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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.

6 responses to “Too Old to Rock Like Old-Times”

  1. Avatar WreckedUm says:

    Oh wow you are bringing back memories. I wore out my first Trainspotting CD and had to replace it.
    I've felt too old for live shows for years now. There are few shows I went to in the last ten years that I can look back on and say it was great. Maybe the Dropkick Murphy's, but it was at such a large place I couldn't see them, only hear. Some friends dragged me to Pearl Jam, I mainly went to see the Buzzcocks opening. The crowd was mainly in their mid to late 20's, trying to show they weren't too old to rock.
    The show that really made me realize I was "too old" for live music was some one hit band called "Orgy". They got fame doing a cover of a New Order song, so my goth-y girlfriend wanted to see them. We were old enough to sit in the balcony, which just destroyed the whole experience even if we were allowed to drink overpriced, watered down drinks up there.
    Well, the bands were coming up and sitting in the balcony between sets. Videodrone, the Toilet Boys, and Orgy. The lead singer of Orgy dressed all in white to stand out from the rest of the band, and he came and sat right in front of me. The seats were all benches, so he was leaning forward, and I could clearly see he was wearing tighty whiteys, basically the underwear boys wear when they are 10. It was all I could do to keep myself from grabbing the waistband and pulling up for all I was worth. I would have been thrown out, but man, I'd have such a great story-wedgy-ing the lead singer of Orgy.
    One of my favorites from the 90's was Soul Coughing. Their lead singer, Mike Doughty, still tours by himself. i have seen him several times, and that was a nice show. Quiet, engaging, enjoyable. I guess that is what i would look for in a show now. Something I can sit down and enjoy a beer to. Though i never got to see Social Distortion, i hope to see them before I die, or they do.

  2. Owen Owen says:

    I saw Paul McCartney at Fenway last summer. Hey, if that guy isn't too old to rock, than no one is. And he put on a serious show — prolly one of my favorite shows of the last two or three years. It helped that his band all looked a solid 30+ years younger than him, perhaps, but still.

  3. Avatar ebbillings says:

    There definitely has been a correlation between the further into my 30's I get and the reduction of live shows I go to. Probably because I'm just getting old, but I really think the quality of music has taken a HUGE nosedive. The rare occasions I find myself out, 75% of the time I just spend the night gawking at the freakishly young looking crowd and complaining about how horrible the music is.
    Give me a rocking and skilled 30-40 something band any day!

  4. Avatar disperse says:

    Brilliant piece, thanks for writing.
    Sometimes I wonder if the "music was so much better when I was a kid" sentiment is a symptom of nostalgia, that the music you listen to when you are a pre-teen and teen influences your tastes forever. I tried to keep up with modern music for a while but gave up about 10 years ago. Plus, if I'm listening to modern music when my son is a teenager, what is he going to listen to to rebel against me?
    That Nu-Rock phase of the late 90s however, that was awful.

  5. llxt llxt says:

    Truthfully, I never understood the appeal of paying more money to hear songs you love being sung once, when less money will get you an album you can listen to over and over again. But I'm also the person who'd rather buy a bottle of vodka than go to a club. Call me old, call me antisocial-but I've got more money in the bank than you!

  6. Avatar The Tailor says:

    Proof that music is indeed timeless. Nice.

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