In depth: Smashing expectations: in defence of anniversary shows

With Billy Corgan declaring anniversary shows “the dregs of the music industry”, Will Richards argues their worth on the live circuit.

Earlier this week, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins took a real dig at shows celebrating anniversaries of albums, labelling them “the dregs of the music business”. ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ turned twenty last year, and though the idea of recreating the band’s most adored creation in full might seem as attractive a proposition as a fairground ride for Corgan, this viewpoint doesn’t apply to all bands, with many revelling in the nostalgia. The shows can be a great occasion for fans to experience an album and older songs they never thought they’d see live, while the bands themselves can look back and celebrate their earliest moments and let them influence their next move forward. Of course such gigs can have their hiccups and car crash moments, as with anything, but they’re largely something to be celebrated and cherished.

In 2016 already, Rancid have announced they’re set to play ‘And Out Come The Wolves’ at Groezrock and beyond, Bruce Springsteen’s gallivanting around the world playing ‘The River’ in full to celebrate its 35th anniversary and expanded reissue, and, most recently, Placebo are set to head out on a 20th anniversary tour, dusting off their oldest hits. A whole bunch of the band’s fans will have still been in primary school when Brian Molko and co last played ‘Pure Morning’ and ‘Nancy Boy’ live, and where’s the harm in these kids finally experiencing the moments their elders recounted to them with a glint in their eyes when they were too young to realise?

Placebo - ‘Nancy Boy’ (Live on Jools Holland, 1997)

“Where’s the harm in these kids finally experiencing the moments their elders recounted to them with a glint in their eyes when they were too young to realise?”

In Corgan’s interview with Rolling Stone, he slammed “the idea of getting up and playing an album that was never meant to be played live in that sequence,” and while he may believe that to be true for any Smashing Pumpkins record, there’s a whole host of albums that have shone when recited in their recorded form. When Brand New decided to play their four studio albums across two nights at the end of 2013, the shows sold out in a flash. Fans of Biffy Clyro meanwhile were treated to pretty much their whole discography across three nights at Glasgow’s Barrowlands the following year, received as an opportunity for their oldest supporters to hear some 2001 b-sides for the first time ever, while also serving as an appropriate and palate-cleansing conclusion to their first era for the band, who began work on album seven after the shows.

While giving existing fans of these bands the chance to experience albums they’ve adored for years in their entirety, anniversary shows also give potential fans an easier entry point into a band whose reunion all their friends are raving about on Twitter, diving straight into the ‘classic’ album they’re set to recreate live that summer. Hundred Reasons played 2002’s ‘Ideas Above Our Station’ in full across 2012 for its tenth anniversary, and introduced one of British rock’s most lauded albums of the decade to a whole new generation.

Smashing expectations: in defence of anniversary shows

“Fans of Biffy Clyro were treated to pretty much their whole discography across three nights at Glasgow’s Barrowlands.”

When a band has an album that becomes legendary in their scene and beyond, it doesn’t have to become one that is given to the fans while the band immediately loathe the success it’s garnered. When Television played ‘Marquee Moon’ in full at last year’s Green Man Festival, an album released when many of the teenagers in attendance were as old as their parents were when it was released in 1974, the album - which neither the band nor fans would disagree with being labelled their very best - was recreated with every ounce of vigour with which it was created, with not a whiff of cynicism in the mud that night.

If bands choose to never unearth their debut albums for landmark birthdays, few will notice, but the trend of anniversary shows doesn’t deserve the negative tags it’s often given. No-one’s going to turn down the opportunity to transport the experience of listening to one of your first favourite albums in your bedroom day after day at 12 years old, when you couldn’t get a lift to their gig in the nearest town, to a sweaty room with hundreds of others with the same memories, and such occasions should be welcomed, not shot down.

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