Oh, my God! They're coming back!
Yes, the bands that ruled the touring circuit during the Seventies and Eighties are returning this summer to a football stadium near you. Set to visit Mile High on June 18 is Pink Floyd, a group that did its best work in the late Sixties, shortly before founding member Syd Barrett disappeared into his own navel, never to be sane again. Also absent from the band is Roger Waters, the bassist, songwriter and vocalist largely responsible for the Floyd's most popular efforts (Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, The Wall), as well as the conceptualist behind live shows gargantuan enough to divert even those unfortunates confined to the back rows. Still, that probably won't matter to fans of this band, most of whom never knew who was in the group in the first place. If remaining Floydsters David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright do a passable imitation of the old sound, keep new material to a minimum and launch a few giant balloons, everyone will be happy.
Other acts likely to book shows at stadiums or large outdoor venues this year include a pair that haven't trod stages in ages--the Rolling Stones and the Eagles. Mick Jagger, lead singer of the former, long ago swallowed his pledge not to play "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" after he reached thirty; the members of the group--which in its prime indisputably was among rock's greatest bands--are nearing eligibility for Social Security, yet none of their musical chestnuts has been retired. The nostalgia quotient helped the Stones' 1989 tour, launched to promote the awesomely mediocre disc Steel Wheels and rake oodles of profits into their already crammed coffers; and in spite of the departure of original bassist Bill Wyman (who apparently needs more time to romance women a third his age), another jaunt through America should be just as lucrative.
The same payoff will no doubt greet the reunion tour of the Eagles, an inexplicably popular act. The group broke up in 1980 amid acrimony and insults, and probably would have stayed split were it not for the failures of most Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey solo albums, the prompt cancellation of Frey's recent TV series, South of Sunset (the program actually aired fewer times than My Mother the Car before being yanked), and Don Henley's preoccupation with saving the Walden woods and suing his record company, Geffen. Also providing an incentive was the commercial breakthrough of Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, an album that allowed a slew of popular country artists (Travis Tritt among them) to pay tribute to one of their most important influences, in the process revealing why so much modern country music is so lame. Unlike Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, the Eagles were never prized for their live shows: During their prime, the bandmembers tended to stand motionless while playing note-for-note reproductions of their recorded works. Even in a shed the size of Fiddler's Green, this approach is likely to be almost as enjoyable as a yawning contest, but that won't stop thousands of drugstore cowpokes from ponying up a pile of dough for the privilege of seeing it for themselves.
Fans of younger, more contemporary performers won't get the same opportunity--at least not at stadiums. Not every tour for the summer has been finalized, but at present not a single act that emerged in the Nineties (or even the mid-Eighties) is said to be considering a foray into the big leagues.
The reasons for this state of affairs are many, and most of them are extremely tangled. Some say stadium tours in general are dying because the public has realized that paying big bucks to see a favorite artist reduced to the size of a mosquito is a stupid idea. There's something to this theory: Stadium dates are notorious for lousy sound quality and the inhospitable nature of their settings, and few artists have the imagination and creativity to compensate for these drawbacks. Yet the people who are still going to stadium concerts--followers of groups that have been around since Lyndon Johnson was president--are the very ones who should know better than anyone just how crappy they are. Younger music lovers aren't being suckered into the stadiums, because few artists they're into are playing in them.
Fewer still are apt to book such tours in the future if the experiences of the handful of new-breed rockers who have gone the stadium route are any indication. Over the past several years, only U2 (whose debut album Boy appeared in 1980), Guns N' Roses and Metallica have attempted to follow the path of their gray-bearded elders, and the GN'R/Metallica co-bill was not nearly the box-office bonanza observers had anticipated; there were literally thousands of empty seats at Mile High when the latter show pulled into town. U2 had better luck, and at least tried to push the creative envelope with strange video presentations and an extended stage, but the final result was so quizzical that no U2 peer has been stupid enough to attempt a response.
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In fact, the groups whose current popularity rivals U2's--Pearl Jam and Nirvana, for example--have insisted upon appearing at smaller venues, even when they could easily fill arenas. The punk aesthetic and the fear of becoming egomaniacs too far removed from the sweaty clubs where they got their starts has a great deal to do with the decision. And because of this generational difference in opinion, the majority of acts relevant to the 25-and-under crowd can be seen only in clubs or theaters, while bands that are coasting on popularity achieved long ago are gravitating to amphitheaters and stadiums. Over the past several years, venues such as Fiddler's Green and Red Rocks, which seat between 8,000 and 18,000, have played host to the Moody Blues, Steve Miller, Jimmy Buffett and many other performers whose newer albums serve primarily as excuses to get back on the road. The same can be said of Paul McCartney, whose 1993 stop at Boulder's Folsom Field failed to effectively hype new material but succeeded in moving tons of discs in McCartney's back catalogue.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course; anyone who thinks that the music industry is more concerned with creative expression than enormous profits is in need of a few reality lessons. But with the omnipresence of MTV and other video programs, as well as the striking proliferation of Entertainment Tonight-type broadcasts whose sole purpose is to promote, promote, promote, there's the danger that fewer and fewer musicians will bother to schedule concert tours. And who can blame a performer for deciding to stay home if he can make as much money sitting on his duff as he can tramping around the country eating room-service food by day and straining to entertain the cretins by night? Given the same set of circumstances, you'd stay home, too.
Don't worry about this eventuality occurring too soon, however. There remain plenty of performers who will keep touring out of force of habit--ones who remember when they had to tour, and think that not doing so is to somehow turn their backs on a show-business tradition. Which means that we'll continue to have the opportunity to see dinosaurs from years gone by plodding across the landscape, thrilling thousands of stadium-lovers who wish to see them one last time before they become extinct.
They won't go without a fight, but they'll go--and all we'll have left are the memories of Mick Jagger singing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" at age 85...