The Reunion Epidemic: From Police To Rage, Why Are So Many Bands Re-Forming?

We take a look at why 2007 will be Throwback Summer in concert-land.

For the last decade or so, a look at your local concert guide might have you wondering what year it is. Every summer, it feels like more and more reunion tours are hitting the boards.

Even if the bandmembers famously can’t stand each other (Mötley Crüe, the Pixies), rudely dumped their lead singer years earlier (Black Sabbath, Anthrax) or vowed that hell would freeze over before they played together again (Eagles), fat paychecks await many acts who agree to bury the hatchet and wheel out the hit parade — especially if their primary audiences have grown old and/or wealthy enough to pay the hefty ticket prices.

Even ’90s-era acts are getting in on the action, with the Smashing Pumpkins (half of ‘em, anyway), Rage Against the Machine and even Another Bad Creation looking likely to regroup for some summertime throwback love.

And that’s just the beginning: Other strong possibilities include Van Halen, reportedly with ousted original singer David Lee Roth; the 30th-anniversary blitz that the Police are expected to announce shortly (see “Reunited Police To Kick Off Grammy Awards” ); as well as yet another rumored Led Zeppelin reunion that (apart from a couple of one-off performances) would include bassist John Paul Jones for the first time in nearly 30 years. Add that to a Phil Collins-era Genesis tour, rave favorites the Happy Mondays, and even a few rumored laughers that should be good on the fried-dough circuit (Right Said Fred and Men Without Hats) — and you’ve got the biggest reunion avalanche in rock history.

These reunions can usually be blamed on one or more of the following factors:

The Lute Thing Didn’t Really Work Out
Sting’s recent album of lute-driven 16th-century folk songs, Songs From the Labyrinth, may have been the top-selling classical release of last year, but it probably hasn’t done wonders for his image. So what’s the best remedy? Get back to the reason people liked him in the first place and reunite the Police. The lute thing — not to mention Eddie Van Halen’s soft-porn soundtracks — is an extreme example, but across the board, the more recent output of most heritage acts pales compared to their classic material.

Your Drummer’s Way Behind On Alimony Payments
As many a wizening musician can attest, after a band splits up, the money often stops rolling in for non-songwriting members, whose income frequently stems primarily from gigging. According to legend, one oft-reunited classic-rock act hit the road whenever its notoriously spendthrift bassist ran out of money. A quick cash-in tour can be the easiest fix for the insolvent musician — and can ease the conscience of the band’s more flush members.

New Bands That Sound Just Like You Are Raking It In
Three or four years ago, new bands influenced by early-’80s British outfit Gang of Four — including Bloc Party, Interpol, Radio 4 and others — were all the rage. Not surprisingly, a re-formed Gang of Four were on the road within months. It’s a reliable trend (many of Aerosmith’s contemporaries re-formed around the time of Guns N’ Roses’ rise), so watch for a wave of reunited alternative-era acts to hit right about … now!

All The Other Kids Are Doing It
SPLASH! That’s the sound of a wave of alternative-era acts hitting the surf. The Pixies’ 2004 reunion tour was unexpectedly, enormously successful: a fact probably not lost on contemporaries like Dinosaur Jr., the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Happy Mondays and the many others who have since followed (or are following) suit.

Even considering all that, 2007 does have an unprecedentedly thriving throwback circuit. Why? It depends on whom you ask.

The Smashing Pumpkins’ manager says in their case, it’s all about the art.

“They’ve had some amazingly big offers — some seven-figure ones to play certain shows — and [bandleader] Billy [Corgan] has passed on several because he didn’t think it was the right thing for the band,” said Paul Geary, manager of Pumpkins 2.0, who are nearly finished with a new album and will begin a reunion tour with European festival dates this summer (see “Smashing Pumpkins Drummer Offers More Clues About Forthcoming LP” ). But despite those big offers, Geary said Corgan’s motivation is not money but his artistic vision.

“I’ve been involved with bands whose members can’t stand each other, and over time they run out of dough and that’s why they do it,” he said. “But Billy’s making a great record, and for the sake of a younger generation that he wants to turn on to the band’s music, he is doing it with a band that will more faithfully re-create the old songs than ever before” (a pointed reference to the absence thus far of original Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and bassist D’Arcy Wretzky from this reunion).

According to former Police/Sting manager Miles Copeland (who said he is privy to reunion talks), that group is a bit less high-minded about its motivations. “It was the 30th anniversary [of the release of the Police's first single] and that was a good opportunity to be reflective about it,” said Copeland, brother of Police drummer Stewart Copeland. “That’s really the only reason. If it had been the 29th anniversary, it wouldn’t be happening. The record company’s always thinking of a hook to reinvigorate the public’s awareness of the band, and the anniversary was as good a reason as any. So it’s not just about the money: From an aesthetic standpoint, it’s in everyone’s ego to want to see your art carry on and see it be vibrant and reach a new generation.”

All of that, of course, works in tandem with the large sums of cash being dangled by concert promoters, who know they can charge high ticket prices for shows attended primarily by middle-aged concertgoers — who usually want to see acts that were big in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

“There aren’t a lot of new bands that can sell tickets like the boomer acts can, and a reunion is like new product in the market,” said Pollstar editor-in-chief Gary Bongiovanni. “Who ever thought they’d have a chance to see the Police? That’s something many people will consider to be a unique opportunity.”

So following that logic, what might reunion fever look like 10 years from now? Bongiovanni’s not sure. It could be Justin Timberlake putting on that graffiti jacket one more time for an ‘NSYNC revival, or Fall Out Boy teaming up with Panic! at the Disco for a package tour (Fall Out Men, anyone?). But even if you (re)build it — there’s no guarantee that they will come.

“You have to have a lot of hits to fall into that category, not one or two,” said Bongiovanni of the expected box-office riches a re-formed Police or Van Halen could be looking at this summer. “The Smashing Pumpkins audience won’t pay Genesis prices, that’s for sure.”

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.