Over at his excellent blog Dubious Quality, Bill Harris is talking about bands that sort of become “brands”, so that they just sort of keep on keepin’ on, even when original members are retired or dead. Find a guy who sings like Brad Delp and you get more Boston albums; find a guy who can screech like Steve Perry (who himself made a career of doing a spectacularly bad Sam Cooke imitation) and you get Journey on the State Fair Festival circuit.
Bill notes, though, that bands who age into their fifties tend to be done making artistic statements. That’s an astute observation, because usually rockers still being relevant at fifty are solo artists, not actual bands. If you like the new REM (and I like it without loving it), they’re an example I suppose. Anyway, apparently Bill’s readers have suggested Rush and King Crimson as the two best examples of bands in their fifties who are still artistically relevant.
Yech. Rush is…well, Rush. I love “Tom Sawyer” too…but they’re Rush. Fans pack their shows to hear “Fly By Night” and “Spirit Of Radio”, not so much to hear the new stuff (yes I know, you Rush internet fanatics LOVE the new Rush material. You’re oddballs. We were trying to keep it from you.)
King Crimson is laughable, since I think the roster of “people who played in King Crimson” is now approaching 200. Crimson was Robert Fripp in 1968, and remains Robert Fripp now. They’re as much a “band” as “Bob Dylan” is.
Obviously there are some bands out there still getting it done at 50. Mission Of Burma sounds as fresh as ever….but then you remember they were on hiatus for 20 years. If Ira and Georgia would spill it on their ages, Yo La Tengo would certainly count, too.
But for my money, the band out there that remains the most relevant and impressive into 50 is Sonic Youth (Lee Ranaldo is 52, Kim Gordon is 55, and Thurston hits the big 5-0 in July of this year). The Sonic Youth career arc is a wonder to behold: arty experimentalists at the beginning, noise pop auteurs in the middle, math-rock noodlers through the ’90′s….and now for their last three or four albums, they’ve been cranking out some of the best rock and roll on the planet.
Don’t take my word for it though. Here’s the evidence from 2006′s brilliant Rather Ripped album:
Thing is, none of those amazing songs are old standards; those are all new songs from a band that continues to be an artistic powerhouse.
There’s my answer for you Bill!