2012 seems to have been the year of the legacy act. Or, for those who prefer plain English, old bands getting out on the road to add to their pension pots. The Stones and the Beach Boys celebrated 50 years, and God alone knows who else made it out of their gardens and back on to the stage – judging by my Facebook feed, plenty of them, including the Who (at least the two of them still around), the Rascals and more.
This is fine, in its own way, and good luck to them. But I didn’t stick my hand deep in my pocket to stump up for tickets to see them. Even if I could have afforded it, I wouldn’t have wanted to do that. Some highlights of the Beach Boys tour were on BBC 4 as part of a documentary and in so many ways it was a sad, rather than joyous, affair, not least because several of the original members were given the push once it was over. Not even because they’d released an album with the execrable That’s Why God Made The Radio on it, a eulogy to a past that’s so far gone it’s as nostalgic as they are. There was no huge pleasure in seeing them back by a veritable rock’n’roll orchestra to try and do note-for-note re-creations of their big hits (I felt much the same seeing Steely Dan play everything note perfectly in 1974, but for different reasons – good musicians can also improvise). I can hear them on record the way Brian really intended them to be.
They’re out there because an aging audience has a disposable income and we don’t want to admit we’re growing older. If these people are still making music, if they’re not too old, then we aren’t, either, and the merchandise stands can do land office business as we prove how hip we still are. It gives us the illusion, if only for a couple of hours at very inflated prices, of still being young. Still being vital. Still having that streak of rebellion.
And it’s all bullshit.
None of these acts have released a track of any significance in decades. It’s highly unlikely they ever will again. Yes, they have a body of work, but trotting it out every few years to play in major city stadia – is that why you really started in rock’n’roll, guys? Is that what you saw yourself doing? A run through the motions, a wiggle of the arse, a quick encore and back to the hotel? It’s just…pointless.
Also aired this year were some highlights from the Led Zeppelin reunion, a one-off that packed the O2 arena. I didn’t expect much. After all, old songs, old musicians. Maybe the difference is that Page and Jones have both stayed active, pushing themselves in different directions, and this coming together of the tribe was for the first time in 20 years, with a promise of it never being repeated, even for silly money. And they rocked. Bare stage, a projection behind, a kind of glorified light show, and they tore through the music like they meant it, sounding fresh and passionate. A glorious change. It wasn’t dinosaur music, a ‘70s jukebox with a quarter in the slot, it was living and breathing. And it won’t be back.
Maybe that’s the way it should be. One night only, caught on DVD while there’s some fire to it. Because, God only knows, otherwise it just ends up as one of Dante’s circles of hell.