This summer, Aerosmith aren’t just bringing tourmates ZZ Top on the road — they’ll also packing up 1975’s Toys in the Attic, and 1976’s Rocks. Motley Crue will be performing all of 1989’s Dr. Feelgood on their Crue Fest 2 tour. The Decemberists have been playing their new The Hazards of Love from front to back, Mastodon whipped out Crack the Skye at their recent shows and Public Enemy blasted their entire It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back this past weekend at Bonnaroo. Full-album gigs aren’t new, but they seem to be experiencing a renaissance this summer. So what’s behind the new wave?
Sometimes a full-album show is clearly the result of artistic ambition. Last fall, prog act Coheed and Cambria held a series of four shows called “Neverender” in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London, during which they played all of their studio albums — which tell an elaborate tale — in succession. Most recently, former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell toured his Timbaland-produced solo LP Scream, reasoning to MTV News last fall that the disc “needs to be performed from beginning to end, because on the record, once the music starts, it never stops.”
Pollstar’s Gary Bongiovanni says playing songs from just a single LP live can prove something of a gamble, but is most often a gesture made by bands confident in their material. “A lot of artists tend to think of their newest record as the most important thing in their life and forget that, when it comes to the live experience, many of their fans will be coming to hear the hits they’re familiar with from older records,” he says. “And that even goes all the way up the food chain to someone like Paul McCartney, who would probably love to play nothing but his newer music, but the people who are buying tickets to see him, that’s when they go to the concession stands.”
The full-album show is not a new invention, of course. More than 25 years ago, Pink Floyd spent two years (1980 and 1981) playing their classic opus The Wall in its entirety, and nothing but. Since 2005, the implicit yet unspoken goal behind the annual All Tomorrow’s Party’s Don’t Look Back series has been coaxing bands to play one of their greatest albums, and they’ve successfully wrangled the likes of Low, the Stooges, Teenage Fanclub, Mudhoney, and Sonic Youth — who, in 2006, played 1988’s Daydream Nation — to commit.
But in a tough economy that’s presented bands and festivals with new challenges, is it wise for a band to play material from just one album in its catalog? Or is it actually a reason behind the trend? Fans are guaranteed to see songs they know and love, but that might not be enough for some ticket-buyers. “Part of it is just experimentation,” Bongiovanni reasons. “We’re in a really difficulty economic environment right now, and people are trying to be creative in how they can kind of stand out. If you’ve seen Aerosmith before, or maybe numerous times, the idea of recreating Toys in the Attic comes across as a more unique option for people. You’re just trying to stand out in what’s going to be an increasingly crowded marketplace.”
Are there any albums you wish you could hear live and in the flesh? Share your thoughts on which bands you’d like to see back on the road, and which album you’d like to see brought to live on stage, from first note to last.