Don’t look back, but there’s a band over there playing a whole album

In Phil Cope’s recent review of the ATP Festival we attended, he expressed an aversion to the modern trend of artists performing a seminal album in its entirety at a gig. Phil’s objection was prompted by Spiritualized performing their 1997 album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space at the festival. I would like to defend this increasingly popular phenomenon.

J Spaceman at ATP: which song shall we do next, band?

J Spaceman at the ATP Festival: "which song shall we do next, band?"

I would concur that, generally speaking, The Not Knowing is part of the fun of gigs. I myself have had conversations with Simon on the way to previous Spiritualized gigs, speculating what they might start with, and what other songs we think might crop up in their set.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. It is only really in the popular music genres where we go to gigs in doubt as to what we are going to hear. In classical music, can you imaging going to a Beethoven concert and speculating to your chums something like, “I wonder if they’ll start with the Schertzo from the 4th symphony?” or “I do hope they play the Allegretto from the Moonlight Sonata.” No, in classical music you know exactly what you are going to hear, because you have invariably paid to see a performance of a particular work. Granted, this is in part due to the fact that most classical music has been written specifically to be performed and, certainly at the time of the great composers, there was no thought of actually recording it.

And, I really do feel that in popular music, albums can be considered the modern day, popular, equivalents of symphonies, or concertos. An album can say a great deal about an artist in a given period of their musical career, and even their life at the time. The 70 minutes of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space says a lot about Jason Pierce c.1995-97 and stands up as a complete body of work that justifies a complete live performance in just the same way that a Beethoven symphony does.

Spiritualized at the ATP Festival: Right, on your feet choir, I think he said he wants us to do Cool Waves next.

Spiritualized at the ATP Festival: "Right, on your feet choir, I think he said he wants us to do Cool Waves next."

The furthest I have ever travelled for a gig was when I went to Glasgow in 2006 to see Teenage Fanclub perform Bandwagonesque. This was staged as part of the All Tomorrow’s Parties-curated Don’t Look Back series of gigs, in which, as you may have guessed, an artist is asked to perform a seminal album in full. This was a really special occasion for me, because not only does that album say a lot about Teenage Fanclub in 1990-91, it also says a lot to me about my life at the time, because it is one of the albums I listened to most in 1991-92.

Granted, in the age of the iPod Shuffle, there are a growing number of young people for whom the idea of listening to a whole album by one artist seems absurd, never mind listening to it in order (for it is sadly true I also know people of my generation who even when listening to full albums by their favourite bands, seldom use anything other than the ‘Random’ setting). Because of this, some artists are reconsidering the album as a viable format. However, there are others, such as Fuck Buttons, who came into BCB for a chat a few weeks ago (as well as DJ-ing at the ATP Festival we recently attended by the way), for whom the album format, and the sequencing of songs is integral to their music. I’m digressing slightly here, but I think I’ve made my point, so I’m going to go to the cinema now and watch American: The Bill Hicks Story…