“Oh, Caroline, no,” sung Brian Wilson, finishing a full performance of his classic Beach Boys album, “Pet Sounds” during a 2006 tour and soaking up the cheers and gratitude of a nostalgic audience saying “yes.”
That same year, Jay-Z celebrated the 10-year anniversary of his debut, “Reasonable Doubt” with a full-album performance at Radio City Music Hall. The performance was a huge commercial success and helped fuel the trend of reviving older albums by performing them live in their entirety and original running order.
Full-album performances pose an interesting proposition for concertgoers who have been conditioned to shuffle around their music collections with the use of MP3 players. Listening to albums from first song to last is more a novelty than a habit with today’s music consumer. With so many iPods perpetually set on ‘shuffle,’ a full-album concert is a gamble and may not be met with as much success as Jay-Z’s performance.
“I think for dedicated fans, it’s a really positive thing,” Per Ellingson, programming director for The Edge, said. “In terms of profitability for the band, it might not be the wisest move.”
Those who listen to the radio extensively and base their band preferences on one or two single hits might find their ‘favorite’ bands aren’t as musically deep as they hoped. For example, if radio darling Nickelback played its 2001 disc “Silver Side Up” in concert, the audience may sit in a confused silence after “How You Remind Me” ended. It takes a special act with a diligent fan base to make the concept work.
For many bands, playing a classic album in its entirety presents a chance to re-emerge as a relevant act in the name of nostalgia, appealing to legions of fans salivating to hear the music that hooked them the first time.
Over the summer, Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival saw Public Enemy give a stirring performance of 1988’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.” In addition to Public Enemy, indie rock vets Mission of Burma and Sebadoh played full albums. The previous year at the same festival, Sonic Youth treated fans to its classic album, “Daydream Nation.”
Loras College student, music critic and Pitchfork enthusiast Matthew Smith was on hand for both performances.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience for me,” Smith said. “Sonic Youth is one of my favorite bands and to have them play my favorite album of theirs was a like a dream sequence.”
For fans such as Smith, the concept is a chance to re-live your favorite album live while the band gets to appease its loyal fan base one more time. While the formula requires a certain caliber of band and fan, it hasn’t slowed down.
This past summer, Liz Phair dusted off 1993’s “Exile in Guyville” and played it on tour in intimate settings with smaller crowds of adoring fans.
Not to be outdone, the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in New York had Built to Spill playing “Perfect From Now On,” Meat Puppets playing “Meat Puppets II,” and Tortoise playing “Millions Now Living Will Never Die,” in concert this past September.
In one of the most notable full-album concerts, highly regarded English singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock is currently on a small U.S. tour playing an intimate acoustic version of his 1984 effort “I Often Dream of Trains.” He played at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago on Nov. 15.
While playing full albums doesn’t happen every concert, it is a special attraction for die-hard fans of classic bands and more and more acts are starting to catch on.