Once more, with feeling

The seminal rock band the Pixies have re-formed. They're not alone in realising that a reunion can top up the pension fund.
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The Independent Culture

This summer, plenty of thirty- and fortysomethings will be thinking: "Why am I here?" as they face crowds bigger and more enthusiastic than those that confronted them in their prime at a gig by one of the burgeoning number of bands hitting the comeback trail. Already, this year, we've had the return of (most of) the classic line-up of Fleetwood Mac. The recently reconvened original members of Duran Duran just keep adding Wembley Arena dates, now that they find that adult males will come to their shows, too. Perhaps most interesting is the long-awaited reunion of the Pixies, four former antagonists who found they just couldn't make as much money apart. They may be releasing a "best of" and a comprehensive DVD, but don't hold your breath if you're hoping for new material. If someone chooses to support the Red Hot Chili Peppers, one can reasonably assume that the lure of hard cash is playing a major part.

This summer, plenty of thirty- and fortysomethings will be thinking: "Why am I here?" as they face crowds bigger and more enthusiastic than those that confronted them in their prime at a gig by one of the burgeoning number of bands hitting the comeback trail. Already, this year, we've had the return of (most of) the classic line-up of Fleetwood Mac. The recently reconvened original members of Duran Duran just keep adding Wembley Arena dates, now that they find that adult males will come to their shows, too. Perhaps most interesting is the long-awaited reunion of the Pixies, four former antagonists who found they just couldn't make as much money apart. They may be releasing a "best of" and a comprehensive DVD, but don't hold your breath if you're hoping for new material. If someone chooses to support the Red Hot Chili Peppers, one can reasonably assume that the lure of hard cash is playing a major part.

Then there's MTV's show Bands Reunited, where the forgotten (and Squeeze, bizarrely) are pursued in all their day-job glory and persuaded to get back for that one last show. Of course, all the bands fit the necessary template for a truly successful reunion, in that the original members are all very much alive. Most of the turns you might want to see are never, ever, coming back. Not even Stars in Their Eyes features a Kurt Cobain or a Joe Strummer, but a supposed version of The Doors fronted by Ian Astbury did tour last year, to no particular acclaim.

Certainly, the Pixies deserve their chance to top up their pension funds. Nirvana borrowed so much from them, from the old quiet-LOUD dynamic to the screaming and the cellos and the ambiguous, intriguing lyrics. And as they won't be re-forming any time soon, despite the basest desires of promoters and glum teens everywhere, their inspiration will have to do.

Death tends to put the kibosh on any plans for musicians to exploit their own talent, though it rarely forces management and record companies into liquidation. Strummer's early demise in 2002 finally put paid to all speculation about The Clash re-forming, although by then it would clearly have been beyond lucrative for the participants, none of whom ever exactly cleaned up when the band was extant. Their contemporaries the Sex Pistols re-formed twice, in 1996 and 2002, offending all those who hadn't noticed that they'd been put together to promote a draper's shop in the first place.

Though Robert Plant and Jimmy Page have often worked together since, without John Bonham's unique drum style it ain't Led Zep, dude. But the very idea of "getting the group back together" goes back only four decades or so, since The Beatles introduced the self-contained unit, in which each member brought their own talent to the party. Before that, we had "regimental reunions" and, occasionally, "class reunions", where people who had had little in common yet had been forced into close proximity gathered on neutral ground and stood around looking uncomfortable, rather like at a Bob Dylan concert.

Few people even saw The Sex Pistols first time around, as they were in effect banned from playing in most of the country, a sobering fact that brings to mind the nightmare scenario of a So Solid Crew of 45-year-olds performing in a London park in 2025. And, although they were rubbish and Lou Reed murdered all his own classic songs, the same might be said of the Velvet Underground's 1993 reunion. The Stooges' ongoing reunion has proved more dignified, doubtless because of Iggy Pop's eternal failure to even grasp the concept.

Further down the scale, Wire eventually re-emerged in the late Eighties after their clever art-punk had proved highly influential during their sabbatical. But when they lost an original member, they reinforced their integrity by changing their name to Wir. "Ire" would have been nicer, but might have confused the alphabetic system beloved of record retailers. They continue to make interesting records, though they've regained their "e".

Bands re-form for money, as much as they can get, and play the old hits, from the old New Romantics on those now regular Here and Now tours, to the Eagles' infamously lucrative 1994 jaunt, cynically captured on the live album Hell Freezes Over (titled after Don Henley's reply when asked if they'd ever get back together after their famously acrimonious split); $125 a ticket seemed a lot to see a band whose unprepossessing performances were once memorably described by a critic as "loitering onstage", but people paid up.

Occasionally, reunions aren't what they seem. The Verve's huge-selling Urban Hymns started off as a Richard Ashcroft solo record, before the band, by then broken up, were gradually brought back to spray their magic on the unfinished product. Judging by his solo sales, Mr Ashcroft might consider changing his name to Mr The Verve. A decade earlier, Neil Young fulfilled his promise to work with Crosby, Stills and Nash again. The ensuing American Dream was not a very good record, although it was a profitable one.

Some bands, though, will never re-form, and we must pay our respects. Abba were in their thirties by the time they'd made their wedge, so even offers of a billion quid, bandied around recently at the Mamma Mia! launch, proved strangely resistible, although the Swedish government could probably do with its cut. The Clash always said no, too, though persistent rumours suggest that Bruce Springsteen may take the late Strummer's place, as he already has his own Fender Telecaster guitar.

Bad blood lingers in some cases. For all their lyrical and musical elegance, The Smiths' tawdry court cases have proved anything but dignified. Morrissey, a man who can generally get a couple of solo albums out of every new grudge he gathers, is still banging on about having to pay his erstwhile bandmates more than he'd hoped. Don't expect a Jam reunion any time soon, either. Last time the subject came up, their bass-player, Bruce Foxton, was still complaining that Paul Weller had never even sent him a Christmas card. Meanwhile, Weller asked whether the bassist was "still going on about Christmas cards". It took Weller about two decades to play any Jam tunes in his solo shows, so his indifference is hardly a surprise.

But most interesting of all is the Take That conundrum. Obviously, they won't re-form. By now they're old and daft-looking, by boy-band standards, and not on the best of terms. But who holds the rights to the name? A clever manager could form an entirely new line-up. That can't be any more unlikely than Bros getting back together. Can it?

Pixies play Brixton Academy, London SW9, 2 to 5 June and T in the Park, Kinross, Scotland, 11 July

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