Simon Reynolds, the music and culture critic, put it best in his book Retromania: “When a band has been around long enough, there is always going to be more demand from the fan base for a career-peak classic than for the latest musical effort.”
That explains why the local concert calendar has lately been spotted with artists performing old albums in their entirety. It’s a phenomenon that began with the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the U.K., which, since 2005, has made its name by persuading acts like Belle & Sebastian, the Melvins and Cat Power to re-create single moments from their discographies. Many of the artists who participated in those concerts then took their shows on the road, touring with a set either wholly or partially focused on performing an album in its entirety.
The concept quickly spread to classic rock, with Van Morrison performing Astral Weeks at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008 and Rush devoting a chunk of its already lengthy live show last year to playing all of Moving Pictures. Now, it’s an almost expected move for a band or artist of a certain age to make, especially if the anniversary of an album’s release is to be celebrated or a deluxe reissue is to be promoted.
“There’s a nostalgic attachment to these records,” says David Gedge, the sole original member of long-running British band the Wedding Present, and no stranger to the revivalist economy. “Fans like to relive that moment when they bought the record all those years ago, to relive that part of their past. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s quite like seeing an old film.”
The 51-year-old guitarist-songwriter has spent much of the past five years bringing his middle-aged fans back to their youth. In that time, he’s done two world tours, each focused on one of his band’s first two albums (1987’s George Best and 1989’s Bizarro).
“I’ve always been more about looking forward than dwelling on an old album,” Gedge says of his initial reaction to doing these tours. “So, I reluctantly went into it, but I’ve been really pleased with it. It was a nice challenge to put yourself back 20 years and forget what you’ve learned, really.”
And now he’s doing it again with a tour that finds the current Wedding Present lineup running through the 1991 album Seamonsters, while also supporting newly released disc Valentina.
While the names of the people involved in the Wedding Present these past 20 years have changed, the band’s approach to songwriting has not. The jangly post-punk outfit has always maintained a cult status in the U.S., appealing primarily to Anglophiles and music geeks. By contrast, in the Wedding Present’s native U.K., the band pulled off a run of 12 straight top-30 chart singles in 1992, a feat matched only by Elvis Presley in 1957. Valentina still sounds like vintage Wedding Present: frenzied and cutting guitars underpinned with Gedge’s lyrics about the damage people do to one another in the name of love and lust.
It’s a fine album, but new material will probably be overshadowed by Seamonsters in the mind of concertgoers. That 21-year-old record holds a particularly special place in the hearts of the band’s American fans, perhaps because it found the Wedding Present fully embracing the sonic influences of stateside groups like the Pixies and Pavement (Gedge and company covered that band’s “Box Elder” in 1990).
Seamonsters, produced by the infamous, prodigious Steve Albini, emphasized recording live to tape with few overdubs—the album has a booming, present feel to it, as if you were listening in on a particularly great band practice one floor below you. In other words, it’s the perfect candidate for a full-album re-creation.
Reliving the songs from Seamonsters has been difficult for the man who wrote them. “It’s been a particularly challenging experience for all,” Gedge says. “It’s an intense collection of songs. But there’s also value in looking back. It’s been quite nice to get my lyrics out and remember the feelings and emotions behind them.”
The album—filled with tales of petty jealousy, unrequited longing and bedroom dalliances—will probably have a similarly intense effect on Gedge’s fans. They have, after all, been waiting to hear it for 20 years.
SEE IT: The Wedding Present plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., on Saturday, April 7, with Pinky Piglets. 9 pm. $15. 21+.