The Pros and Cons of Classic Album In Full Sets

A Guardian piece claims that  the ‘classic’ album set is ruining festivals. It actually makes some good points, but those points are so clumsily-made that the whole piece reads far more like provocative clickbait than perhaps it should. The last sentence on this quote is a self-evident load of tripe.

This week, there’s even an entire festival in Chicago and Denver dedicated to artists too lazy to write a proper setlist. Weezer, Slayer, Jane’s Addiction and seven more will plough through their biggest albums front-to-back at Riot Fest, so if you want to hear a band you used to like perform a track they wrote as filler 20 years ago, knock yourself out. Be honest: when was the last time you actually played an album, including all those rubbish “skits” artists are so keen on, all the way through?

The “Play a classic album in full” thing got started because fans were getting bored of older bands playing the same standards tour after tour as if they were their own tribute act, and it was an opportunity to shake things up and perform the odd rarely-played song live.

This was a fine approach for bands who have made albums as consistently great as “Moving Pictures” or “Blackwater Park”, but once the trend caught on too many bands who hadn’t actually made a flawless classic jumped on the bandwagon. For them, some of those rarely-played songs were rarely-played for a reason.

There were two such sets on the Prog stage at High Voltage in 2011, Uriah Heep playing “Demons and Wizards” and Martyn Turner’s Wishbone Ash playing “Argus”.  The latter worked really well, it’s an album that’s stood the test of time, and it made for a more enjoyable set that the blues-rock workouts you get from Andy Powell’s official Wishbone Ash nowadays.  The Heep set was far less effective,  much like every 70s Uriah Heep album there was a lot of filler and some of the album had dated very badly. A greatest hits set cherry-picking the best songs from their 40 year career would have been so much better.

Which all goes to show that album-in-full sets are neither a good thing or a bad thing in themselves, but they depend on the band, and on the album.

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10 Responses to The Pros and Cons of Classic Album In Full Sets

  1. PaulE says:

    The pacing of albums is very different from gig sets. Didn’t someone do their “classic album” in reverse order so that the big hits were at the end ?

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Yes, I think that was Metallica with The Black Album.

  3. Have you heard about Paul Kelly’s “alphabet tour” approach? He makes the setlist for each show by putting together his songs in alphabetical order (so time periods and albums are all jumbled together, but things are still organised somehow) and if he does several dates in one place he’ll do the A-H show one night, the I-O show the next night and so on.

    It probably wouldn’t work as well for an artist who was less insanely prolific in terms of songwriting, but it’s an interesting way to shake things up.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    Marillion did that one the second night of their 2011 convention; they didn’t have any songs beginning with “X”, so they did a cover of XTC’s “Senses Working Overtime”, with a guest appearance from Dave Gregory.

    Judas Priest did their “One from every album” set at the 2011 High Voltage; made sure they covered every era by playing one song from every album they’re recorded. Still left room for plenty of their standards, and by playing one of them as the encore they managed to include both of their big hits from “British Steel”.

  5. Sam Lewis says:

    I’ve not seen many shows like this, but seeing Extreme play all of ‘Pornograffitti’ was pretty awesome :)

  6. Tom B says:

    I’d loved to have seen that Sam, Pornograffiti is a true classic album. I’ve only been to one gig where an entire album was played, and that was Therion playing Vovin last year. As Tim says, it all depends on the band and the album but you can’t really go wrong with Therion (very few duff tracks) and Vovin is possibly their finest work.

  7. Synthetase says:

    “Be honest: when was the last time you actually played an album, including all those rubbish “skits” artists are so keen on, all the way through?”

    Er, today. I listened to three albums back to back and it was great.

    “You want the emotional peaks and troughs of a tried-and-tested performance, not something predictable.”

    Yes, because as we all know, ‘tried and tested’ is never predictable… If no-one ever listens to albums any more, how is the track list of an album predictable? Did anyone actually proof-read this rubbish?

  8. David Meadows says:

    I’m trying to remember the last time I *didn’t* listen to an album all the way through.

    I wonder if that Guardian journalist skips through movies to miss out the scenes he doesn’t like, too?

  9. Synthetase says:

    My guess is that if all you listen to is post-punk Brit pop, or corporate ‘indy’ rock you have to skip half the album filler to get to the obvious singles.

  10. Tim Hall says:

    It’s always been true for much mainstream commercial rock, even from the classic rock era. Just listen to any 70s/80s Whitesnake album. Even the best ones have a lot of filler on them.