Monday, 16 August 2010

‘Let’s Stay Together’ one more time

Like Pavement and Soundgarden and Aerosmith, all formerly great bands that are plugging in once more. The latter, which looked all but finished after its 61-year-old frontman toppled off the stage in South Dakota and landed in rehab in LA, is being reborn just in time for the lucrative concert season.

What a shock, right? By all accounts, Joe Perry’s had it up to the neck of his Gibson Les Paul with Steven Tyler’s bizarre behavior, but after four decades and 14 records, the pair’s profit motives are as strong as ever. Who cares if 10 years have passed since the Toxic Twins released a lick of original music. There’s a mountain of money to be made in Europe and South America.

No matter how bitter a breakup is, most bands will get back together if the price is right. Just ask Don Henley, who famously said the Eagles would reunite “when hell freezes over,’’ but then — ka-ching! — changed his mind. Or Sting and Stewart Copeland, who could barely conceal their contempt for each other, but managed to put on a happy face for the Police’s 2007-08 world tour that grossed over $350 million.

That’s fine. It is called the music business, after all. But give credit to the Pixies, who had the decency to call the DVD chronicling their reunion tour “Sell Out.’’ And surly Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten, who in 1996 summoned old mates Paul Cook and Glen Matlock for the aptly titled “Filthy Lucre’’ tour. (Judging from the lackluster reviews, fans who didn’t feel cheated by the punk pioneers the first time sure got swindled the second time.)

I actually admire bands that can’t get beyond the bad feelings, even for a million bucks. Look at Boston, whose first LP sold more than 17 million copies — the all-time record for a debut disc. Hell really will freeze over before Boston founder Tom Scholz books time in the studio with guitarist Barry Goudreau and drummer Sib Hashian. And Creedence Clearwater Revival? Don’t expect John Fogerty to reconvene with Stu Cook and Doug Clifford. Fogerty is a man of the people, just not those people. (No less dysfunctional are the Jam, the Smiths, Talking Heads, and Grant Hart and Bob Mould of Husker Du, whose relationship can be summed up by their song “Never Talking to You Again.’’)

Then there are the Kinks. For the past couple of years, my slightly obsessed colleague Geoff Edgers has been on a mission to reunite the British band led by the irascible Ray Davies and his brother Dave. Edgers’s quest is documented in the new film “Do It Again,’’ which screens April 24 at the Somerville Theatre as part of the Independent Film Festival Boston. Is it petty, after all these years, that Ray and Dave can’t stop their squabbling and treat fans to a few of their hits, including “Sunny Afternoon,’’ “Waterloo Sunset,’’ “You Really Got Me,’’ and “Misfits’’? Absolutely. Do I think they will? Hmm. See the movie and tell me what you think.

Hugo Burnham knows a little bit about band dynamics. He is, or was, the drummer for the great British band Gang of Four, playing on the group’s first three records. But in 1983, without warning, Hugo was sacked by his bandmates.

“By then, we were arguing about the price of a Mars bar,’’ says Burnham, who lives in Gloucester now and teaches at the New England Institute of Art and Endicott College. “I guess it’s better to be a bright comet in the sky than a waning moon.’’

Time heals all wounds, though, and in 2005, when radio was playing a bunch of Gang of Four imitators like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Burnham and the boys gave it another try. They played a series of well-received shows in the United States, Europe, Japan, and Brazil, and it was fun — for a while.

“Every time on stage was stunning. Nobody was disappointed,’’ says Burnham. “But we got into terrible fights about the business side of things. It was manipulative and horrible, and eventually I’d had enough.’’

The drummer knows his days as a rock star are probably behind him, but he doesn’t begrudge other acts from hitting the stage long after their heyday.

“It’s easy taking money from people who want to give it to you. I can’t criticize that,’’ says Burnham. “Look, if there was a Gang of Four cover band, I’d be horrified and fascinated, but I’d go see them.’

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