Muse: Nice album – shame about the concert

When bands devote an entire gig to an old LP, you wonder what happened to rock'n'roll spirit, says Elisa Bray

Sunday 23 October 2011 06:30

Thousands of music fans are this month regressing 20 years when they hear Primal Scream play Screamadelica. It was an album through which Bobby Gillespie and his band united the swaggering rock 'n' roll of The Rolling Stones with the ambient indie-rock of The Orb to create one of the most iconic records of the 1990s, and win the first-ever Mercury Prize. Few albums of that decade could be as equally worthy of being given the retrospective treatment.

Ever since music promoters All Tomorrow's Parties launched Don't Look Back, the series in which they ask artists to perform classic albums in their entirety, with The Stooges playing Fun House at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2005, we have seen countless acts return to perform their legendary album in full. Belle & Sebastian (If You're Feeling Sinister), Gang Of Four (Entertainment), Ennio Morricone (classic film soundtracks) and Slint (Spiderland). Van Morrison revisited Astral Weeks on its 40th birthday in 2008, while Sonic Youth's performances of their influential Daydream Nation, the 1988 album that took them to the mainstream in America and which they revisited in 2007, earned them Time Out's Gig Of The Year. Once, the retrospective gig was a special rare occasion reserved for the most influential of bands and their most significant albums.

Now it seems that everyone is doing it. Muse have announced that they will play Origin of Symmetry in its entirety at Reading and Leeds festivals this summer, while Owen Pallett is playing Heartland with the Britten Sinfonia next month at the Barbican and it feels as though the retrospective gig is going too far. It's not that I am not a fan of Muse. I stumbled upon them at Glastonbury 2000 en route to the Happy Mondays and forgot where I'd been headed, so alluring was their emotive rock and in 2009 I travelled to Teignmouth to watch them on their home turf.

But surely the purpose of the retrospective gig is to take the fans back to that moment in time and pay tribute to what was a landmark in music. You can't really do that when the band in question is still creating similar-sounding albums. The magic is not only in the sense of nostalgia that a retrospective gig provides, but the weight that the album holds in the rock and pop annals and 10 years is not long enough a period to show that an album has truly stood the test of time.

In May, Mercury Rev will perform Deserter's Songs, as well as re-releasing it. This is an album that was widely regarded by many as the best album of the year, NME and Mojo included. That Ash had already claimed that they would be releasing no further albums when they revisited their hits-filled 1977, helped create a sense of nostalgia and finality at the Roundhouse show, 12 years after its release. When Suede performed all five studio albums in their entirety at the ICA in 2003, it felt like the end of an era. The shows didn't just celebrate the 10th anniversary of their debut album, but also marked several years since Suede were the Britpop band of the moment and the news that they were to split soon followed. With that history behind them, there will be even more sense of occasion when they perform three albums in their entirety later this summer.

Muse, however, are at their peak, at a time when they headline festivals – last year's Glastonbury and, of course, this year's Reading and Leeds. It's hardly the stuff of retrospectives. But above all, to play an album in its entirety takes away that essential element to a gig – anticipation. Where is the fun when you know exactly what is coming next? It is special when a band unexpectedly launches into a song that has always been one's personal favourite.

Origin of Symmetry boasts live favourites "Plug In Baby", "New Born", "Bliss" and "Feeling Good", but performing the near hour-long album will leave little room for the hits of their debut, Showbiz, and best of all, Absolution.

It would be a shame to see some favourites missed out and the spontaneity of a live show stripped away.

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