This week, another reader question, from Michael Callero: What band, currently broken up but still alive, would you do anything to see play one last live show?
We've discussed a potential inventory about bands that will never reunite, and my idea for that coincides with this question: I'd want to see Hüsker Dü, preferably around 1987's Warehouse: Songs And Stories. It was their last record, so they could draw from their whole catalogue at the show, and it has one of my favorite songs, "Standing In The Rain." This was also the band at their most acrimonious, a bitterness that still lingers more than two decades later—just last year, drummer-vocalist Grant Hart bad-mouthed guitarist-vocalist Bob Mould in the press. (Bassist Greg Norton was probably at his restaurant, happily oblivious.) I was 11 when the band split, so the closest I've come to a show was the live album The Living End, where Hart's overblown backups ruin "Standing In The Rain." Hüsker Dü's transformation from balls-out, incoherent hardcore (Land Speed Record) to refined, punk-derived guitar rock (New Day Rising) created some of my favorite music in the world. I'd lose my shit seeing it live… maybe it's good that it'll (probably) never happen. But I cling to my hope—nay, belief—that my other favorite band of all time, Jawbreaker, will reunite for a one-off when the documentary about them comes out.
Man, this is a tough one. I could go on all day. I've been lucky enough to see a lot of my favorite bands in ideal situations (Low at various churches, Archers Of Loaf in tiny packed bars, Sigur Rós at the Civic Opera House, Elliott Smith various places) over the years. But you know which of my favorite bands I never saw? Neutral Milk Hotel. And it's not like I never had the chance: They played in Chicago (while I was living in Milwaukee) two or three times, once opening for Superchunk at Lounge Ax. But for one reason or another, I didn't go. Maybe I was playing Wipeout XL on the PlayStation. So I won't even make up a kick-ass show, I'll just kick myself in the ass and say I wish I'd seen Neutral Milk Hotel play at Lounge Ax in Chicago on February 22, 1998. That, or Led Zeppelin, same place, same date.
I'll back up Josh and say that seeing Neutral Milk Hotel play would be awesome. And I can say this from experience, because I saw them live way back when (in the same Charlottesville sushi restaurant where I later saw Archers Of Loaf, another band that, like Josh, I'd love to see return). But in thinking about this question, I started thinking about why I'd like certain bands to get back together and play, and I came up with a selfish reason for the three I'm going to name. I want The Feelies (who actually played a couple of gigs last year), Game Theory, and Miracle Legion all to reunite and tour, to generate interest in their respective back catalogs and get them reissued on CD. I saw all three bands back in the '80s: The Feelies with their low-boil, rhythmic rock; Miracle Legion with their sprightly folk-pop; and Game Theory with their bent psychedelia. All put on good shows, but they also put out great records, which deserve to be heard by a new generation.
Reunion shows can suck my left one—except, that is, in those rare instances where they actually and unexpectedly blow me away. If I were to pick one band that I'd risk sullying my high opinion of by seeing them reform, it would be Adam And The Ants. I'm talking the Dirk Wears White Sox lineup, which included all the dudes Malcolm McLaren hired away in 1980 to form Bow Wow Wow. I've got nothing against the Ants roster that immediately followed—which was led by the genius, depressingly underrated guitarist-songwriter Marco Pirroni—but that debut album had its finger on the post-punk and New Romantic pulses without ever becoming too pretentious or plastic. In fact, it's exactly plastic and pretentious enough. Imagine Pere Ubu meets early XTC, only sillier, sexier, and a whole fuck of a lot more fun. With the 30th anniversary of White Sox coming up this year, it might just be time for Adam Ant to break out the face paint and make one of my lifelong dreams come true.
Since I was out of town during the 2007 Chicago leg of The Police's reunion tour, I'm guessing they'd top my list—especially since Sting announced after the tour that there would be no new album, no new songs, and no more reunions ever. (I can't help but hear that in the voice of Michael McKean, announcing as Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins on The Simpsons, "Goodnight, Springton! There will be no encores!") At the same time, it's pretty hard for me to see Sting these days as the gaunt-and-haunted young troubadour of his Police days, rather than the AOR-ready, soul-patched Sting of the '90s, or, well, whatever he's morphed into lately. (Last I paid attention to him, he was standing behind Alison Krauss at the Oscars, backing her up on hurdy-gurdy as she sang "You Will Be My Ain True Love.") I find it hard to trust late-career reunions, especially huge, pricey event reunions immediately followed by "And now, we break up again forever. Bye." Like a lot of the people answering here, I imagine that what I really want isn't a reluctant, aged-and-puffy, obligatory cash-in reunion so much as the magically granted chance to see them back in their heyday. Similarly, I'd dearly love to see Simon & Garfunkel in concert, except that I know their reunions have been uncomfortable, unpleasant, and insanely overcrowded. I love them dearly, but do I love them enough to stand in a park with 30,000 other people while they force themselves to spend an evening pretend that the last 30 years never happened? Not really. All the bitterness makes even the sweetness of Art's harmonies sound sour. (Still, if the Eurythmics ever play together again anywhere near me, I'm there.)
I'm a man of simple needs: All I ask is the chance to turn back the clock to 2001, track myself down, and slap myself in the face, not so hard that it hurts, but hard enough so I know I mean business. Then I'd push my hand off that sports almanac and force myself to go see those garage-rockin' The Strokes in concert. Given the fact that, at the time, Is This It—specifically the driven, unbelievably catchy "Barely Legal"—renewed my interest in seeking out new music, I'm surprised I never got around to checking out a show. (And this coming from a guy who somehow carved out the time to see Phantom Planet in concert. Eesh.) I didn't lack the opportunity, since the band pretty much toured nonstop between 2001 and 2006, the start of their unofficial hiatus. I just never did. Just last week, though, I managed to check out a Nickel Eye show (the side project of Strokes bassist Nikolai Fraiture), and downloaded Little Joy (the debut from drummer Fabrizio Moretti); both were, you know, okay for what they are. But my efforts only made me want to listen to that first album some more.
I've heard bands compared to marriages, but what about when the band and the marriage break up? Like many, I'd love to see an ABBA reunion, because—well, if you have to ask, then I probably can't explain it to you. But I'd throw ABBA into the Riddarfjärden to watch Richard and Linda Thompson perform together again. The couple broke up before the release of their best album, 1982's Shoot Out The Lights, then toured behind in it in what has to have been one of the least-comfortable road trips since Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac hit the road. Apparently they're friendly enough for Richard to guest on her 2002 album, Fashionably Late, but as far as I know, no one's ever talked about putting them together onstage. It's a shame. Linda still has a lovely voice, Richard still delivers amazing live shows, and the recordings I've heard of their concert work in the '70s suggests that they found a chemistry onstage even beyond what they managed in the recording studios. I once spent an evening in a pub on the west coast of Ireland lined with old posters from an annual Celtic music festival held in the region in the '70s, and the Thompsons figured in every one of them. I've seldom wished so strongly that whisky worked as a time machine.
Technically, Cat Stevens is still around in the form of Yusuf Islam, but as an early-Stevens devotee and drunken impersonator, I can only be disappointed by Yusuf. I'd kind of like to stuff him back into his boycott, since musician Yusuf Islam detracts from the intrigue of a suddenly aborted Cat Stevens career, which for me worked to excuse some of Stevens' later work. So I'd like to see Yusuf reunite with his former identity, the Cat Stevens of, say, 1971, after his tuberculosis-induced spiritual awakening spawned the rollicking, spasmatic voice of Tea For The Tillerman, but before another, more gradual spiritual awakening threw him into the 25-year hiatus that left his voice hollow and his music sedated. At this fantasy show, he'd include "I Love My Dog" and "Here Comes My Baby," but would concentrate mainly on Tillerman. Oh, and he'd also smile at me in a way that says, "Carly Simon, she's nothing to me."
Like many of my colleagues, I'm torn between my selfish desires to say, "Dance, monkeys, dance!" and my cynical, realist, firsthand knowledge that most reunion tours—especially when they come from bands who broke up not because they reached an appropriate stopping point, but because they decided they could no longer stand each other—tend to fucking suck. (What was the worst, you ask? Well, I'll certainly never forget the sight of Martin Rev and Alan Vega avoiding any eye contact while they plowed through rote renditions of Suicide songs like some kind of bullshit Vegas post-punk revue.) Nevertheless, I'd pay any amount and fly anywhere in the world to see Talking Heads bury the hatchet and reform, something that—judging by what David Byrne told me in our recent interview—is about as likely as a sequel to True Stories. "You and your stupid integrity!" I told him in my head after hanging up the phone. "Why won't you renege on all of your deeply held convictions about 'always moving forward in art,' and end your long-standing feud with Tina Weymouth et al. and just make some motherfucking money?" I suppose I could be like my AVC friends here and just make one of these "time machine" wishes, and go back to the Stop Making Sense era or something. But that would open a whole can of what-if worms, and I'd also want to use it to go back and see The Fall and Joy Division play the Hacienda, the Sex Pistols at the Longhorn Ballroom, Pulp's 1998 gig at Finsbury Park, or The Smiths play anywhere. And I'd definitely use it to go back to when I was 15 and my insanely overprotective mother wouldn't let me see Nirvana's 1993 concert in Dallas. I probably still wouldn't talk to her the entire summer after Kurt Cobain killed himself, though. I've been profiting off the lingering guilt from that for almost 15 years.
I hate to be one of those people who seek to put an artist in a box, but it's taken me many years to come to terms with the fact that Archers Of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann had abdicated his pop-punk throne in favor of the quiet, eclectic stylings of his current outfit, Crooked Fingers. I realize now that the move was both a necessary transition and one I should have anticipated, based on the evolution of Bachmann's songwriting on later Archers albums like All The Nations Airports and White Trash Heroes. Nevertheless, there will always be a part of me that wants to be transported back to the 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia, circa 1996, as Bachmann and friends tore through blistering pop-punk classics like "Harnessed In Slums," "Web In Front," and the whole of my all-time favorite indie rock EP, Vs. The Greatest Of All Time. And if they'd like to bring Polvo along to open, all the better.
The only answer to this question, in my mind at least, is Talking Heads. But since that will never happen, let's be totally indulgent and magically leap among different eras in the band's history. My ideal Talking Heads show would begin with David Byrne playing acoustic guitar, à la Stop Making Sense, with the other band members joining him one by one over the next three songs. Then they would play as a fourpiece for a while, just like on the first disc of The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads. Then they would change into their 1981 incarnation with Adrian Belew, captured on the second disc of The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads. Finally, the concert would conclude with an encore of "Take Me To The River" and "Cross-Eyed And Painless" from Stop Making Sense. Hey, time travel is fun! If I can bend the rules of this question—not to mention the whole time-space continuum—a little bit more, I'd also like to check out these bands: Bob Dylan and The Hawks in 1966, Otis Redding with Booker T. And The MGs in 1967, the "'68 Comeback Special" era Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones in 1969, The Who in 1970, The Grateful Dead in 1971, Led Zeppelin in 1972, David Bowie And The Spiders From Mars in 1973, Pink Floyd in 1979, and, well, I could carry on with this classic-rock orgy all night.
I'll go ahead and stray from the "still alive" stipulation of the question since others have too and say Miles Davis' "Second Great Quintet," the mid/late-'60s one with Wayne Shorter on sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. (Mmmmm… Tony Williams on drums.) The Columbia box-set of that band from 1965 to 1968 is one of my favorite and most-listened-to belongings of any kind, and I still get dumbstruck or totally awed by certain ideas that fly out from everybody in the band. Then there's the Complete Live At The Plugged Nickel 1965 box, which is eight discs of live sets from a club in Chicago. It's the kind of stuff I look forward to listening to for the rest of my life—the kind of stuff I can't wait to hear the way I'll hear it when I'm 60, 70, 80.
This is a tricky one for me, since so many of my favorite acts either have members jamming with the devil, are still together, or will reunite at the first flash of a fast buck. So I will take the safe, easy route and choose The Smiths, a band that looms large in my own personal history and that of every other black-clad, moody, socially challenged high-school misfit. And aren't we all at least symbolically black-clad, moody, socially challenged high-school misfits? A shared fondness for The Smiths was one of the first things Keith and I bonded over during our video-store days. Well, that and our predilection for making it rain at various Madison strip clubs. Every time me and Phippszilla swaggered into a titty bar, the patrons would think, "Oh snap, those guys are totally going to make it rain. And then request some Smiths songs." Morrissey teases audiences by playing a Smiths song or two or three in his solo shows, but an entire set of Smiths classics performed by Morrissey, Marr, Rourke, and the other guy (nah, I'm just busting your chops, Mike Joyce, somebody still loves ya) would blow my mind and induce great seizures of melancholy, happy-sad rapture. Of course that'll never happen, so I'll settle for an Electronic reunion. (No, wait. Actually, I wouldn't.)