In A-side/B-side, two Milwaukee Record writers tackle various issues in an informal, crosstalk style. Insults are hurled, feelings are hurt, and everyone learns something in the end. Maybe.
Joey Grihalva: On Friday, October 25, electro-pop duo Matt And Kim will perform at Turner Hall Ballroom. It will be no ordinary show. No, it will be grand! By that I mean it will include a performance of their breakthrough 2009 album Grand in its entirety. In fact, the Brooklyn-based couple/group are currently on a tour celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Grand.
This approach has become something of a trend in the music business as of late and I for one am here for it. A couple months back I saw Wu-Tang Clan run through their iconic debut album at the Riverside Theater and it was totally awesome. Last year, Bon Iver did a one-night only celebration of its debut album called “For Emma, Ten Year” at the Bradley Center, which was truly magical.
Even if the album isn’t a tried-and-true classic, there is something to be said about these performances. Considering that we are firmly in the midst of the streaming age, where a premium is put on singles and playlists, it’s refreshing to honor the art of the album. Before I get too deep into why I welcome this approach, I’d like to hear your initial thoughts on the trend, Matt.
Matt Wild: Ah yes, the “let’s play a classic album in its entirety” trend. Can we even call it a “trend” anymore? The current “trend” seems at least 10-15 years old. Hell, if an artist previously did a 10-year-anniversary show of a classic album, they could soon be doing a 20-year-anniversary show of the same album. Or a 10-year anniversary-of-the-10-year-anniversary show. But I digress.
I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, these shows can be a chance to relive an album you hold near and dear to your heart, and hear some deep cuts in the process. When I saw Bob Mould play the entirety of Sugar’s Copper Blue at Summerfest 2012 (seven years ago!), I just about lost my mind when he played lesser-known tracks like “Fortune Teller” and “Man On The Moon.” When I saw Pixies play Doolittle in 2011 (eight years ago!), I flipped for songs like “La La Love You” and “Silver.” Even on an artist’s most well-known album, there are always a handful of tunes that rarely get played live.
On the other hand, sometimes those well-known albums are filled with so many live staples that playing the entire thing seems redundant. One of my favorite bands of all time, They Might Be Giants, just announced that they’ll be performing their classic 1990 album Flood for a 30th anniversary tour. (Coming to the Pabst Theater March 5!) I’ve seen TMBG six or seven times, and even though I love them to death, I’d be perfectly happy if they took a breather on songs like “Birdhouse In Your Soul,” “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” and “Particle Man.” And a few other Flood tracks they play at nearly every show.
On the other other hand, TMBG will apparently mix up the “classic album in its entirety” formula a bit. According to a press release:
How will it be presented? In sequence, in reverse sequence, alphabetical, or mixed into additional repertoire? It could be different on any given night. But, in addition to Flood, the song selection in the “evening with” show will span the band’s entire career from early favorites to brand new tracks, as well as the live improvisations that have become a highlight of TMBG shows.
That sounds cool, though it leaves me wondering: what’s the point? What are your thoughts, Joey? Since many of these shows—like the TMBG show—are so much more than just the 10-12 songs from a classic album, doesn’t the whole thing come off as a marketing gimmick? (Though what do I know—the Flood show is already sold out!)
Joey: Well Matt, I think you answered your first question with your second question. As is the motivation for most things in life, the “point” is capitalism, or more specifically in this case, marketing. With musicians generating a fraction of what they once did from selling music, touring is now a principal source of revenue. It’s not enough these days to simply hit the road when you have a new album. Bands are touring more frequently than that. And so, in order to keep putting asses in seats, more acts are embracing the “classic album live” approach.
Take the recent Wu-Tang Clan tour as an example. Since hitting their peak in the late 1990s, the group released a number of lackluster albums and a mixed bag of solo projects. I personally know fans who would’ve skipped the Riverside show if not for the fact that they were playing their iconic debut album in full. It went from just another Wu-Tang show to a must-see event. I think it also galvanized the group in a way that “just another Wu-Tang show” could not have. This becomes even more true when it’s a one-night-only event versus a tour.
It’s funny, I remember trying to get one of my buddies to see Wu-Tang with me at the Eagles Ballroom back in high school (early 2000s). His response was, “We have a dope surround sound system at my house. Why would I go stand in a smoky room with a bunch of strangers when I can just put their album on in the comfort of my own crib?”
First off, there are many reasons why the concert experience is worthwhile, but more to the point, his comment doesn’t help the case for the “classic album live” approach. However, as you pointed out, this approach can be executed in more than one way. Wu-Tang Clan performed Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) front to back, while Bon Iver mixed up the tracklist of For Emma, Forever Ago. Both threw in additional hits and deep cuts to beef up the setlist, which most bands do at these shows. Bon Iver actually revisited a cover that the band was performing during the time when For Emma came out, which brings me to one of the main selling points of this approach.
When bands revisit an album from a specific point in their careers, it jogs memories and can put them back in that headspace. Whether that’s for better or worse, it tends to make for compelling between-song stage banter. Hearing musicians contextualize and comment on their songs is one of the reasons we go stand/sit in a room with strangers. A reflective artist tends to be an interesting artist. I know that Justin Vernon fit the bill at the “For Emma, Ten Year” show. He even spoke to your initial digression, Matt, when he joked towards the end of the show, “I guess we’ll see you in another ten years.”
So I’m curious, did Bob Mould and the Pixies get more sentimental than usual during the “classic album live” shows you saw? Do you think that makes these shows more attractive than a “standard” show?
Matt: Mould seemed to be having fun, from what I recall. He plowed through Copper Blue, people went nuts, and suddenly the July 3 Summerfest fireworks went off. It was perfect. Did he seem happy to get through the album and move on to some newer solo material (and some vintage Hüsker Dü tracks)? Yes. But, like I said, he seemed into it.
The Pixies, however, were a different story. Even for a band that could never be described as “sentimental” (you’re lucky to get a “Hi” out of them at a show), they seemed especially listless playing Doolittle front to back. Again, this is an album so loaded with hits and favorites that most of it gets played at “standard” shows anyway. The group seemed much more engaged when I saw them at Summerfest in 2018, and then again at The Rave this past spring. All the hits were there, of course, but there were some brand-new, post-reunion songs tossed in, as well. And while the crowd shuffled their feet during the new stuff (as crowds tend to do), at least the band was having a good time.
Which brings me to Weird Al. (Fun fact: everything brings me to Weird Al.) In 2018, Al launched his so-called “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.” Instead of the tried-and-true parody hits (“Amish Paradise,” “White & Nerdy,” etc.), Al played his non-parody, or “style parody” songs. Stuff like “The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota” and “Dog Eat Dog.” In other words, some seriously deep deep cuts. Despite the tour’s self-deprecating title, the whole thing was a massive success. (Please see our ridiculously self-indulgent coverage for proof.)
So my final question is this: For beloved acts that have been around long enough to celebrate 10-, 20-, or 30-year-old album milestones, wouldn’t it be more refreshing if they went the opposite route and put together tours of nothing but rarities and album cuts? Sure, they could throw in a few hits (Al ended with his standard “Yoda” and “The Saga Continues” encore), but the bulk of the setlists would be stuff that rarely gets played. As long as it was clearly billed as such, I’d think fans would save their feet-shuffling and instead get off on seeing an artist have fun with different material. Wouldn’t you?
Joey: I would tend to agree with you, but I think we’re in the minority. Most people want familiarity and nostalgia. If you know a bands material well enough, a rarities and album cuts tour could deliver a uniquely thrilling dose of nostalgia. But again, there are only so many artists out there with a deep enough catalogue and a dedicated enough fan base to pull off that kind of tour successfully. For that reason, I think the “classic album live” approach will continue to be more popular.
Hell, let’s go even deeper into left field than a rarities and album cuts tour. Which brings me to Eaux Claires. (Fun fact: everything brings me to Eaux Claires.) As I have explained in my coverage of the festival, Justin Vernon and company have been pushing collaboration, improvisation, and experimentation further and further with each installment. They have hosted artist residencies the week leading up to the festival, resulting in brand new music debuting at Eaux Claires. They have formed the 37d03d (or PEOPLE) collective (and digital music platform) around this aim. When the festival returns in November for Eaux Claires Hiver, 37d03d performances will be the main event.
This type of live show—where you have no idea what you’re going to see except a roster of potential players—has an admittedly niche audience, yet it’s what has excited me lately. But I digress.
Back to Matt And Kim, whose show on Friday at Turner Hall was the impetus for this exchange. When you think of M&K, you don’t exactly think “classic album” band. You probably think “car commercial” band. The truth is they’re a party band that puts on a fun show regardless of the setlist. The fact that they’ll be playing Grand in its entirety didn’t make it a more attractive ticket and it won’t make me dance like an idiot any more than I already would have. But for some bands, the “classic album live” approach certainly can make a difference.
[Fun Matt And Kim related story: In May 2012, I was visiting a friend in Brooklyn and we went to the Knitting Factory for the premiere party of Hannibal Buress: Animal Furnace. Hannibal hosted and brought some of his comedian friends up for five-minute sets, including Amy Schumer, Donald Glover (who was in town shooting his scenes in Girls), and Aziz Ansari. They played a short documentary about the making of the special and then the special itself. While walking to the bathroom I spotted Matt And Kim in the crowd. I was pretty sick that night, so my friend and I left after the special, missing the premiere of a little something called The Eric Andre Show. I know. I should’ve toughed it out. Don’t be like me and miss Eric Andre’s performance at the Riverside Theater next week!]