As is wont to happen whenever he steps out the door, Axl Rose’s current tour with Guns N’ Roses hasn’t been the smoothest journey.
There have been multiple complaints of Rose’s vocal weakness, an over-reliance on tracks from the sub-par Chinese Democracy, pacing issues (any show that pauses so that a dude named Bumblefoot can noodle on the theme from The Pink Panther is bound to seem sluggish), and side effects that may or may not include blindness. And on Wednesday night in Mexico City, Rose fell down and went boom in the middle of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
The good news is that Axl didn’t channel his 1992 self and storm off the stage in a huff and shut down the entire concert. But the bad news is that this happened at all. Not because it’s a bummer whenever an artist takes a tumble (even Beyoncé loses her footing sometimes), but because Axl is still doing this, and that people show up.
People always talk about how sad these shows look, either because the star in question is not as glorious as they once were, or are just going through the motions for the sake of a payday. But in reality, we only have ourselves to blame. Those of us (and I include myself in this group for reasons we’ll get to in a minute) who buy tickets to these shows and then feel disappointed when things go awry? We only have ourselves and our hideous attachment to nostalgia to blame.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to go check out the Lemonheads. Actually, it was Evan Dando and a pair of dudes (not unlike the Guns N’ Roses situation). We had been looking forward to the show for weeks, as the ticket promised that the band would play through their classic 1992 album It’s a Shame About Ray in its entirety. That album is one of the finest collections of druggy, jangly mope-rock tunes ever committed to tape, and it holds a particularly strong meaning for my wife and I. (“Rudderless” is especially great.)
Though we were both feeling a little under the weather, we made our way out to the venue for the show. After waiting more than an hour after the band was supposed to hit the stage, Dando finally came out and announced that he was too sick to perform, because his voice was shot. He had actually canceled a show in Atlanta a few nights before, so he had clearly been worn down.
The crowd resisted his insistence that he couldn’t perform, so to prove it he played a song by himself. It was weak, but people cheered, so he did a few more solo tunes. Then he attempted to leave, but a number of people on stage (including Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes) encouraged him to stay and keep playing.
That cycle kept happening. Dando would play a few songs — the rest of the band eventually joined him — then would attempt to leave before being drawn back. All of the performances seemed perfunctory and rushed. Most people didn’t stick around, and the ones who did were pretty angry.
But really, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Even if he was healthy, Dando wouldn’t be the same guy he was in 1992, just as the Axl of 2011 has almost nothing to do with the one from 1987. Why would we, as the ticket-buying public, expect any of these guys to be able to recapture lightning in a bottle? Logically speaking, if they were still as good as they were at their peak, wouldn’t they still be that good? And yet neither Dando nor Rose have made any significant contribution to music in the 21st century.
I’m hardly anti-nostalgia. Heck, I’ve spent the better part of the fall thinking about and revisiting albums that came out 20 years ago. But the whole point of nostalgia is that it lets you hang onto a fleeting feeling that exists in your memory.
Don’t let simulations of the things you love ruin them, even if they are simulated by the original creators. Let the things you love in the past exist in the past, and spend your concert ticket money on up-and-coming acts who will help you create new thrills and memories. Unless it’s Prince. Then go nuts.
Have you had an unfortunate experience with a nostalgia act? Or have any of them delivered for you in surprising ways? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
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