This summer, the Today Show’s popular concert series features no less than four acts with nostalgic appeal. Each represents a different music genre, and all appeal to a wide range of tastes. Still, Phil Collins, K.C. & the Sunshine Band, Tony Orlando (sans Dawn) and Chicago have all been around so long that Baby Boomers can tell their grandchildren how they saw these acts way back when.
This nostalgia streak isn’t confined to the “Today Show” performers. As the summer rolls on, arenas and concert halls across the country play host to a revolving bill of Rock and Roll performers. Twenty years ago, stars on the wane were confined to the State Fair, playing on an improvised stage set up somewhere between the chicken tent and the quilting competition. Now, from Aerosmith to the Village People, it seems that there’s no such thing as a “Has-Been” anymore.
These days, some long-in-the-tooth musicians command hundreds of dollars per ticket to their “classic” performances. (Hey Keith Richards! How’s your head?) Others charge a more modest price, but have no problem attracting an audience. (That Chubby Checker sure can twist for an old guy!) And some are so beloved, they’re able to park long term on the stages of Las Vegas. (Hey Elton! That’s one cool red piano you got there.) Nostalgia rules the concert halls. Many music fans are happy to pay for memories — though what they get may not always be what they remember.
Take a look at me now
Not all seasoned acts — or their fans — are created equal. Many — both musicians and fans — may not even associate themselves with the oldies, no matter how many decades they’ve has been around. Some performers have been around so long, and evolved so drastically, one has to wonder if their original fans even recognize the latest incarnation.
Take Phil Collins. Here’s a guy who started in progressive rock and landed on Broadway. Joining Genesis as drummer in 1970, Collins became lead singer in 1975 after Peter Gabriel left the band. By the 80s, Genesis had morphed from prog rock to pop band and was an MTV staple.
As a solo artist, Collins wrote a string of hits, including “Sussudio” and “Take Me Home,” and went on to movie soundtracks with the title song to “Against All Odds.” In 1999, he won the Oscar for “You’ll Be in My Heart,” from the animated movie “Tarzan,” which he later scored for the current Broadway version. Though a Genesis reunion with Peter Gabriel is rumored, don’t expect the prog rock drummer on the “Today Show”. Look for Adult Contemporary Collins, playing the hits, with maybe a few surprises.
Then there are those acts that never seem to change. Alice Cooper is playing out – you know he’s going to have a great big snake. So are the Beach Boys. Sure, they replace the dead guys, but it’s still all about Mike Love. (Meanwhile, nutty ol’ Brian Wilson is playing out solo – who knows what to expect).
Then there are the acts that are so classic, you’d rather they didn’t change. Who wants Tony Orlando without “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” and “Knock Three Times”? Okay, I know. Where’s Dawn? Tony and his backup singers, Thelma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent, had a successful variety show in the early ’70s, which unwittingly taught a lot of little girls (and maybe a few boys) how to sing into their hairbrushes.
Then came drug problems and a nasty split. Happily, rifts were mended in 1988 and several successful reunion tours followed. While Tony’s currently performing solo, our hairbrush memories are safe in the knowledge that he and Dawn are all made up. Plus, Tony’s hair is still fabulous!
Get down tonight
This summer, concert bills are loaded with late ‘70s rock bands, all conjuring images of bandanas, bongs and Camaros. To name a few: Foreigner, Journey, Kansas, Loverboy, Blue Oyster Cult, Styx and REO Speedwagon. Seriously!
What’s great about older acts hitting the road is that we can finally see all those bands we were too cool to dig way back when you were concerned with being cool. For all those kids who skipped class and blasted the above listed bands in the school parking lot, it is now okay to see K.C. & the Sunshine Band.
Remember “Disco Sucks!”? Turns out, a lot of it didn’t. K.C. & the Sunshine Band was/is a solid funk and R&B combo with great songs. Deep in your heart, you know you loved “I’m Your Boogie Man,” “Keep It Comin’ Love,” and of course, “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty.” Tie on your bandana and see the above bands if you must, but K.C. is guaranteed a better booty shakin’ time.
And if you get a chance, don’t miss the Village People either.
25 or 6 to 4
Then there are the musicians who don’t seem like nostalgia because they never stopped working. Bruce Springsteen and his Seeger Sessions Band are playing sold-out arenas this summer, as are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on their 30th anniversary tour.
While not as overwhelmingly popular, Chicago falls into this category as well. Founded in the late 60s, Chicago is one of the few rock outfits to never break up or even take an extended break. Casual fans may have assumed the group dissolved soon after the departure of front man Peter Cetera, who sang one of the bands most famous hits, “If You Leave Me Now.” Despite a few personnel changes however, four of the six founding members remain, and Chicago continues to record and tour.
Chicago is also one of the first and few bands with a regular horn section, creating a signature sound whether playing jazz, the ballads the band is known for, or old standards. A live horn sound also makes for a great live show in any decade—whether, as the song goes, it’s Saturday in the park … or at 7 a.m. Friday morning on the “Today Show.”
New York-based writer Helen A.S. Popkin is an accomplished hairbrush vocalist, and can be seen this summer on the Living Room Tour.