Friday night I went to London’s Koko to see the Wedding Present play their 1991 album Seamonsters, the first time I’ve been to one of these ‘heritage album’ events that have become such a staple on the cultural calendar over the past decade or so. On the one hand it’s just a part of the ongoing need for bands to monetise their back catalogue, on the other it’s a welcome way for long-lived bands (though of course David Gedge is the only surviving member of the band that recorded Seamonsters) to contextualise their long existence.
And it is this that makes these heritage gigs so fascinating, because they foreground the dynamic that underlies all rock and pop gigs once you’ve got four or five albums under your belt and have to decide how and when in the show to ‘play the hits’. This dynamic, for the fans, is one based not merely on nostalgia, which is a passive emotion, but on an active attempt to recover a lost sensibility – to push through nostalgia to measure the distance travelled from who and how we were, to who and how we are now, and how that reignited passion (the rush of recognition when the first chords kick in) sits differently in us today.
That distance, of course, is made manifest by the presence onstage of the band members, or in this case singer, who are there no longer as avatars of youth and rebellion, but of middle-age and, if not obstinacy then certainly perseverance. The reasons to be a pop star or indie musician or whatever at 18 are obvious; to be so at 25 or 30 (Gedge’s age when he recorded Seamonsters) understandable; to be so at 45 or 50 (his age now) far more complex.
Why does he do it? Because he is still ‘hungry’? Because it’s his only viable livelihood? Or because we need him up there, we call him up, like some lifesize voodoo doll, to perform for us the strange, culturally-specific ritual dance of lost youth reanimated? Continue reading