There’s no denying the rock and roll reunion tour. The tired tradition cuts across the generational divide. Your parents remember when The Eagles re-formed. Your older brother looks at scattered reunions of Black Flag with some consternation. An army of confused souls await Limp Bizkits’ 2014 summer tour.
The reunion tour places under-worked, once-recognizable musicians back on stage with their former bandmates, often for the sole purpose of promoting an uninspired reunion record. For a current example, look no further than the Pixies’ newest release. The quirky college rock of their early albums–think Surfer Rosa and Doolittle–is caught in a time capsule somewhere in the 1980’s, spinning on a loop in a New England dorm room. When a band with history and influence fails to recreate the energy that made them special, it’s like seeing a legendary boxer come out of retirement to receive a brutal ass-beating, or like watching Michael Jordan play for the Washington Wizards. More often than not, when bands shun retirement and re-form, they’re usually doing it to stock their fridges, or put their kids through college. It’s a sad fact that rock and roll–or the ephemera of fleeting rock and roll fame–doesn’t usually pay the bills for too long.
With this in mind, it should be no surprise that a glut of bands from the 1990s–popular for their contributions to post-punk, sludge metal, alternative and indie rock–are touring this month and beyond, playing in New York. If you’re nostalgic for the 90’s in any sense, you’ll likely be riding the subway or traversing bridges, catching the likes of Failure (Irving Plaza, May 29th/ Music Hall of Williamsburg, June 3), Slint (Tonight, 5/6, Music Hall of Williamsburg), American Football (three nights at Webster Hall in October), Floor, A Minor Forest (tomorrow, May 7, at Glasslands) and Mineral (three shows at Bowery Ballroom in September) play shows in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. These bands have all re-formed without the promise of exorbitant checks and air-conditioned mega-buses. They’re all likely to receive some money, and as well they should, but for the most part these bands are opting to hit the road the old fashioned way. They’ll likely tough it out in vans and motels just like they used to. They’ll likely relive the dregs of touring life—van trouble, amp trouble, bandmate trouble, and sporadic sleep. They’ll probably all find that, in particularly blunt fashion, they’re not as young as they once were.
But middle-age can’t and won’t be a deterrent for all of these reunion tours. Longtime fans will likely turn out in droves. They’ll sing the lyrics and hum the melodies of songs they knew years ago, back in the 90s.
There is a minor caveat though, because these shows will likely be overpopulated by a huge group of twenty-somethings. These younger fans will likely outnumber the older fans. They’ll sing the lyrics and hum the melodies of songs that were written years ago, when they were just children.
Does this surge of younger fans mean that the ’90s sound is experiencing a revival, or is it just that it never lost prevalence?
Lots of newer bands, like Connecticut four-piece Ovlov or Northampton Massachusetts’ Speedy Ortiz have been playing the kind of fuzzy, hyper-amplified guitar rock we associate with labels like Touch and Go, Merge and Dischord. One could call these bands’ records nostalgic, romantic or even full blown invocations of an extinct scene, but their fans would probably scoff at such notions.
Dan Goldin is the owner of Exploding in Sound Records, a Brooklyn based label that’s released records from both Ovlov and Speedy Ortiz. Goldin sees the resurgence of guitar based rock as evolutionary, and not as a tired rehash of repetitive formulas.
“These bands are influenced by it, but they’re doing far more than simply recreating it,” says Goldin. “They’re re-imagining that sound, with new ideas that build from the pre-established framework but ultimately create something that’s new.”
He says new bands are “pushing boundaries of where their influences have taken them.”
It makes sense that in 2014, the dissonant and experimental feel of ’90’s post punk resonates with people in their mid-twenties. If you’re a music nerd who grew up watching Pete and Pete, a Failure track might hit harder than what you’re going to see at Coachella. It also makes sense, generally speaking, that the music of youth invokes youth’s important memories. But still, Goldin wouldn’t call it nostalgia.
“As a culture, I don’t think we’re looking for a way to get back to the ’90s, I think it’s a simple matter of influence and time,” he says. “Bands creating music now are influenced by the ’90s because that’s when they developed their musical taste.”
Sadie Dupuis, who plays guitar in Speedy Ortiz, isn’t trying to avoid the term nostalgia when it comes to her music. Her views on the subject do, however, overlap with Goldin’s.
“I think it’s less so that bands are starting to adopt this sound now and more that people are in the mood to embrace it,” she says. “Because musical taste sort of adheres to 20-year nostalgia waves.”
See also: We Explored The Hole With Speedy Ortiz
Dupuis is correct in citing “nostalgia waves” as a driving force behind the current scene. It might be that those waves are rippling in the minds of seminal ’90s bands too. After all, Slint’s new documentary has been showing coast to coast, and the Jesus Lizard has been on book tour promoting the new coffee table masterpiece about their group.
One could say the reasons behind this spat of reunion tours are manifold. We could talk for days about why ’90s bands are reuniting and how newer bands are following their example, but that wouldn’t bring us any closer to appreciating the music. What’s obvious is that there was something happening in the ’90s that hasn’t yet run its course. And luckily for us, we’ll get to relive that musical magic this month and for the rest of the year, when some of our favorite bands from two decades ago play shows in New York.
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