Dear Aerosmith: this is why farewell tours suck
As Aerosmith hint at a "farewell tour", Howard Johnson asks why bands continually promise one thing and do another, and why we fall for it every time
They say all farewells should be sudden. It’s just a shame nobody told anyone in the rock business. The latest act to say they're really, truly, honestly are knocking it on the head as a live act is Aerosmith. Or at least that’s what the band’s publicity-savvy frontman Steven Tyler “let slip” on ageing shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show last week. The 68-year-old just so happens to have his own solo tour kicking off right now and maybe needs to have something big to say to get in the news. But whatever, Tyler’s adamant the ’70s icons will be done forever after one last stadium-stomping sayonara in 2017. There are, however, two questions we have to ask. Will they really exit stage left? And should we care either way?
While record sales have steadily dwindled in the face of a full frontal streaming assault, the value of mega-grossing live ‘heritage’ acts has become more and more important to an industry looking for home banker revenue generators. Rock bands perfectly fit the profile the industry currently needs. Cultural changes mean that rock music now accounts for a fraction of the sales it produced in the ’80s. Just six per cent if you believe Poison drummer Rikki Rockett’s ability to count on his fingers. So live performance from groups with a lifetime’s experience and nostalgic fans is clearly where it’s at. What better way to guarantee fast ticket sales than by claiming it’s the very, very, very last time you’re ever going to see your favourite band? And what easier way for bands to coin it than go out there and do what they can frankly do in their sleep?
So what’s the downside? Bands make money hand over fist. Fans who were too young to see Tyler’s leopardskin one-piece in the ’70s get to say, “I was there on the very last Aerosmith tour” and share a wobbly piece of phone footage from 80 rows back on Facebook.
Does it really matter that a lot of these guys look like Widow Twanky these days? Or that the whole magic of the music was that it was made fast and loud by people who were themselves fast and loud? There’s no shame in being 68 – and nostalgia, like ridicule, is nothing to be scared of – but the question is this. Is today’s Steven Tyler really gonna kick the 1977 vintage in the ass? I think we all know the answer to that one.
The word from Download was that Ozzy wasn’t doing himself or the Sabbath legend any favours up there on the stage, from an artistic point of view, though the affection in which the loveable Brummie is held means nobody’s too hard on him. But too often it’s the live punter who gets a financial shellacking every time there’s a big gig that doesn’t live up to the hype.
We’re asking a lot of people to keep forking out ever greater sums of money for ever older, more tired, less enthusiastic legends. But the real insult-to-injury moment is being told this is definitely, absolutely, positively the end of the road – that there will be no more touring; that this is your last chance to grab your own piece of rock’n’roll history. Why? Because bitter experience has told us this is almost always total bollocks.
Can you believe The Who first said they were off for good way back in 1982? But here they are touring in 2016, with Pete Townshend predictably claiming they’re “stronger than ever.” Status Quo promised they’d “do one” in 1984, but only insignificant drummer Pete Kircher went away and Rossi and Parfitt are at it again (and again) this summer. Now they’re saying this is their last electric tour. Well they would, wouldn’t they? Kiss promised there’d be no more fire-breathing as long ago as 2000 after their previous “Psycho Circus” tour didn’t cut the box office mustard. But by 2002 they were back already, albeit without the classic line-up, and Gene Simmons and his suspicious-looking hair have been active on the live circuit ever since.
Maybe we’re being too hard on these ageing rockers, thinking they’re nothing more than corporate puppets on the make with only a passing interest in music nowadays. Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford (he’s the one who’s not Joe Perry by the way) recently confessed to Classic Rock that he spends most of his time having to listen to band members who should know better bickering about “who’s more famous than whom.” While casually admitting to the obscene amounts of money he’s made, Whitford claims being in Aerosmith has been “a colossal pain in the ass.”
Well, when you put it that way, surely we can all feel sorry for Bradley’s shit band life and do our bit to ease his pain by paying the hundred and odd quid that is the going rate to see a legendary act on their Farewell Tour. After all, what could be better than spending a fortune and taking your binoculars to see a load of old folk who don’t particularly like each going through the motions to boost their retirement fund? And if the date when they come to your town this “one last time” clashes with something you really, truly can’t get out of, here’s our advice. Don’t freak out with worry. As sure as eggs is eggs they’ll be back to see you with a cheery wave – and a very happy accountant – in a couple of years’ time…