Rock N Reunions We’d Love To See But, Alas, Will Never Happen

HagarVH

*Images taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

The dreaded Holidays are upon us. With Thanksgiving on the books, we can now officially shift our focus to Christmas. Actually once Halloween hit, the stores shifted their focus to Christmas so I guess we’re behind schedule? Ah, unchecked materialism’s high holy season. The Holidays seem interminable. I have long ago confessed my feelings about the Holiday season, Confessions of an Ex-Grinch: My Christmas Epiphany. I will say, meeting the Rock Chick aka Mrs. Claus has helped turn my Xmas attitude to a more positive place. I will also admit, I’m a huge fan of Thanksgiving. I show up, drink a bunch of wine, eat a bunch of turkey and sit drowsily in front of football games on television. I give thanks knowing not everybody can celebrate like that these days. Other than St. Patrick’s Day, where I go out and drink in the streets with the rabble, you can’t beat Thanksgiving.

The Holidays can be seen, through a gimlet eye, as a mini-family reunion of sorts. On Thanksgiving, we always head over to my parents’ house. I see my brother, an in-law or two, and my aunt and uncle. They’re all great people. It’s a nice, small, controlled group. We all had enough practice veering the conversation away from politics in the Bush era that there aren’t any screaming fits accompanied by thrown plates anymore. And in our defense, that only happened once and it wasn’t in the presence of my Sainted Mother, thank God. Invariably, this small gathering of relatives and occasional stragglers turns the conversation to reunions.

For as long as I can remember, my dad’s family has been having family reunions every August. I’ve never understood the need to get everybody together on an annual basis, but hey, it’s what they do. And then they talk about the reunion for the rest of the fucking year. It’s inescapable. When I was a kid, like 12, every year I was drug out to a little farm house on the outskirts of a small town in Southeastern Kansas that was filled with people. I was a shy kid and going to this reunion was like watching someone give a cat a bath…unpleasant doesn’t cover it. My parents procreated right out of the chute – I was born 9 months after the honeymoon. Nobody else had kids with that kind of alacrity. The family reunions consisted of adults – from their 30’s to their 90s – and children who were infants to kids maybe 5 or 6. And then there was me… I was right in the middle. Not adult enough to get drunk with these semi-strangers, not young enough to play with the kiddos. My brother, the old soul that he is, would sit with the 90 year olds and talk about the heat. For me, it was 12 hours of wandering around a large farmyard, or across the street to a strip-pit (created by coal mining) that was basically a small lake that we weren’t allowed to swim in. The strip-pit’s water glimmered in front of us like the window of a closed ice cream shop. Cool and wonderful in the August heat but you couldn’t get in. I had nothing to do out there.

This has naturally colored my opinion of reunions of any kind in a very negative way. It wasn’t until I discovered that many rock bands have reunions that I realized there could be positive reunions. I’ve never even attended a High School reunion. And believe me, there have been plenty of opportunities, I graduated a long time ago. I grew up in Kansas City, but on the Kansas side, then moved to the Missouri side as an “adult”… It’s like I moved to Paris. I never see any of those people, but I know they’re out there just over the state line. I went by my 10 year reunion only to meet a friend. I thought we’d slip away from the maddening crowd and get a beer only to find out my friend had gone sober on me which was bracing because the guy could really party back in the day. I ended up sitting in a hotel room surrounded – and I mean surrounded – by sleeping children. It’s not that I was upset about it, but when I was that young, children frightened me. I still demure when someone wants me to hold a baby… I fear I’ll break it. I figure I’ve stayed in touch with anybody I wanted to from high school and I don’t need to hit the reunion circuit to compare myself and how I’ve done with everybody else still standing.

The only reunions I’m down for involve rock and roll bands. I was so immersed in music as a teenager and young adult, it felt that these guys (and gals) I was reading about in liner notes and Rolling Stone were like friends of mine. I was emotionally invested in these bands and many of their members. I certainly feel that way about the Stones. I recently saw that the feuding Robinson brothers have reunited the Black Crowes for a tour next summer. I greet that as good news. Motley Crue caused a ruckus when they announced they’re taking back the “no more tours” contract they all signed to much fanfare and are going on tour next year. I say bravo! We need kick ass hard rock in our lives. Many people long for bands to reunite, get back together, record and tour… Wasn’t it Billy Joel who once sang, “Oh baby you got nothing to play on your stereo, “Why don’t the Beatles get back together.””

I have people all the time who say, usually in a bar, “I wish XYZ band would get back together. I never got to see them.” I personally prefer these old bands record a little something new… if the chemistry is there, fuck radio, record an LP. Motley Crue had three or four good, new tracks on ‘The Dirt’ soundtrack. Hell, yes! However, even though I enjoy a band reunion as much as the next rock n roll fan, and certainly much more than a family or high school reunion, I’m pragmatic about it. There are just some bands who are never gonna get back together. While I’d love to see anybody on this list reunite even just to tour, I fear it’s just not gonna happen. I’m here with a wake-up call for you rock n roll dreamers. If any of these bands are on your Rock Reunion Wish List, alas, I’m afraid you’re not gonna see them. I limited this list to bands who have all or at least a majority of their key members still alive… I don’t have the Beatles on here as its only Paul and Ringo now. As much as I love Ringo (Peace and Love), without John Lennon or George Harrison, it ain’t much of a reunion. If a band has all original members on this side of the dirt, one has to wonder why won’t they try and make it work again? Whether it’s egos, money or chemistry gone sour, these bands just aren’t going to stage that reunion.

  1. Led Zeppelin – Even Pete Townshend said recently, “Robert (Plant) would make a lot of people happy if he’d just agree to a reunion tour.” While true, I think Plant has refused to reunite with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones for a Zeppelin tour because he fears the massive expectations that come with it. I loved the 2012 Celebration Day concert/album…they’ve still got the fire. Jason Bonham, John’s son filled in admirably. Plant won’t even record with Alison Krauss because they had such wild success he can’t face those expectations. He’s never coming around on this.
  2. Pink Floyd – After years of slagging David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the late Rick Wright, Roger Waters has pursued a reunion with these guys like a teenage boy pursing a cheerleader on prom night. Gilmour has wisely refused save for a 1 off concert years ago. With Wright gone it’s likely too late. But lets face it – there’s no way Gilmour is going to forgive the hateful shit Waters has said over the years.
  3. Van Halen – Roth can’t sing anymore. Not that he ever really could. The last time I saw these guys Roth looked like he’d had a lobotomy. Dr Rock once described their live album as sounding like a “pet store burning down.” Eddie and Alex Van Halen have become the Howard Hugheses of rock n roll… who knows wtf those guys are doing. Eddie has even bagged on Michael Anthony, the only nice guy in the band. Hell, I don’t think the the VH brothers would even entertain working with Sammy again. Sad, indeed, sad.
  4. The Faces – Rod’s management has him focused on money, money, money. It’s a shame he Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones and while still alive Ian McLagan couldn’t have worked it out. Even with Ian gone, I’d have rather heard a Faces record than this symphonic crap Rod just put out. It’s just too late. Ronnie Lane has been gone a long time too… maybe that’s why Rod refused… but my gut feel is his management was demanding the lion’s share of the money. Sigh.
  5. No Doubt – I saw these guys in concert with the Rock Chick and fell in love with this band. Great bass, drums and guitar… alas Gwen Stefani is more focused on building her own brand and cosmetic surgery to actually commit to her original band.
  6. R.E.M. – After recording two great, late period albums these guys called it quits with more of an exhausted sigh than a bang. They seem content to just release archival stuff,  and revisiting old albums and the accompanying bonus material. They all still get along and Bill Berry is still knocking around out there. It’s baffling but these guys seem done.
  7. Rush – The same story for R.E.M. could be told for Rush. The Prog-Rock giants did their last tour and that was it. I read that Neil Peart doesn’t even have a drum kit in his house anymore. Geddy has written a book and is doing a book tour… Alex Lifeson is likely loaded somewhere in Canada. They were great the last time I saw them but as the kids say, “they done.”
  8. Simon & Garfunkel – I’m not a huge fan of these guys, I actually prefer Simon on his own. But these guys were old friends… I hate too see this kind of animosity near the end.
  9. The White Stripes – Sure, I love Jack White on his own and with the Raconteurs (LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’) but I miss that primal White Stripes’ sound, driven by Meg White’s drum… Come home Meg, all is forgiven. She’s the Greta Garbo of rock, she wants to be alone.
  10. CSNY – I don’t think anybody will talk to Crosby, let alone work with him. He’s even admitted what an asshole he is. When Young left his wife for Darryl Hannah, Crosby was vocally critical. Hint: Don’t bag on your friends squeeze if you ever wanna see them again… trust me on this one, I learned the hard way.
  11. Oasis – Despite Liam’s begging Noel will never work with him again. Liam actually questioned the paternity of Noel’s daughter. I have loved Liam’s two solo records but he’s a terribly unpleasant man… don’t ever air guitar in the front row at his show, he’s brutal.
  12. Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart – For odd reasons Rod turned his back on the Faces but has always been receptive to working with Beck. Jeff even showed up and played a 5 or 6 set encore at Rod’s last Hollywood Bowl show. I’d love to hear these guys tear into some blues, with or without Ronnie Wood on bass. Jeff Beck is just too much of a stubborn asshole to make something substantial happen.
  13. Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham – Stevie Nicks is now the spiritual leader of this band. It would appear that her distaste for Buckingham has spelled his doom with this band. He also recently had surgery that may have damaged his vocal chords… I hope not. He’ll never work with Fleetwood Mac as long as Stevie is alive.
  14. Guns N Roses – I was delighted Axl finally reconciled with Slash and Duff. I get that Steven addled Adler doesn’t have the chops anymore but I’d sure like to see Izzy Stradlin back in this band. He was one of the key cogs in the songwriting and if they ever want to do a new album, they need him. From what I hear, the evil money is the reason they won’t let Izzy come back. They offered him a salary vs a full cut not the ‘Not In Our Lifetime’ tour.
  15. Red Hot Chili Peppers & John Frusciante – Come back John, we need you. They wouldn’t even have to fire Josh, they could morph into a 5 piece. I think Josh is a better rhythm player anyway and then Frusciante wouldn’t have to do so much heavy lifting. Never going to happen though. Frusciante, rock and roll’s Vincent Van Gogh is clearly never coming back and it appears the Peppers have moved on albeit in a less rocking direction.

Those are my top 15 bands I’d love to see reunite who, alas, will never get back together? Who are yours? Let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!

B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs

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As a kid growing up, my parents didn’t even have basic cable. All the TVs at the house had the old rabbit-ear type antenna. When there were multiple football games being broadcast on New Year’s Day, my dad would bring three TVs down to the living room and watch all three major networks (yes, only three) to catch every game. If one of the TV’s screens was out of wack, I’d often have to stand in the corner, one hand on the TV set, one hand in the air, just to make the picture clear. I was the Human Antenna. Thankfully in those days I wasn’t facing the New Year’s Day hangover… that didn’t come until later.

Eventually, shamed by other parents, my parents got basic cable so we kiddos could watch Sesame Street to build our young minds. We had the most bare-bones cable package you could get. My father, who closely modulated the thermostat to save cash, wasn’t about to “piss away money” on cable TV. There was no HBO or Showtime at the house. If I wanted to see any R-rated stuff, I had to do it the old fashion way, sneak into a theater (thank you Bo Derek for 10). The neighbors had HBO and on a sleepover I once saw Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman, in a biker movie and she was topless. It was like “discovering plutonium” as they say on Seinfeld. I couldn’t help but think, at that tender age, “fuck yes, I’m getting HBO when I’m on my own…I’ll never leave the house.”

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered there was something called MTV, short for Music Television. My buddy Matthew and I went up to Kansas State to visit some older friends of ours who were already up at University. As I was wandering around the labyrinth of the dorm filled with hallways and separate rooms (it was like walking in a human-sized ant farm), I came upon a room with like 5 guys crammed around a TV. They invited me in and lo and behold, they were watching MTV. Back then MTV was like radio with videos, one after another… Mostly the videos were crude concert footage with low grade effects, but I thought it was really cool.

Eventually, much to everyone’s surprise I graduated from high school and was accepted to a state university. Where I lived, they had the opposite philosophy as my father and bought the most expensive cable package available. We had every channel on the planet, save for pornography, on the TV in the common room. Invariably, late at night on weekends, I’d end up in the basement in front of the TV with a few of the other drunken, lonely heart’s club types and we’d watch MTV videos until the sun came up. The crowd down there got thicker during finals week… we all needed something mindless after exams so after drinking we’d end up watching countless videos. Of course, there were great videos and then crappy, pop music type videos. I can always remember thinking, “Ok, if the next video sucks, I’m going to bed…” Invariably one more decent video would come on and I’d be stuck for another thirty minutes. It was so relaxing it could be described as mind erasing.

When I moved into exile in Arkansas, there was literally no rock and roll radio. MTV, who had begun to schedule some regular broadcast shows into their programming was still predominantly playing videos. Nowadays you’re more likely to see a music video n the weather channel… MTV got me through the tough years down there. MTV is where I discovered Guns N Roses, the Black Crowes and many other bands. They certainly weren’t playing that music on the radio in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. It was around that time, I believe in 1989, that MTV began what may be their greatest legacy, the ‘Unplugged’ series. I’d always heard they were inspired by a video awards show where Jon Bon Jovi, looking coke-addled (he always looked that way to me) and Richie Sambora got on stage with only two acoustic guitars and played “Wanted, Dead Or Alive.” That was cool, lets do a show like that… The concept was simple, put a band on stage, give them acoustic guitars and let them play stripped-down versions of their tunes.

They started the series with some minor to semi-big bands. I think Squeeze was on once. But it wasn’t until 1991 when Paul McCartney performed on ‘Unplugged’ that the show took on some “next-level” kind of rock and roll credibility. McCartney took the next step and actually released his performance as an album (well, as a CD), the first artist to do so. It was a limited edition of only 500,000 copies and I had one in my hand in a record store in Warrensburg, Mo but didn’t have the cash and passed up buying it, which I obviously regret to this day. After that it was Katie-bar-the-door. Everybody was on ‘MTV Unplugged’ after that. Strangely though, not all the artists released the results on an album/CD.

There were all manner of performances on ‘MTV Unplugged’ from the sublime to the questionable. It got to the point where ‘MTV Unplugged’ became “appointment television” for me and my friends. If there was a band we really loved, we’d make sure we were together, beer iced down, in front of the television ready to watch. I remember I was flying back from St. Thomas the night Robert Plant and Jimmy Page did their Unledded episode of the show but I got stuck in a hotel in Atlanta and missed the show. I was in the only hotel on the planet without MTV. I was pissed.

Thinking about those ‘Unplugged’ shows I decided to compile a list of the B&V favorite ‘Unplugged’ albums. This is not a list of the best performances from the show – many acts chose not to release an album after being on ‘Unplugged.’ But, for the ones who did, and there were many, these are the 10 albums I find myself going back to after all this time. Again, we’re only talking about actual LPs here, not performances on MTV. Yeah, they’re a little mellow, but who cares, a good acoustic evening is just what the doctor orders sometimes.

Honorable Mention

  1. Pearl Jam – Eddie Vedder was simply unhinged on this performance. He writes “Pro-Life” on his arm in magic marker while teetering on a very unstable bar stool. They put a blu-ray disc of the performance in the rerelease of Ten, but have yet to release it as an album. I wish they would.
  2. Aerosmith – I have a bootleg of this performance and it’s awesome. They were still bluesy and sounding like the old 70s Aerosmith at this point. Huge mistake not to release this one.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Stripped – The Stones never deigned to be on MTV’s ‘Unplugged,’ but they went ahead and recorded their own, predominantly acoustic album and it’s one of their better live documents.

The BourbonAndVinyl Top 10 ‘Unplugged’ Albums

  1. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged In New York – This is simply the best MTV Unplugged ever. This was a sublime performance. Stripped of the sturm und drang, Cobain’s brilliance as a songwriter and dare I say, writer of melodies rises to the fore. This is not only a great acoustic concert it’s just a great concert. Bittersweet as it was released after Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.
  2. Alice In Chains, MTV Unplugged – I love AIC when they’re heavy, like on “Man In A Box” but I always loved the acoustic based Jar of Flies. This performance was a perfect extension of that. While I’m the first to admit nobody probably needed an acoustic version of “Frogs” there are some great versions of “Killer Is Me,” and “Over Now” just to name a few. It would be Layne Staley’s last concert.
  3. Paul McCartney, Unplugged – I love McCartney in this stripped down show. Like his recently released Amoeba Gig (Live) album (LP Review: Paul McCartney, ‘Amoeba Gig (Live)’ – His Best Live Album?), playing in front of a small audience brings out the best of him. Beatles tunes, solo hits, and rare covers make this a special performance.
  4. R.E.M., Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions – This album only got released in 2014 and I’m hoping it serves as an example to all those bands who held back on releasing their performances. R.E.M. was a very strumming/acoustic based band to start with… They’re perfect for the ‘Unplugged’ setting. I probably lean more toward the 1991 session, which was when they were touring for Out of Time. However, the 2001 set, when they were touring behind Reveal has some beautiful and melancholy moments that are irresistible. Obviously, I’d play one disc at a time.
  5. Rod Stewart, Unplugged…And Seated – Rod has always had that perfect melding of acoustic and electric, folky and rocker. The thing I love about this album is he brings back Ronnie Wood, his erstwhile band mate in the Faces and they return to Rod’s best period, when he was on the Mercury label, and tear it up! I believe there was a lot of drink involved.
  6. Eric Clapton, Unplugged – McCartney may have given ‘Unplugged’ it’s credibility, but Clapton showed that these albums could be a commercial juggernaut. This thing sold a ka-jillion copies. At the time we all loved the acoustic version of “Layla,” done here as a shuffle… It kind of got worn out. I like the older blues covers he throws in here. Chuck Leavell who plays with the Stones now is on piano and he has a fabulous solo in the song, “Old Love.”
  7. Page/Plant, No Quarter (aka Unledded) – These guys turned the whole concept of ‘Unplugged’ on its head. Some tracks are live, electric versions of their old Zeppelin tunes. Some are straight up acoustic and some are just great experiments, fucking with their sound, i.e. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The spirt of experimentation ran through three new tracks released on this album, the first Page/Plant collaborations since Zeppelin broke up. It would have been nice to see John Paul Jones here too, but that’d have upped the pressure.
  8. Eagles, Hell Freezes Over – I may be fudging a little here… this started off as an ‘Unplugged,’ but there is really only one acoustic take on a classic, on a sublime version of “Hotel California.” This was the first time in 14 years the Eagles got together, if they want to plug the electric guitars in and go for it, why not… It’s certainly what Springsteen did on his ‘Unplugged’ with much less spectacular results.
  9. Bob Dylan, MTV Unplugged – People will scoff at this entry. Dylan was coming off two great, unappreciated folk/acoustic records when he did this ‘Unplugged.’ He’s engaged and playing faithful versions of classics here. It was, for me, the beginning of his recording come back. It seemed like he cared for the first time in a long time. There are great versions of “Shooting Star” and “Dignity” on this record too.
  10. 10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged – I’m like most guys from this era. I don’t have any 10,000 Maniacs, I never liked the 10,000 Maniacs, I never bought their albums. However, almost every woman I dated, and there were a few, had this or some of their other albums. After  hearing a few times… because I was a bit of a man about town in those days, I realized Natalie Merchant’s vocal performance makes this the only 10,000 Manaics album you need. I love the cover of “Because the Night” written by Springsteen but made famous by Patti Smith.

Cheers!