The Case Against Album Anniversaries
Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms won’t be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the band’s album today so why should you?
I’m in a band that most of you have never heard of called The Lawrence Arms. For those few of you who know who we are, I’d guess a lot of you either think we suck, or we’re boring or overly derivative or are specifically designed to appeal to dorky young people. That’s fine. I don’t know you, you don’t know me, we’re both fine with that situation, and therefore your opinion of my crappy band doesn’t really interest me. I only bring this up because I’m about to hit you with a bit of info that will sound self-important, and I want to save you the trouble of pointing out what a shithead I am later, you mavens-of-what’s-awesome-and-what-blows. I already know all about it. OK, on with the show, as it were...
My band’s “fan favorite” album turns ten years old today.
And who cares, right? Well, it seems like music-industry-people-at-large care a lot about this stuff. Ten-year anniversaries of albums have become pretty important in the indie and punk scenes with bands (and I’m not naming any names here) pulling out deluxe editions, special reissues, remastered versions of old hits and even tours where they play their beloved Aluminum-anniversary album front-to-back in every major market. It’s a treat for everyone involved. You, the fan, get to see that album you love in its completion and the band gets to go on stage knowing they’ve got a homerun on their hands. What’s the problem?
Well, it’s lazy, it’s immensely self-aggrandizing and overall, it fucking blows. That’s the problem. First, reissues: unless your album is out of print and cruelly shelved (and honestly, if your album is that impossible to get ahold of, it probably ain’t beloved enough to deserve the diamond-decade treatment, is it?), you don’t need to reissue shit. This Internet you’re on right now? It provides everyone with your “classic” all goddamn day long for free. No one needs a new copy. No one even needs a copy at all. The record is out there, and your bonus songs, your re-masters, and your new liner notes aren’t winning me over either. The old masters were, and remain, good enough for all your fans except the worst types of dorks. That’s why people like the record in the first place. The songs you left off—the young you, the one who was putting out your “best material”—he/she left those songs off for a reason, right? And as for your new liner notes? Puh-lease. No one cares about your decade-old, half-remembered version of what you were doing when this record was being recorded. Look, I can tell you: You were sitting in some butt-smelling studio, bored off your dick, listening to your drummer hit the bass drum a thousand times while some nerd fiddled with some knobs. At some point you got hungry and ate a sandwich. Then you probably got drunk. To borrow the parlance of our time, cool story, bro.
The reason your album worked the first time, the reason it became beloved, is because people liked it just like it was. You don’t need to give a bunch of people on a roller coaster ice cream sundaes too. The roller coaster is fine. You’re just making a sloppy mess when you fuck with what’s already stoking people out.
But the real bullshit aspect of this 10-year celebration is the tour. You’re playing the album? Really? That’s your show, huh? Just…the album? Neato. Look, I have myriad issues with this but if I may, lemme try to quickly elucidate some of the biggest ones 1) Your dumb record isn’t that important and 2) if it is, you’re not much of a band, because 3) if your fans will be satisfied only seeing tracks from one of your releases, it means you don’t have a great catalog which means 4) you’re not very creative, which is good because 5) the whole thing that’s supposed to be cool about a show is the element of surprise and weaving together an interesting, unique narrative that showcases the breadth of your catalog, combined with however you feel that day, and in reference to the crowd you’re playing for, and that’s not a job for uncreative souls.
You know how much you hate it when you see a band play the exact same set two days in a row? Yeah, that sucks. It reeks of laziness, canned sentiment and autopilot. Playing your record is even worse, because chances are, YOU DIDN’T EVEN PICK THE FUCKING SEQUENCE OF YOUR RECORD! So you’re up there jukeboxing your “classic” album, completely eliminating the element of surprise or excitement, except you’re old now. And you’re successful (I know this because you’re the kind of out-of-touch turd that would parade out an old album tour and think it was a great, benevolent, awesome thing to do) so the chances are very great that 6) ALL YOU’RE DOING IS OFFERING AN INFERIOR, LIVE VERSION OF A PACKAGED SET OF SONGS THAT HAD THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING RECORDED BY A MORE ENERGIZED YOU, IN A STUDIO, STRIPPED OF FLAWS, AND MIXED TO PERFECTION A FUCKING DECADE AGO! There’s ZERO chance that you feel the passion about these tunes that you did on the day you entered the studio to give birth to them for real, so don’t fucking sell me the “full album show” like it’s anything less than the laziest excuse for a press hook and a great way to free up that 20 minutes before you go on stage that you usually spend writing a set list.
Now, of course, all this is irrelevant if you’re a totally shitty band who fell ass-backwards into making one great album, or if you only have one album. In these cases, uh…cool? I guess do what you want, but man…I saw Survivor at a county fair once, and they opened with “Eye of the Tiger.” They also closed with it. It wasn’t cool. Sure, it was easy, it was what people wanted to hear, and it probably got ‘em paid. But cool? Nah, brah. In fact, to coin a term, it was Uncool.
Sure, Survivor. Go ahead and play "Eye of the Tiger" for the millionth time.
But maybe I’m being harsh because that’s never what I wanted to see in a live show. As a fan, I’m interested in surprise, danger, deep cuts, weird choices, off the cuff antics and most importantly, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It doesn’t have to be technically great so much as it just has to be interesting. If I wanted my favorite tunes played perfectly, I’d make a fucking playlist and stay home. If I wanted to listen to your mega-kickass album front to back, I’d burn it off the Internet (JKLOLROFL I don’t know how to do that. Now who’s old and out-of-touch?). I’d probably find a jukebox or something and sit there with your drunk fans and have a perfectly fine time. No need to show up, band. We’ve got the experience of paying for beer in plastic cups and not being home while this album plays all covered.
Full disclosure: Once, a few years ago at a festival, we played a few songs, and then, unannounced and for no reason at all, we played our now-about-to-be-ten album in its entirety, and then played more songs. It wasn’t an anniversary or anything and no one knew we were gonna do it. Know why we did this? Because it seemed like an interesting thing to pull out of our asses out of nowhere, and a great chance to exemplify that at any given moment, even a shitty band like ours can play a fucking record front to back if we want to without all the self-congratulatory PR bullshit that seems to accompany this kind of thing. And, we (royal we, guys) can do it in such a way that it’s a surprise and therefore still a unique live experience. It doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t be a fucking jerk-circus. In the words of my dad, “What, we’re giving out awards for doing our jobs now?”
To conclude, let’s put it this way, if I want to watch the episode of Friends where Ross and Rachel finally get together (I don’t want to do that, by the way), I can just Hulu that shit. I wouldn’t go down to the local theater and catch the original cast stage play. That shit’s a really, really pathetic and lame waste of time, especially for Ross and Joey and Rachel and whoever else are in that show. What are you—the original cast stage play of a very important episode of Friends? Good grief. No wonder rock and roll is dying.
And finally, yes, folks, there are exceptions to every rule. If people I love do this, I back it. Fuck you. I like my friends and I’m down with their choices. And if Propagandhi or Nomeansno or some other band I love wants to do the full album anniversary tour, who am I to say what they should or shouldn’t do? They’re the best. They know better than me. But see, that’s the beauty of art and opinions: you get to make and break your own rules. That’s what the insurgent flag that flies above our little aggressive musical subculture is supposed to represent, innit? Besides, you can’t spell hypocrisy without R-O-C-K.
Brendan Kelly is the bassist/singer of The Lawrence Arms, who have an album of brand new material out soon. They will not be commemorating it 10 years from now. Read more of Brendan’s ramblings at his Bad Sandwich Chronicles or on Twitter - @badsandwich