Our biggest hits!

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Bent Fabric
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Our biggest hits!

Postby Bent Fabric » 08 Jun 2018, 04:16

As a lot of the music that I (and many of you) love dearly starts whizzing past in all of these 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 etc. year anniversaries, and as many a veteran artist continues to ply their trade on the concert trail...repertoire seems to be an issue.

I'm certainly making it one for the next several paragraphs, at any rate.

You see it on the Prince/Stevie Wonder thread - there's no REAL dissent regarding either artist's "hot streak" (or, ahem, purple patch).

Does an expectation exist that a person who has been in the game for this many years (and has maybe been "cold" for several decades) owes it to an audience to feature some majority percentage of "things we know"/"things we love"? Do YOU expect it?

I, personally, don't have any hits. I'm playing a concert tomorrow of mostly entirely new material, and...it honestly doesn't matter. There's not one song that anyone will feel gypped not to have heard. I might wish, on some level, that I'd had the career of many of my heroes, but...theoretically, being unburdened by one's own accomplishments is something that many a more celebrated artist might long for. Bowie certainly seemed to struggle with it for a while.

The true one hit wonder is...I don't even know what that means after the fact. I somehow went down a rabbit hole recently of attempting to google the phrase "Tommy Tutone setlist" and it just kind of depressed me (the inclusion of a recent number called "It Is What It Is" just seemed like some especially grim cosmic joke).

Assuredly, an act like Duran Duran, the Moody Blues or the B-52s have a dozen songs that are their bread and butter. People like Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney, when I've seen them, really do feature the classics (certain songs are never skipped - you're especially thankful for the depth of the catalog to provide some element of surprise here and there amidst the handful of songs that will always feature....additionally, they seem to have artfully mastered a "tricking your kids into eating vegetables" method of sneaking new material into the act in a way that doesn't seem like a complete buzzkill).

The above mentioned Stevie Wonder (and many other acts) have even taken a canonized album out for a victory lap. I'm quite happy to see these albums lovingly rendered...happy that the people are still here to celebrate with me. In the case of acts like Love or the Zombies, it feels like some belated benediction that they fully deserve - an honor we wished for them well before they even went that way. The qualitative difference between a Rundgren show in which he raps and one in which he does A Wizard A True Star is self-explanatory.

I saw X a couple of years back - I'm certain their entire act was more than 30 years old (some closer to 40). Buzzcocks the same year - roughly 3/4 or 4/5 classics. They were exciting performances. They played the shit out of the songs, they certainly didn't seem remotely disengaged.

I'm going to see ZZ Top with John Fogerty supporting next week - I'm fairly certain of what types of numbers I'll hear. I think we're all quite happy with this arrangement.

But...it's not for everyone, is it?

I'm guessing folks like Pearl Jam get out there and play whatever the fuck they want. Whether this is a good or bad thing, I suspect they have some (misguided or not) determination not to become shorthand for "their handful of hits" or for a certain era. Bob Dylan, the few times I've seen him, seems to have an act that also follows its own cues. You'll get some well loved songs, but you'll get a number of other things. I think his fans (specifically in this century) are probably there for whatever he's hawking these days. Good for him. Good for them. I didn't follow Leonard Cohen's "encore", but...he also seems like someone who probably sold a certain sense of "ongoing relevance" as part of his return to the stage.

It's probably a choice in most cases. If you could get the reaction that the Rolling Stones get for playing "Brown Sugar", you'd surely seek to regularly enjoy that buzz with your audience, right? We're lucky to HAVE such iconic songs! Many a band would KILL for even one, let alone a dozen or so.

Other acts seem wary of getting hooked on that particular high - like maybe it's beneath them in some way, or maybe they just genuinely feel that they have a hell of a lot to give, and a massive and varied and valuable repertoire to represent. IN FULL!

What do YOU make of this choice?

I recently bought my wife tickets to see a veteran English group who assuredly wrote and recorded their greatest and most loved work in the 1980s. There was absolutely some expectation that they'd take to the boards (big indoor arena) like a band with not one song written after 1989 that she or I could even name. Well...they did not. The first 30/40 minutes of the act (and much of the remainder) were given over in full to songs of a more recent vintage (to be fair - the act has 7 albums that follow the period we care about...and, unbeknownst to me until I just looked it up, these records have all charted respectably...maybe their fan base is more loyal than we believed them to be). My wife enjoyed it, but reported to me that it was a bit like being brought back to life when they finally started playing their most powerful numbers. Somehow it was less of a slog than Duran Duran (whom, last year, she had found a bit cheesy), but...somehow it was also MORE of a slog. It seemed to inspire this sort of begrudging respect.

I dunno..."begrudging respect" seems like such a theoretical concept, many light years away from the more visceral experience of being "lifted" in some way at a concert.

David Gilmour was someone I'd gone to see a dozen years ago, and...you know...I made a bit of a stink about the fact that the first act of the show was given over to his (to my ears, quite unremarkable) new material. A friend I'd gone with sort of framed it as "He's had a long history of premiering new works in full, you know!" as if we were at the unveiling of the Rites of Spring, but...he knew, and I knew, and I suspect that even Gilmour knew that this was not exactly Dark Side of the Moon.

Neil Young, on the other hand - I'd gone to see him with Crazy Horse five or six years ago (a good 40+ years after Harvest)...and...Jesus, he's as much of a "legacy artist" as anyone, but...they proceeded to do five as-yet-unreleased songs that seemed to have an average running time of 30 minutes each. It was one of the best fucking things I've ever seen! I mean, the songs sounded incredible, the band was full of fire ("an especially good night" is often a factor)...comparatively, the likes of "Cinnamon Girl" seemed a bit...perfunctory.

I don't see any real pattern here - either in terms of what an artist does or what I require from them.

I think there's a lot at play here. Not everyone wants to compete with the inspiration, hunger, excitement and momentum of their "young adulthood", what Dylan refers to as "the wind blowing your back". I don't think it's any great blasphemy to suggest that a considerable percentage of music makers generate their most evergreen works in the flush of youth and discovery. Rick Nelson claimed that he would rather drive a truck than sing the old shit. Many others are considerably more game. No real right way to do it, and...the effectiveness of one's policy seems to depend enormously on some more ephemeral aspects of the artist's very essence.

Where do you fall on the spectrum of someone who never/occasionally/often spends money to see veteran performers? I know people who simply don't do it. I know people who want to see the setlist in advance (and I did recently skip an act I was on the fence about after looking at the setlist and seeing what looked like too many of - for me - "the wrong choices"), I know people who want maximum surprise, and...there's always someone just happy to be along for the ride ("I like/respect this act/artist - I'm in good hands, no matter what.").

To what extent do you want some version of "what you came for"?

And have you been moved by performers of considerable vintage giving you something rather different than what you might have expected?

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Davey the Fat Boy
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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 08 Jun 2018, 04:46

There are a lot of factors that play into this. I don’t want to see a perfunctory oldies show...but I don’t want to see Jazz Odessy either.

Ultimately I think you want to see the artists do the music they are able to connect with. In an ideal world, that includes a few songs you love played as if they still matter.

Increasingly - seeing acts that I look up to artistically means seeing mostly senior citizens play. If I’m going to do that, the most pleasing thing is often to see these artists really use their bag of songs. Play the deep cuts that nobody ever thought they’d hear live. Mix in a few crowd pleasers, then do whatever the fuck you want. The rule should be...if you can’t make it fresh, don’t do it.

Something along those lines, I guess.
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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Charlie O. » 08 Jun 2018, 04:58

Like you suggest... it depends.

The biggest variable, of course, is How good is "the new stuff"? The Zombies shows I saw (a bunch of 'em) would decidedly have been improved by not doing anything that post-dated 1972 (if not 1967). Similarly, Arthur Lee - he didn't do a lot of newer songs, but the ones he did do only served to remind me of how badly - and irretrievably - he lost his muse sometime around the turn of the seventies.

On the other hand, fifteen years ago (really?? - yep), Steve Winwood unexpectedly put out his best solo album, the appropriately titled About Time. When I saw him touring behind that album, he announced mid-set that they were gonna play a couple of numbers from the latest album and - how often does this happen with an artist of his vintage? - the announcement was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the audience. But "a couple of songs" was all we got. Most of the rest of the set was taken up with 10-15-minute jammy versions of Traffic classics. (A succinct and spirited version of "Higher Love" - a song I had never enjoyed before - felt like a breath of fresh air.) On that occasion, I for one would have preferred that he and his band had trimmed some of the solos (the guitar player, a real good one, nonetheless seemed to play the same "dramatic" solo on every fucking song) to make room for more "new stuff".

The other big variable is How enthusiastic is the artist about playing his hits? I don't want to see a performer going through the motions EVER if I can help it - ESPECIALLY if it's one of my favorite songs by them. But if you're lucky you do sometimes see people genuinely embrace their classic era in a way that they might not have, say, thirty years ago - most often due, I think, to a realization that these songs belong to the audience as much as they ever did to the performer - that they really mean something to people. Now and then you might even see someone dig deep into an oldie and, with the wisdom of their years, pull something out of it that you (and maybe they) never realized was there before.

I just read what Davey said, and I'll go along with all that.
Last edited by Charlie O. on 08 Jun 2018, 06:11, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby fange » 08 Jun 2018, 05:21

Charlie O. wrote:The other big variable is How enthusiastic is the artist about playing his hits? I don't want to see a performer going through the motions EVER if I can help it - ESPECIALLY if it's one of my favorite songs by them. Then again, you do sometimes see people that genuinely embrace their classic era in a way that they might not have, say, thirty years ago - most often due, I think, to a realization that these songs belong to the audience as much as they ever did to the performer - that they really mean something to people. Now and then you might even see someone dig deep into an oldie and pull something out of it, with the wisdom of their years, that you (and maybe they) never realized was there before.

Yep, when it comes down to it, this is the main thing i want - and maybe most of us BCB types. Most of us don't need a facsimile copy of "the hit" like most music punters do, so they can then talk about how much it sounded 'just like the record' to their work colleagues or FB friends afterwards. What we want is feel that the song is ... i don't know, been done justice, maybe. That the artist and the tune can still touch us in a good way in a live setting.
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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby trans-chigley express » 08 Jun 2018, 05:34

Davey the Fat Boy wrote: I don’t want to see a perfunctory oldies show...but I don’t want to see Jazz Odessy either.


:) Yep, pretty much.

I expect some of the old classics but I want the artist to enjoy playing them and not just go through the motions to please the audience. Tears For Fears did a show that was all greatest hits plus half a dozen songs from the new album and it worked because they played the hits with bags of enthusiasm and seemed to be loving every minute of it, plus the new stuff was suprisingly good too and was spread out in the set list rather than all bunched together so there was never any dip in the show.

On the other hand Gerry Rafferty didn't play many old hits at all and trotted out Baker Street early on in the show in a rather perfunctory and uninterested fashion as if he wanted to get it out of the way quickly and get to his new stuff. Unfortunately the new songs were largely very dull and had me bored hoping some more older songs would make an appearance but not many did.

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby trans-chigley express » 08 Jun 2018, 05:36

Bent Fabric wrote:
People like Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney, when I've seen them, really do feature the classics (certain songs are never skipped -

Paul McCartney has so much to choose from that I'm not even sure which ones are the certain songs that are never skipped.

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Muskrat » 08 Jun 2018, 06:24

An evening (or debut album) of new, unfamiliar material is likely to turn off an audience.
It also says (and I'm speaking generally; I've held this attitude for decades): that the act's ego is bigger than his or her imagination.
Look at it this way:
Well-selected material from other writers (especially when the audience at least sort of know it) will give the audience something to hang on to.
It can give an idea of what the act's up to (I've told this story before, but as soon as I heard Randy Newman pepper his set with You Better Move On and Fats Domino's Blue Monday, I knew EXACTLY where he was coming from).
If you tend to write, for instance, meandering ballads, maybe someone else's song can give your set some needed variety. Same for an uptempo set: a friend of mine who was a wild rockabilly with not much of a voice simply KILLED when he threw in Young and Beautiful.
If you can do something interesting with a real familiar song, so much the better:
If every one of Dylan's songs aren't all that good, what about yours?
And so on. This doesn't mean you should be a human jukebox; just that you should remember there's an audience out there who want to be entertained.

This isn't the guy, but some may not know the song.

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Nuts » 08 Jun 2018, 09:56

Recently saw Manic Street Preachers live in support of their new album but they only played about 4 or 5 songs from it. Really didn't understand that, after having taken 6-12 months of your life to produce this body of work, to not then take those songs out on the road seems crazy. Especially with the sort of fans the Manics have who are very loyal.
Conversely, saw Suede a couple of years back when their latest album was out and they played the whole thing from start to finish before coming back on and playing an absolutely brilliant greatest hits with a few oddities set. No one seemed unhappy with this. Paul Weller did the same thing when Sonic Kicks came out. I can understand it with some artists, as much as I love Deep Purple, I wouldn't be happy to have to sit through the whole of one of their recent albums rather than some of their classics, but is that just because their new material doesn't cut the mustard?
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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Minnie the Minx » 08 Jun 2018, 12:48

You come at the Queen, you best not miss.

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Bent Fabric » 08 Jun 2018, 12:50

trans-chigley express wrote:...Gerry Rafferty didn't play many old hits at all and trotted out Baker Street early on in the show in a rather perfunctory and uninterested fashion as if he wanted to get it out of the way quickly and get to his new stuff.


I've seen one or two people treat their best known work as an absolute chore - doing as little of it as possible, and performing it with a palpable affect of "Well? Here it is! You're WELCOME!"

Lee Hazelwood, the one time I saw him, did an act full of undeniably minor material from recent vintage, and ended it with the most abrupt and disengaged medley of his known songs - and I mean like 6 bars per song.

That sort of thing seems far worse than simply not playing the hits, and I'm not really certain to whose benefit it is supposed to be.

I suppose we're all "who we are", in some non-negotiable way, but there's certainly a sense that a career in the performing arts might be more pleasurable for (and in the presence of) someone who is able to really "get something" out of their back catalog (and, yes - doesn't need to be the hits..."your strongest and most evocative material" may live in the nooks and crannies of your history...specifically if you've made 30 albums and 40 singles over the years). Some of my biggest epiphanies and "moments" have derived from some beloved artist digging deep in some unexpected way. Whatever it is that Nelson Muntz says about Andy Williams doing "Moon River", but in sort of "album track" form.

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby ORORORO » 08 Jun 2018, 13:15

I admire those artists who have played their biggest hits hundreds if not thousands of times, and yet continue to perform them with enthusiasm and (and this is just as important) without fucking about too much with the basic melody.

But fuck - it HAS to be hard.
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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Hightea » 08 Jun 2018, 14:25

Depends on the artist and agree about do they have he passion on playing the old songs. My concert memory that always stays with me was see Elliott Smith and he asked the audience if he should play an old song or a new one. Several people said an old one (or screamed out an old song), a screamed a new one and it changed his face from sad to happy. Sadly, a few weeks later he killed himself.

I would assume the idea of how many new verse old songs a band plays is something that is a hard decision. I prefer a mix of both but only if they have the passion playing both. We saw Noel Gallegher a few years ago and you could see he preferred to play his new songs

new song
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old song
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In regards to artists- We like what Tori Amos does live, she rearranges the old songs from time to time to give them a little new flair but doesn't change them too much so they still have the same vibe. The new King Crimson comes to mind also. After 30+ years of not playing 70's KC, Fripp rearranged all the 70's songs and it sounded excellent.

Pearl Jam,Paul Mac, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, u2 all have passion no matter if its new or old but still mix both into the performance. I've also seen bands ruin a set by opening with several new songs (even worse before the songs are even release) and loose an audience because of it. I prefer you to mix it up unless its a new album release show where you know its all new tunes (just saw Neko Case play her entire new album-great album by the way and it worked).

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Toby » 08 Jun 2018, 14:48

The Venerable B. Eef wrote:I admire those artists who have played their biggest hits hundreds if not thousands of times, and yet continue to perform them with enthusiasm and (and this is just as important) without fucking about too much with the basic melody.

But fuck - it HAS to be hard.


Kraftwerk. Pretty much in the same order give or take a few changes, since 1981.

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Bent Fabric » 08 Jun 2018, 14:54

Toby wrote:
The Venerable B. Eef wrote:I admire those artists who have played their biggest hits hundreds if not thousands of times, and yet continue to perform them with enthusiasm and (and this is just as important) without fucking about too much with the basic melody.

But fuck - it HAS to be hard.


Kraftwerk. Pretty much in the same order give or take a few changes, since 1981.


How "into it" do you reckon them to be (and I know their whole format/premise is obviously a great deal different from, say, Bruce Springsteen)?

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby ORORORO » 08 Jun 2018, 14:54

well of course you expect that of ROBOTS
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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Bent Fabric » 08 Jun 2018, 14:55

Hightea wrote:just saw Neko Case play her entire new album-great album by the way and it worked


I'm thinking my friends Nora and Kelly were probably on stage for this.

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Bent Fabric » 08 Jun 2018, 15:22

The Venerable B. Eef wrote:I admire those artists who have played their biggest hits hundreds if not thousands of times, and yet continue to perform them with enthusiasm and (and this is just as important) without fucking about too much with the basic melody.

But fuck - it HAS to be hard.


Right?

If you can extract the sort of "peak experience" from your most performed song over a 50 year period, it may just say something about your innate ability to be in the moment.

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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Hightea » 08 Jun 2018, 15:24

Bent Fabric wrote:
Hightea wrote:just saw Neko Case play her entire new album-great album by the way and it worked


I'm thinking my friends Nora and Kelly were probably on stage for this.

Cool - Kelly Hogan was not sure who Nora is?
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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Davey the Fat Boy » 08 Jun 2018, 15:37

I always scratch my head when I see the set lists of major artists on tour - and the set hardly varies from night to night. Surely that has to contribute to the fact that these songs go stale.

My wife went to see Paul Simon a few weeks ago. After the show she wanted to talk about it, so we pulled up the set list online. It was listed with more than a year’s worth of set lists - and it was pretty clear that he was only changing up 10 to 20% of the set at all over that time. Closer to 10% from night to night. So if you go to see Simon on this tour, you can be assured of hearing” Homeward Bound” and “The Obvious Child” - but there’s almost no chance of hearing “Peace Like a River” or “Kathy’s Song.”

The guy has an immense song catalogue, and enough “hits” that he can even switch those up. He doesn’t HAVE TO play any specific song every night (as opposed to artists with THAT ONE SONG).

So why does a guy like that choose to make his tour a slough? Maybe it isn’t for him. Maybe he likes it that way. I’d be bored to tears.
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Re: Our biggest hits!

Postby Goat Boy » 08 Jun 2018, 15:41

I think most artists need to compromise. Few can get away with the "we're only playing new songs tonight" thing. Neil Young has probably earned that through sheer bloody mindness and general godlike genius but fan goodwill will only ever get you so far, regardless of how great the people are on stage.

I'm not interested in seeing great artists perform new stuff I don't give a shit about. That's a chance I'm not willing to take. I remember Todd Rundgren was playing Edinburgh a few years back and I was initially excited but then I saw the setlist and was like, "fuck that". I felt no loss AT ALL.

I've seen Sparks twice recently. It helps that their last album was actually really good but they played a mix of old and new that worked. Even if the new stuff isn't great I can tolerate it to a degree if I know the good stuff is coming. Sparks ALWAYS play This Town.... and rightly so. It's like a celebration and they are quite humble about it. I guess if you've had a dozen This Town's you might not be so humble or willing to play the game but...life is about compromises. Even when you are GODLIKE ROCK STARS. I respect artists who acknowledge this and have little time for artists who don't.

Except Neil Young. Cunt can do whatever the fuck he wants.
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