Jimmy Eat World, Nas and others highlight the latest trend in album-themed concerts
By David Jenison
Radio singles drive popular music, but certain artists craft albums in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Even if the record industry feels like a tragic season of Survivor, live music is still big business, and playing classic albums from start to finish is the latest trend that sells tickets. Groups as diverse as Sonic Youth, Judas Priest, Foo Fighters, Weezer, Deftones and Echo & the Bunnymen have gotten in on the act, and Jimmy Eat World recently joined their ranks. Following similar sets in London, the Arizona rockers will perform Bleed American on Sept. 29 in Los Angeles to commemorate the album’s 10-year anniversary. Guerilla Union, the company behind Rock the Bells, has even made full-album sets the theme behind this year’s festivals.
Guerilla Union chief Chang Weisberg explains, “Last year, we wanted to create a live experience where fans could relive the memories and emotions that they felt when they listened to those albums for the first time—to take them back to those special moments. The response was so overwhelming that we felt we needed to do it again this year. Performing iconic hip-hop albums in their entirety is something special we want to continue offering to fans in some capacity at future Rock the Bells.”
Nas, Lauryn Hill, Common and Erykah Badu are among the participating acts at the four fests, which kick off Aug. 20 in Los Angeles. Guerilla Union and House of Blues are also producing a series of national tours with the same theme, starting next month with Raekwon and Ghostface Killah’s Only Built for Cuban Linx…, Mobb Deep’s The Infamous and a reunited Black Star rockin‘ Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star.
Guerilla Union might claim the biggest festival, but the biggest album-themed tour belongs to Pink Floyd vet Roger Waters. SoCal fans will recall his Dark Side of the Moon set at Coachella 2008, which was part of a yearlong tour performing the Pink Floyd classic. Well, this tour was so successful that Waters is currently touring The Wall, which launched last September in Toronto and finished 2010 as the year’s second highest grossing North American tour.
Fittingly, Pink Floyd famously won a lawsuit last year that prevented EMI from selling the band’s individual tracks through digital retailers, which epitomizes just how much effort some bands put into making an album a singular piece of art.
“Putting together an album track listing is much like putting together a set list for a concert,” notes John Davis, a band manager and former A&R VP at Loud Records. “There is much thought that goes into how one song flows from one to another and builds emotion and anticipation for the listener. An album should take a listener on a musical journey.”
With this trend set to explode, many music fans hope it will inspire more artists to shift their focus from radio singles to making complete albums. Call it a gimmick, but it’s hard to knock any trend that restores some balance to today’s digital download culture.
If Walls Could Peak
At the tour press conference, former Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters remarked about his The Wall tour, “Thirty years ago when I was kind of an angry and not very young lad, I found myself driven into defensive positions because I was scared of stuff, and I’ve come to realize that in that personal story, maybe somewhere hidden in there exists an allegory for more general and universal themes, political and social themes. It’s really for that reason that I decided that I’d try and create a new performance of this piece using a lot of the same things that we did all those years ago.”