Too Old to Rock Like Old-Times
I’ve long been an ageist when it comes to rock ‘n roll, telling friends to stay away from an oldster band’s tour–they’re just cashing in on withered versions of songs written when the band had creative energy, long ago. They’ll play a lame attempt at a new album, and will then ruin their classic tunes by covering them badly as curtain calls. Everyone goes home depressed and short $45. Good times.
My philosophy held that any rocker older than I am (mid-30s) shouldn’t be on stage. Don’t believe me? Take Steel Wheels, the comeback album from the world’s most “ageless” band, the Stones. This atrocity came out 1989, when Mick was 46. Listen to the album’s big single–“Mixed Emotions”–and tell me it doesn’t sound like a funeral dirge.
So when my buddies head to D.C.’s excellent 930 Club in recent years, I typically take a pass. My time to catch bands that push the envelope with a memorable show ended in the ‘90s. When I succumbed to peer pressure it was always a mistake, like in 2003, when I saw a DJ I loved from the golden days of electronica. (Here are two of is his classics.) The evil genius from Tokyo had white hair and spun like he was playing bingo night. Standing gloomily at the shitty Manhattan club (red velvet ropes), I watched some jackass with a popped collar salsa dancing with his girlfriend to what was supposed to be dark house music. Seriously.
Let the kids have their fun. It’s their time.
Okay, fuck that. I’ve changed my tune. Over the last year or so I’ve seen five shows where nobody on stage was under 40. Hell, the 50-somethings rocked the hardest.
It started with Dayton, Ohio, as is always the case for me. I couldn’t pass up a chance to see my hometown Breeders at the Black Cat. Even if the music sucked, I had to go see Kim Deal, whose trash I used to collect and occasionally root through back in 1993. (See related essay.)
The thing was, they kicked ass. Their songs were tight and hypnotic. While the crowd was mostly my age, I saw plenty of hipster kids. Grunge lives. Where is that sort of raw, powerful music these days? Somebody new must be playing it, but where?
Then came Allison Goldfrapp. The 44-year-old former yodeler put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. The 930 Club was bouncing from start to finish. Her backup band was ridiculous, in a good way. (Here she is at another live show.) My favorite was the guy in a shiny satin shirt who played keytar. It was campy, to be sure, but not a send-up. Eighties glam rock was seriously cool that night.
Goldfrapp also hit every note. In contrast, her opening act, a 20something band that’s gotten rave reviews, was utterly awful. The Cults, out of Brooklyn, of course, were worse than my high school band. They literally had nothing–bad barre chords played out of tune over nasal shrieks–except decent hair.
So I’ve kept going back to the balding set’s shows. Underworld, Guided by Voices and a bizarre performance by Peter Hook, Joy Division’s bassist, playing the entire Unknown Pleasures album. He sang his buddy Ian Curtis’s lead vocals, more than 30 years after the frontman committed suicide. Hook’s son played bass while he sung. Strange, macabre and maybe a lame attempt to make a few pounds. But they were good.
At times I’ve gotten nostalgic at the shows. Music so taps into memory. But mostly I’ve just been lost in the moment, like when my buddies and I jumped around like fools to “Born Slippy .NUXX”–14 years after the Trainspotting soundtrack was released.
I didn’t feel like I was 22 again when that incredible keyboard synth line kicked in. But I didn’t feel like a 30something on a work night, either. Great music is an ageless abandon. We were just there, and nothing else mattered.