On Demand or On Remand?

25 November 2008 // Music

by Richard King;

These last few months I’ve been talking to people who were at the happening end of music in the 80s & 90s. During the course of the conversations the subject of My Bloody Valentine’s summer reunion shows often came up. Unsurprisingly, given that equipment and fees have improved greatly since ’92, the consensus was that they played harder, clearer, tighter, possibly even louder than ever before. What we now call back in the day, I saw them twice: two days after the Aphex headlined Megadog at Bristol Anson Rooms on the Loveless tour, (now that’s what I call indie-dance) and, once before, at the Bierkeller. The Bierkeller show was awful. It started with Kevin Shields announcing that his favourite pedal had broken. They then proceeded to play a version of Cigarette in Your Bed pitched somewhere, perhaps even deliberately and in anger, between Slowdive and Lush. It was all downhill from there.

I was itching to see MBV at the Roundhouse, but in the end, just like the Daydream Nation concerts the year before, didn’t bother. Something about these reunions and ‘albums-just-the-way-you-like-‘em’ shows doesn’t feel right. At this point I need to ‘fess up and admit I’m bang to rights here. I’ve been lucky enough to talk both Liquid Liquid and Young Marble Giants into playing what you might call comeback shows in the last couple of years. And I wouldn’t have missed either for the world, not least because seeing both bands led to the realisation of how unique, strange and unlike the music they’ve so clearly influenced they both were.

Just about everyone gets ripped off first time around so you’d need a heavy heart to deny a band the right to get paid properly and receive their due. The problem with this reunion culture is that’s it part of the more pernicious sense of instant gratification that defines the relationship between artist and audience across all media: I want it and I want it now. And even if it doesn’t exist anymore, while you’re still lucky enough to have my attention, go and dig it up for me because I want it now.

But which is better? The real thing or a facsimile of the real thing? And who the hell’s in charge here? Reading the live reviews in the broadsheets, you’d come to the conclusion that the real thing is now defined by mutual consent, at the end of the show, that the babysitter’s wages was money well spent. Everyone going home happy.

As a kid I saw Iggy in ’88 at the Brixton Academy. His career was still in the twilight zone: post the Real Wild One crossover push and pre the grunge and Trainspotting rehab. It had every chance of being awful. His band were pure Sunset Strip sleaze. They stumbled out onto the bare blue light and no-frills of the Academy stage still itching their crabs. I think Steve Jones may have been up there with a Gibson, eyes down, under a cowboy hat. They played everything from The Stooges and Funhouse that didn’t require sax, viola or piano and they turned Fall In Love With Me into bad Bo Diddley on even badder drugs. It was insane. Iggy got naked and drew blood. Every single member of the audience was wearing a leather jacket, and at least half of them were French. Iggy got naked and drew even more blood. The desperation of it all, the stink of Red Stripe, sweat and Silk Cut, the sound of bad, bad men coming good, was pure electricity.

Tell me how you’re going to get that feeling when you turn up to a concert knowing:

Exactly what songs you’re going to hear
In what order you’re going to hear them
Where you’re going for your holidays next year.

Naked Iggy on his uppers, crowd-surfing on a load of un-ironic Motorhead
T-shirts, will always be more of a night out than the reformed Stooges at Coachella.

I suppose it’s all a matter of degree. John Martyn could be headlining The Green Man next year if he’d give up on the midi keyboards and fretless bass. Instead he runs through the Gaumonts and Civic Halls every year. But maybe the Gaumonts are where it all really happens. I can see an end point to all of this, where someone thinks it might be a good idea to ask Hawkwind to reform and play Space Ritual live. You’d hope the answer would be something along the lines of ‘What the fuck do you think we’ve been doing every night for the last 30 sodding years?’

We form a bond with music early on. It helps us make sense of the mess of living. From Liquidator at The Shed to The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock to Pacific State at the Hacienda it’s always been the sound of some very messy situations. Reducing it to playlist status and bundling it up, topped and tailed as some lifestyle bolt-on, is to cheapen it beyond measure. Reunion shows, guaranteed set lists – how can you authorise nostalgia when it’s such a weird, heavy and uncomfortable emotion? It’s impossible to deny the missed chances, forced changes and disasters that will always land on your plate. Sometimes you have to let go, break it up and soldier on. If Diana Ross quit The Supremes today that would be that. You can keep the wigs, but on your way. Then we’d never have got to hear Stoned Love

I rest my case.

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