Nostalgia tours from bands of all eras seem to be more popular than ever. With the 40th anniversary of punk in full swing, fans can expect more visits from groups like The Undertones, who are heading this way in July for their first ever shows Down Under. But we still should be careful about what we wish for…
“Nah, now that Kim Deal’s gone, I don’t want to see them.” That was my mate’s reply when I asked him if he was going to see the Pixies on their latest jaunt in Australia. Well, he is a bass player, so that perhaps explains his loyalty, but it did get me thinking: Where do you draw the line when it comes to reformed line-ups? How many original members of the band need to be on board – and what songs should they be playing – for it to be a truly credible experience?
As far as the Pixies are concerned, I am pretty relaxed about seeing the new incarnation: Black Francis is still leading from the front, I like the new album Head Carrier, and their new bass player Paz Lenchantin seemed pretty cool when I spoke to her last year (turns out she’s a big Chills fan!). It helps, too, that I have seen the original line-up play live a few times – in fact, the first time I saw them was in London back in 1988 – so I am interested to see how Pixies Mk 2 gel.
Things get trickier, however, when it’s a band you’ve always loved, but you’ve never had the opportunity to see play live. For me, that usually means the punk bands who never ventured to this part of the world first time around, but are now on the nostalgia circuit. Having seen a fair few of these acts over the years, I advise you approach these sort of gigs with caution and do your homework.
Which brings us back to the original question: who will you actually be seeing? Generally speaking, as long as the original singer (and preferably at least one other key member of the original line-up) is on board, you are usually on safe ground. So Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle as far as the Buzzcocks are concerned, David Vanian and Captain Sensible for The Damned, and so on. Probably the worst ever punk reunion gig I have seen was The Members – not only was there no Nicky Tesco, but the line-up (I think it was the bass player and guitarist) also insisted on playing a lot of dodgy new material in between butchering classics like Sound Of The Suburbs.
So the actual setlist can be important, too. While in most cases, these sorts of bands are happy to stick to playing the old favourites , some – quite rightly – want to showcase their new songs. I remember seeing Wire a few years back and was bitterly disappointed that they really only played one song from the old days; however, having subsequently heard their two latest records I wish now that I had paid more attention now to the newer stuff, rather than getting antsy about when they were going to play 12XU.
For me, another factor which can come into play is whether the person who actually wrote the group's best loved material is involved. I did feel a little guilty when I went to see the reformed line-up of The Specials play Auckland in 2009 knowing that the ska band’s creative supremo Jerry Dammers wasn’t involved. The fact that the three original frontmen Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple – together with most of rest of the old band – put on such a superb show won me over in the end, but it still didn’t feel quite right.
For the upcoming tour from The Undertones, it’s a reverse dilemma: the Derry band’s distinctive singer Feargal Sharkey hasn’t played with them since the '80s, but the line-up looks to be otherwise unchanged and includes the guys who wrote most of their songs in the first place. Does it really matter, then, that the bloke singing Teenage Kicks is different from the one on the record?
Ultimately, I suppose it comes down what you expect to get out of the experience. If you go in thinking this could be the best show you have seen, then the likelihood is that you will come away disappointed; however, if you treat it a a fun stroll down memory lane, then there is every chance to you will have a fun night out – and may even get blown away (the AK79 punk reunion gigs of 2008 were truly amazing).
And of course, there are still great bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s whose original line-ups could still theoretically get back again for a tour to this part of the world. The Jam, The Smiths and Hüsker Dü top my wishlist – what about you?