Band Reunions – Nostalgic Treat or Cynical Cash Cow?

In the past seven or eight years it seems to have become the fashion for bands once thought to be gone (in some cases long gone) to suddenly re-group and announce a handful of gig dates or maybe just do the festival circuit. Most then seem to quiten down and return to their dormant stage, some (but not many) record new material. Like volcanos it now seems that no bands are actually “extinct” and could, at any moment, erupt back into life. Even those with deceased original and key members it seems are not immune, here I am referring to the MC5 who did a bunch of dates around 2006 with Mudhoney’s Mark Arm on vocal duties.

The list of acts is pretty long, some that come to mind are; Pulp, Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, The Jesus Lizard, Faith No More, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Iggy Pop & The Stooges and the aforementioned MC5.

I was brought to thinking about this subject while watching the TV coverage of the recently reformed Pulp performing at Reading last night and found myself torn between two facts, that while it is great to see the old favourites performed again by the original band the question remains, isn’t the real reason they are doing it to get an almost guaranteed easy cash injection? Aside from personal differences within the bands that may have triggered the original break-ups, they don’t really have to do much except remember how to perform their old material. Of course, this is pretty key, if the resultant shows come across as a bunch of old timers struggling to capture their original verve and flair then it is setting a match to their legacy in the minds of all that held them dear.

Before you all paint me as a emotionless cynical bastard let me put this out there, I saw the reformed Faith No More and Rage Against The Machine at Leeds Festival, I watched the MC5 with Mark Arm at ATP, took two days off work to go down to London to see the reformed Jesus Lizard and only a few weeks ago paid to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and every single one of those shows was an absolute delight! I also thoroughly enjoyed Pulp on TV last night. However with those previous bands I had never got to see them the first time around, or in the case of The Jesus Lizard had seen them once years ago before I appreciated their excellence, and therefore couldn’t help the feeling I’d been given a second chance, and luckily they all met or exceeded my expectations. Had they not I would have been devastated so I guess there are risks on both sides.

But despite this I cannot seem to ignore the little voice of the muso elitist in the back of my head decrying it all as lazy opportunism, after all why did these bands split up originally (ok, I concede that GY!BE were on “long term hiatus” but it’s much the same thing when it goes on for nigh on ten years!) in a lot of cases if it wasn’t personal differences it was due to the band pretty much exhausting their potential. You can probably count on one hand bands that have stuck together for more than ten or fifteen years and their quality of output has not reduced.

To the credit of the bands I’ve mentioned they do seem to have just popped their collective heads up, played a few blistering shows and then returned to fondly remembered memories, they don’t seem to have started flogging a long dead horse. Also in the cases I have witnessed the bands all seem to have bloody good fun cranking out the tunes and having rabid fans hanging on their every strum.

As I write this I feel I’m destroying my own argument, as I’ve just remembered my most treasured memory of a reformed band (well, they never really split up) giving me the show of my life, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin in 2004. Who happily confess that when they are either short of cash or just fancy doing it all again they will get back together and do a few shows.

Had this all happened with bands I dislike the cynic inside me would be raving like a spittle flecked evangelical minister about how dreadful it all is… hmm, I think I’ve written myself into a corner! 😕

Is it maybe more of a reflection of the state of the music business and the many ways to consume music in the 21st century? There are now more channels and ways of hearing and seeing a vast array of acts, new and old, established and unsigned, than there ever were when most of these reformed bands were at their height. The more music you consume the less you find yourself attached to bands in particular. So do these shows give us, as music fans, a chance to revisit a time when a handful of bands were our lives, bands we knew intimately, lyrics to their songs memorised by countless repeated listens? We then have another chance to stand and sing along to our old favourites alongside kindred spirits.

But maybe I’ve just been lucky, fond memories have not been sullied, rather added to. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts, maybe you’ve seen a band you used to love reform and play a lacklustre show making you wish you’d just stuck with your memories. Let me know any stories good or bad in the comments below.

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  1. #1 by Iona on August 28, 2011 - 2:45 pm

    I agree with the points you’ve made such as, why not celebrate how wonderful the bands were when originaly together and leave it at that, but I did hear that Pulp reformed because thier close friend died – which is a fair reason. I think that if a band are really talented and are proud of what they’ve done and have moved on from whatever reasons they split up then why not get back to enjoying performing again. Also, if the band gained more fans once split up reforming is a wonderful oportunity for the younger ones to get to see them as well. There’s a lot of things to say about reforming I guess 🙂

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