and Bill Moore's Erectronics have all performed full albums on stage.
If its true that the whole phenomenon got started when Pink Floyd took its "The Wall" on the road and played the whole darn thing for much of 1980 and '81, then the passage of time has made full-album shows something in which folks from a wide variety of genres — not just prog-rock or jam bands — feel comfortable dabbling.
For their recent tour-ending show in HSBC Arena, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played "Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey" in its entirety, highlighting a show that has already entered legend status on the live bootleg circuit. Springsteen also performed "The River" and "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle" from soup to nuts during a 2009 run at Madison Square Garden.
Add to the list the likes of Aerosmith, Motley Crue, the Decemberists, Mastodon, Public Enemy, Coheed and Cambria, the Smithereens, the Flaming Lips, Cheap Trick, the Stooges and Sonic Youth, and you can see that celebrating the power of the album — be it one of the artists' own, or one they love and want to cover — is becoming all the rage.
Tonight, Canadian alt-rock outfit Our Lady Peace will perform its biggest commercial success, "Clumsy," in its entirety beginning at 8 p.m. in the Rivera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda. On Saturday, the band returns to perform "Spiritual Machines" front to back.
These shows have generated substantial buzz in the music community, as has the rumor that Roger Waters will be trotting out Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" this summer, and quite possibly stopping by our neck of the woods. (Interestingly, "Dark Side" was recently covered by the Flaming Lips, both in the recording studio and on stage. Phish has covered the whole album in the past as well.)
Not everyone loves the one-album idea, naturally. Fair criticism might suggest that knowing what's coming can be a major buzz-kill — particularly for jam-band fans, who, 1) value their buzz and don't want it killed, and 2) thrive on the danger and excitement inherent in the ever-morphing set list.
Many others find the whole idea rather thrilling, though, citing the challenge to the musicians themselves and the celebration of the "album as a complete work of art" idea as major positives. Ironically, this comes during a time when naysayers continue to insist that the album is, if not dead, at least starting to smell a little funny.
"I saw Brian Wilson and his band [the Wondermints, et al.] do 'Pet Sounds' at Darien Lake and Bruce and the E Street Band do 'Greetings From Asbury Park' at HSBC Arena," says Edmund Cardoni, director of Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. "These were two of my best concert experiences ever, so I guess I like it. Batting .1000 so far. I'm wondering how much of "The Trinity Sessions" the Cowboy Junkies might do in Asbury Hall on April 15th. Perfect venue for it!"
"Phish used to cover someone else's album in its entirety every Halloween," says former Western New Yorker Jack Delgado. " 'Remain in Light', by Talking Heads, the Beatles' 'White Album,' 'Dark Side of the Moon', etc. The band kept it a secret until that night. I used to love that. In general, I don't mind [the full album thing] as long as it's done very well."
It's reasonable to suggest that albums that veer toward the "conceptual cohesion" side of the scale provide the most viable material for full-album shows. If an album is really just a place to store 10 or so songs that don't necessarily need each other to survive, why bother performing them as one piece?
"I loved it when Roger Waters did 'Dark Side of the Moon' at Darien Lake a few years back, but his album presentation was only half of the concert," recalls Jon Gill of Buffalo. "I saw Our Lady Peace recently advertising for two different shows — Friday night for one album and Saturday night for another. For some reason that sounded like a really stupid idea and I passed.
"So, overall, I think I am against it, unless it is a concept album. You usually hear the majority of a band's most recent album anyways, although out of order. Plus, 14 or so songs is too short of a concert."
True. But hearing an album you've loved for a long time — maybe even since you were a kid — can be a treat, even if its merely a pleasure of the nostalgic variety.
"Seeing Blondie perform their 'Parallel Lines' album in concert was such an enjoyable experience," says music-lover Samantha Gust. "That was one of the first records I ever owned and is still my favorite album. I wish Fleetwood Mac would do the same thing with 'Rumors'!"
Mary Ann Rogers of Buffalo rather eloquently cuts right to the heart of the matter of the whole debate.
"It's an incredible treat to hear an entire album from an artist's or band's catalog, because it gives us a fresh perspective into the theme of the work and the mind-set of that artist at a distinct time in his or her life," she says. "Played live, albums serve as a celebration of sorts, a benchmark as to how much the artist has accomplished and evolved (or perhaps even devolved).
"They're certainly benchmarks in our lives, too. And played live, they transport both the band and the audience back to a magical place and time — providing context and evoking a rather peculiar set of emotions in thinking about what we were doing and feeling when the album was first released. To collectively share that emotion with a band (and thousands of its fans) for an hour or so provides an experience that would be difficult to replicate through virtually any other means."