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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, December 03, 2022
Brian Weidy

Parsing the role of nostalgia in famous rock ’n’ roll bands

Late last week, word came out that Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, along with John Bonham’s son Jason, signed a contract that would’ve given them 500 million pounds (about $800 million) for the three of them (plus Robert Plant) to play 35 shows in three cities as Led Zeppelin.

When it was Plant’s turn to sign, he asked to think about it, which is odd, when you are being offered hundreds of millions of dollars to do something you already do. Some 48 hours later, Plant returned to the table and summarily ripped up the contract.

Some of you may be thinking, “Good, we don’t need another nostalgia band who is just in it for the money touring.” Some of you may be thinking, “If I was offered $250 million to do anything, I wouldn’t need 48 hours to think it over, I’d do it right away.”

Leaving aside the fact that Plant, as well as Page and Jones, are all wealthy men in their own right, while Jason Bonham would’ve loved the “unspecified wage” he would’ve been paid, it seems unconscionable to leave that much money on the table, particularly when someone as convincing as Richard Branson is offering it to you.

But this presents a good opportunity to look at bands that have either replaced parts of themselves or continue to tour well beyond their expiration date. To put it succinctly, let’s look at the nostalgia band and what makes a band a nostalgia band.

A good example of a band that has continued to tour despite one of its leading members being partially deaf while another two have died is The Who. Still touring 50 years after their conception, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend carry the flame of The Who’s torch burning brightly, despite Daltrey’s voice being a shell of its former self.

John Entwistle was an integral part of the band, but they have marched on without him since 2002 (after he died in a hotel room in Las Vegas of a heart attack) without so much as a hiccup, on the blessing of Entwistle’s son.

The band also dealt with the death of drummer Keith Moon, who died in 1978. Again, without much of a lapse, the band continued on without him, rotating through a series of drummers.

While numerous bands throughout history have been able to deal with a death in the band—Zeppelin notwithstanding since, after the elder Bonham’s death, the band called it quits—the question of whether a band should keep going 30, 40 or 50 years after they started changes on a band-to-band basis.

Phish, one of this writer’s favorite bands, has been around for 31 years at this point. While they have retained much of the original lineup and have kept the same lineup since they broke out of New England, they are not yet a nostalgia band.

While some diehard fans will say they are a nostalgia act at this point, the fact they are still creating new music and expanding into new musical territory (unlike say a Billy Joel, who hasn’t recorded a new rock record since 1993 and nothing since 2001) makes them less of a nostalgia band.

Some bands, whether or not they are creating new material, like AC/DC, who have a new album coming out at the end of the year and have released new material, are still ostensibly a nostalgia act at this point, resting on the laurels of their previous work like Back in Black or Let There Be Rock to fill stadiums and arenas across the world.

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Another sign of a band making the transition into becoming a nostalgia act is playing entire albums in concert and touring behind that concept. Whereas Pearl Jam played all of their 1996 album No Code in Moline, Illinois and their 1998 album Yield in Milwaukee during their latest tour, they weren’t advertising that, using the performances of these entire albums as ways of thanking fans for traveling to rural Illinois or coming out to their show on a Monday night.

When the Pixies bill their show as a complete performance of Doolittle (an album that would comprise much of their set to begin with) they border into nostalgia territory. While this may just be preference—leaving aside the fact that I do really love Doolittle—bands not playing the casino circuit are a little harder to define as nostalgia acts.

To wrap this all up, while I admire Plant’s nobility—scoffing in the face of a 9-digit dollar amount written on a check, save three performances since 1980—the remaining pieces of Led Zeppelin will never play again and that makes me and millions of others very disappointed.

Though it would be chasing nostalgia, there’s a reason why tens of thousands of people fill basketball arenas and soccer stadiums across the world to see the band they grew up listening to just one more time.

Is there a nostalgia band Brian missed? Any bands you feel nostalgic for? Send your recommendations along to weidy@wisc.edu.

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