Do we need album playback tours?

The full album playback tour is on the rise. Usually, it’s for an anniversary of a special album but last week Bloc Party announced a string of European dates in which they will play all of 2005’s ‘Silent Alarm’ in full. The album is iconic, and deservedly so, but 13 years is not a landmark. Bloc Party aren’t that band, their sound has moved on and half the lineup is completely different. This announcement got me wondering why we have moved into a climate where fans are excited to pay good money to jump back and see a show that won’t be as good as the original tour.

Now for the sake of transparency, I must mention that last year I went along to the 10 year anniversary tour of The Cribs third album ‘Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever’. I also saw The Enemy perform every track from debut album ‘We Live And Die In These Towns’ on their farewell tour. I am not anti this kind of tour, I just think it has a very specific place and time.

Let’s take an example of an anniversary tour going on at the moment, Manchester band Courteeners are in the middle of a small string of shows to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the release of debut album St. Jude. The tour concludes with a massive gig at the Manchester Arena 10 years to the day of the release of the album that seems to have connected with northern indie kids more than any in the last decade. I think everyone knows that this anniversary is being used to make some money (there’s also a reworking of the album being released and I’ve just seen a St. Jude inspired Parker pen on an Instagram story) but there also seems to be a genuine excitement from the band to celebrate their most popular release. This weekend they played a gig for Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall, which while exciting isn’t a very lucrative gig. The reworking of the album gives fans something new and exciting to salivate and if I’m honest I’d probably buy ridiculous merch if it was released by The Libertines and I had any money. Courteeners, say what you like about their music, seem to be genuinely excited about celebrating a big milestone in their lives and know how important it is to the fans too.

Similarly, the gigs I mentioned earlier were held in a similar vein. The Cribs are a band who care for their fan base more than most on the scene and ‘MNWNW’ was probably the album a huge number of their fan base used as an entrance point. The opportunity to headline the First Direct Arena in Leeds was probably too big an offer to turn down though but they made it their own. No flashy staging or tour bus, they arrived in their beaten up old transit van. The Enemy could easily have bowed out quietly like Palma Violets have but they knew that their fans would happily spend their money for one last celebration and a sold out tour was the best way for them to go out. For me, it was a chance to see a band I’d discovered late on in their lifetime and I relished the opportunity to belt out some of my favourite tunes and give them the send off they deserved.

I think we can all agree that all three tours I mentioned also have a money making element but at least there is an element of celebration too. I think the problem I have with the tour Bloc Party have announced is the pure cynicism of it. It’s a desperate cry for attention and a chance to make a bit of money. There is no way the band could sell out Alexandra Palace with a tour of current material, 2016’s ‘Hymns’ was a disappointing album and the announcement of this tour suggests to me that they don’t have any decent new material so far either. I don’t think I have any problem with playing an album back in full, I just think it should be done for the right reasons.

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