By Daniel G. Moir
From the oldest folk music to the latest forward-oriented rock, music contains a certain built-in nostalgia. To unexpectedly encounter a song immediately draws us back to a specific time and place; to the experiences, the people we were with and the specific feeling that is unique to each person who hears the song. That is the magic and mystery of music.
Bands continue to tour each and every year long after they have ceased placing “hits” on the Billboard Top 40 charts. Just because it has been 20 years since a new song broke on the radio is not enough of a reason to put the Marshall stacks in storage. You keep the show on the road, switching from arenas to theaters or even Casinos if necessary, but you never quit. Sure, you might lose an original member here or there, but you keep it going—even if it means that only the bass player is the only original guy left. Why not?
Over the past few years, there has been another interesting side-trend going on among the “older” rock acts. Artists as varied as Peter Gabriel, Cheap Trick, Rush, Aerosmith, and The Cure have all done sets that have played one of their classic albums from front to back for a live audience. Sometimes they are expected, as was the case of Moving Pictures that was performed at the beginning of the second set on Rush’s Time Machine Tour in 2011. Sometimes, it’s a surprise like when Aerosmith dropped the entirety of Toys in the Attic at a show in New York in 2009.
In many cases, this may be the first time a band has ever performed some of these songs before a paying audience. As good as some of these albums may be, not everything on the record may work in a live setting. Committing to playing an entire album means committing to the “filler” stuff as well. For the fan who really loves a particular album, perhaps this filler is the best part of the experience. This is the only chance to hear these things, and better yet, you know exactly where they will come up in the set.
As a general rule, I like to go to a concert where I have no idea what songs are to be performed. I like the guessing game of the opening song, the encore, the placement of “the BIG hit” and letting the event unfold in front of me with an honest reaction to each song performed. I want to be kept in the dark as much as possible. In an age where past setlists are easily found with a quick Google search, the temptation to check ahead of time to see if a long-cherished favorite is coming up is strong. I love seeing the Dave Matthews Band for exactly this reason. Setlists are largely created in the middle of the show, allowing for spontaneity and interplay with the audience. How can I know what is coming up next if the band doesn’t even know?
Album shows, especially those that are planned, are completely different. Once the first song of the featured album is played, there is no question what is next. None. Good albums are meticulously planned and organized. There is an ebb and a flow. Great albums tell a story. There is a beginning, a middle, and an ending. It is a complete thing. To recreate that work live is an art all in itself.
For the concertgoer, there are some ancillary benefits as well. First off, if you know an album well and there are some “less than favorite” songs, you know exactly when they are going to hit and you can plan your bathroom breaks. During my early concert-going life, I got caught in the men’s room for both “Forever in Blue Jeans” (Neil Diamond, 1982-College of William & Mary) and “The Eagle and The Hawk” (John Denver, 1982-Virginia’s Hampton Coliseum). I learned quickly to plan my trips from that point onwards. During Bruce Springsteen’s last visit to the Xcel Energy Center, I hit it during “Hungry Heart.” Why this and not “Crush on You?” you ask. Simple, there is a better than average chance Springsteen will play “Hungry Heart” at the next show but unlikely “Crush” will ever get another airing. Ever. Besides, no one else will go during “Hungry Heart,” and I won’t have anything closely resembling a wait. I can make it back before he hits the second chorus, easy. He has the whole call-and-response thing at the beginning of “the big first hit,” so that will cover an easy two minutes. What do you think the bathroom lines were like during “Crush?” It’s all about timing, my friend.
On Friday, Sept. 8, U2 will bring their “Joshua Tree Tour 2017” to the Minneapolis Sandcrawler (aka U.S. Bank Stadium). In a show that works to span the history of the band, they will start with material from their first albums and conclude (hopefully) with selections from their upcoming Songs of Experience album. In the middle, they will play their 1987 classic album The Joshua Tree. I have every plan to be attendance as Bono, the Edge, Adam, and Larry drop their commercial masterwork.
I have a long and troubled history with U2 as a live act. First off, let me be absolutely clear—I LOVE THIS BAND. As far as I am concerned, they are the Beatles of my generation. Their album releases are events on my music-loving calendar, and I am endlessly fascinated where the Dublin quartet will take their sound next. Heck, I went as far as seeing Rattle and Hum in a movie theater no less than five times in both Northfield, Minn., and London, England—the last time demanding that the projectionist turn the volume up to a ear-bleeding level in order to better replicate the live sound of the band in concert.
Because of my love of this band, one might think that I probably have seen every tour they have ever done. They would be incorrect. Sadly incorrect. My “original sin” dates back to 1983. I had just seen Styx play the St. Paul Civic Center as part of their Kilroy Was Here tour. The older brother of the friend I had gone to see the show with offered me a ticket to U2’s show the next night at the Northrop Auditorium. Not just any seat, but third row, center. Third Row. Center. The War tour. I did that which is unthinkable to me now—I passed. U2. Third Row. Center. Idiot.
In my meager defense, I will say at the time, I was a lowly high school sophomore living far away from the hipper urban enclaves where I might have more fully been exposed to the music of the first three albums they had released to that point. I had heard “New Years Day” and maybe “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” but that was about it. In the intervening years, I have re-lived my rejection of that ticket in my hand multitudes of times. I can still picture the serrated edges of the ticket, the slightly raised black embossed print, and the seemingly ordinariness of the cardstock. The weight of rock’s future completely unrealized to my 15-year-old senses. Besides, I had a ticket for the third show of Journey’s Frontiers tour that was coming up at the Civic Center next month. Someone called Bryan Adams was going to open that show, so why did I need to bother with this minor Irish band that I had only tangentially ever heard of? This was my first—and greatest—true mistake.
Later that summer, I heard U2’s War album. I instantly knew that I had made the wrong decision. While attending St. Olaf College, the band came around on their original Joshua Tree tour. Again, I passed. It could have been—and likely was— my lack of funds, but I made myself feel somewhat better by the reports that they weren’t playing anything much older than material from their previous Unforgettable Fire album. I lived in a state of perpetual ignorance. While studying theater in London in 1989, I read their biography and listened to the band nearly non-stop. My ignorance was of a particular indulgence.
I also passed on them during the Zooropa tour as they supported their Achtung Baby album in 1992. My sins are many and surprisingly long-seated. When they announced the Pop tour in early 1997, I purchased my ticket in February. The show was in November. I had great seats on the floor right by the thrust stage that extended into the audience on the floor of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. What I got was one of the all time great acts emerging from a giant mirrorball lemon and dancing to “Discotheque” under a single golden arch in a sarcastic tribute to consumerism. I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.
When U2 returned on their Elevation tour in 2001, I thought that this was finally my opportunity to set things right. I can put these mutually shared ghosts of the past to rest, and finally, Bono, the band and I can move forward in peace. I will have atoned for my past snubs, misunderstandings, and their commercialization. I had a great seat for the show on May 1, 2001. I was ready to go and excited to attend. One problem. My wife, Rebekah, was very late in the pregnancy of our second child.
“How bad would it be if today was the day?” she asked tentatively as I readied myself for the day. “About the worst,” was my curt reply. It was true. Aside from the U2 show, a number of major issues had arisen at work the day before, and my attention to their resolution would be greatly required. I was under a time crunch and there was no quarter to be given. May 1, 2001, would be the worst possible day. Ever. Then at 11 a.m., I got “the call.” “Well, today is the day. I’m driving myself to the hospital.” Great.
Let me just take a moment here and set something VERY straight. My wife, Rebekah, is one of those people I count myself lucky to know—let alone have as a partner in life. If she says she is driving herself to the hospital, I would be foolish to utter anything other than a “OK, see you there.” She reminds me of my Mother, Mary Moir. A true “take no crap, protect my pack” sort of person who is extremely worldly, smart, and intensely fierce. These are the people you don’t trifle with if you have any pedigree of intelligence.
I arrive at the hospital and Bek is sitting in the delivery room reading about the passing of Joey Ramone in the latest issue of Rolling Stone with Destiny’s Child on the cover. I am reminded, once again, that I married the perfect person. I call the friend that I was planning on attending U2 with at 4:00 p.m. and release my ticket with the caveat that he somehow acquire a shirt from the show with today’s date on it. His sister is the lucky recipient of this precious gift. My son, Gavin Alexander Fergus Moir, is born promptly at 7:00 p.m., and I realize that I will remember this date forever. He is perfect, healthy, and LOUD. At 7:30, my wife looks up at me and says, “You can still make the show.” There is no way I will leave either of them, and I realize—yet again—my good fortune that this remarkable creature is in my life. Nothing, not even the potential of an U2-driven “Ramones” cover could be more perfect. I wear the shirt every May 1st to honor my son and my wife. I will never forget that date.
So, this brings us more or less to now. We have a trend of bands reliving the past glories that a landmark album will bring. The Joshua Tree is certainly one of these records. Thirty years have now passed. Both the band and I have changed. I am no longer the snotty teen who snubbed them back when they were a bunch of Irish scrappers striving to break into the big time at a likely life changing show on the campus of the University of Minnesota. I am also not the sneering late-twenties cool guy questioning them for selling out with the giant arch and pop-culture artifice of Pop. No, we are all older now and it is time to reflect on what we have perhaps both gone through in the intervening years. They ARE the Beatles of my generation, and my generation has settled in to “middle age.” My college friends have gone on to be members of the United States Congress, college deans of students, heads of companies, realtors, artists, salesmen, and “artistic” bums like me. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, and every once in awhile we need to re-visit the times in our lives when we were young and everything was possible. We need to go there in order to remember that YES, everything is STILL possible. I want to believe that all of our Glory Days are still out there waiting for us to live.
Besides, I promised Rebekah that there would be no mirrorball lemon this time around, and I’ve scheduled my bathroom trip during “With of Without You” just to ensure that I will catch them their next time around the Twin Cities. “Glory Days, they’ll pass you by…”
Grabbing My Ears:
An utter delight and unexpectedly defiant fiery response from the former Ke$ha. On Rainbow, Kesha Rose Sebert reclaims both her name and artistic vision on a third album that moves her to the very forefront of pop’s artistic visionaries with both humor and sass. “Hunt You Down” is both profane and directly sharp in making its point. This is an artist who deserves to be on your radar.
Sure, this third record from “the Material Girl” released in 1986 is incredibly dated, but it is also one of the perfect “albums of summer.” Fantastic ballads like “Live to Tell” and the sunshine blissed “La Isla Bonita?” This one had it all. Besides all that massive controversy surrounding “Papa Don’t Preach” sounds positively quaint these days.
A heartbreaking finish and coda to the life of Chester Bennington. So much promise from a singer and band that is now, sadly, cut short. An efficient album of 35 minutes, this is one of those records that both gives and takes. “Sharp Edges” strikes too close to the heart.
I think Taylor Swift has a brilliant songwriter’s gift for melody. Having said that, this is quite probably one of the worst songs she has ever endeavored to release. Like everyone else in the know universe, I will be waiting with baited breath to listen to her new album when it comes out on November 10, but let me say on the record that this song is, well, uh, not… Um. It’s incredibly bad. REALLY bad. This may be her first great mis-step as a recording artist, and I truly hope that she is able to form something a bit more substantial on her upcoming next release. Swift has a genius-level melodic ability, but there is no evidence of it on this disaster of a song.
That’s the Ticket:
U2-U.S. Bank Stadium “aka ‘The Sandcrawler’” Sept. 8, 2017
See above. If you didn’t get why this concert is tops of my hit list, then I don’t know what more I can do for you here.
This band based out of Richmond, VA., never realized the popular success that they truly deserve. A mix of Celtic, folk, and alternative rock with well-thought lyrics and interesting melody. A true delight for anyone who loves music. For my ears, “Grey Sky Eyes” and “What About Everything?” are the songs that seem to make sense of the world I live in. Go to this show, if for no other reason to hear lead singer Barry Privet speed-spit out the lyrics to “Mary Mac.” If you are lucky, you will come away with a better understanding of the possibilities of life. A rare band that deserves a large audience. I made mistakes in my early life with U2. Don’t make the same mistakes with this band. This is the embossed ticket in your hand.