The midsummer of 2008 has been a trip down Memory Lane for live concerts. In the last two weeks, I’ve seen, or will be seeing, Alex De Grassi, Return to Forever, King Crimson and Manuel Göttsching/Ashra , all acts who came to their greatest renown in the 1970s. It got me wondering about our penchant for both over-glorifying the past while also about acknowledging music that withstands the capriciousness of popular tastes.
In the midst of an Echoes Chamber session with Return to Forever guitarist, Al Di Meola, the 54-year-old musician went into a subdued rant about the music we heard as kids. “We grew up in the greatest era ever, the 60s,” he proclaimed. “We still love the music we listened to when we were kids. Our kids aren’t going to be able to say that. They’re going to be listening to the music we listened to when they get older.”
There is some truth to what he said, at least in regards to pop music. Certainly the music of the 60s and early 70s continues to hang on, powered by classic rock stations and turned into dogma by places like The School of Rock. But there’s also Rock of the 70s and Rock of the 80s format radio stations and I’m sure that 30 years from now, there will be a Rock of the 2000s format. I think every generation holds on to the music they heard in their teens and college years: 60s acid rock, 70s progressive rock, 80s punk, 90’s grunge.
Di Meola is mostly referring to pop music, because otherwise, he’s continued to explore new sounds and technology throughout his career as a listener and creator. But a nostalgic aroma was ever-present at the Return to Forever show I saw at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia. I was wondering why RTF en mass felt it was necessary to wave the flag for “live” music and rail against iPods and YouTube to a full house of some 4,000 people. And Chick, baby, despite your claims that RTF got no radio airplay in the 70s, I know they got boatloads of spins from commercial jazz stations that were still around then, including WRVR in New York and WWDB in Philadelphia. College stations, like WXPN in Philadelphia, played this music to death and got RTF many of their fans, as evidenced by the 50-something demographic dominating the reunion audiences. RTF’s performance thrilled those fans. They didn’t play any new compositions other than the opening tune-up piece, and except for a mangled version of “Romantic Warrior,” they stuck to the recorded versions of most of them pretty faithfully, including the same somewhat dated synthesizer sounds that Corea used.
.Alex de Grassi’s audience was substantionally smaller, but they to, were thrilled to hear this veteran of the finger-style guitar renaissance at Sellersville Theater. Like RTF, much of his set was drawn from older material made during his glory years at Windham Hill Records. It was good seeing Alex playing solo, although nothing new was being revealed, something I wouldn’t say for his world fusion DeMania trio.
I’m hopeful, but not expectant for Manuel Göttsching who performs in Philadelphia and New York over the weekend of August 15th. I know that he plans on playing classic music from Inventions for Electric Guitar and New Age of Earth up through E2-E4. The most recent piece he’s reported to play, Die Mulde, dates back to 1997 and that’s very much in the 1970s sequencer style. However, I’m still looking forward to that show, since Göttsching, like Klaus Schulze, has never played in the US. It’s music I’ve never heard performed live, but I’m not expecting any revelations. It will probably be like seeing RTF, who I also didn’t get to see in the 70s. (BTW, can somebody update Ashra’s Wikipedia entry? It is woefully skimpy and inaccurate).
Of them all, King Crimson has continued exploring new dimensions in their heavy metal future shock sound. I’ve seen them twice in this millennium and both were exhilarating, ear-shredding performances full of precision, spontaneity and new music. While their audience will certainly be from the same demographic that will attend De Grassi, RTF and Ashra shows, Krimson’s music continues to be exploratory, without pandering .
I too, love the artists of my formative years, and Echoes also maintains a loyalty to the pioneers we played early on like Will Ackerman, Tangerine Dream, Andreas Vollenweider, George Winston and Klaus Schulze. That music, along with Hendrix and the Beatles, Coltrane and Miles, Ultravox and Siouxsie & the Banshees, Philip Glass and Steve Reich is all in my musical DNA.
But I don’t want to exist in a musical past like some artists and audiences who are in an arrested state of musical development, living a terminal adolescence with the music that informed their youths. I don’t want to think that the best music I’ll experience for the rest of my life came out 30 or so years ago. When I see teenagers who are enthralled by the sound and imagery of the sixties, I don’t sometimes feel validated in my youthful tastes. but just as often, I feel like telling them to listen to your own music.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))