On Tour: Your Favorite Album

There’s an emerging trend where every once in a while artists play their albums start to finish – but could the trend work as a tour?

Years ago, Cheap Trick took up residency at Chicago’s Metro, playing one classic album per night. It gave Cheap Trick a break from playing the well-served "Surrender, Dream Police, Want You To Want Me" setlist and gave its loyal fanbase a chance to hear their favorite albums, song by song.

But rather than perform in one city, could an artist tour this concept? Apparently the Pixies have an album in the works followed, presumably, by a tour.

It’s the traditional paradigm, but if that weren’t the case, an alternative would be to book a trio of dates in smaller rooms in the major markets, price it accordingly and perform, one album per night, Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. Imagine Van Morrison touring Astral Weeks, Black Sabbath Paranoid or The Cure doing Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.

Cool. Then again, when Iron Maiden announced to a U.K. crowd after playing five songs they would play a whole album start to finish, "there was a negative reaction, largely silence, even the odd boo," the South Wales Echo reported.

But the trend is thriving at festivals. All Tomorrow’s Parties, the yearly European festival that invites a curator to make up the lineup with their favorite artists, caught on to the idea in 2005 when it started Don’t Look Back, a concert series where a number of groups play one of their greatest albums in its entirety. The series takes place over several cities, with a different band at each concert.

The Stooges, Low, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Belle & Sebastian and Mudhoney are some of the bands to participate. This year, Sonic Youth is performing Daydream Nation, Slint will do Spiderland, and Girls Against Boys will do Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby. There’s Cowboy Junkies doing The Trinity Session and House of Love will perform their first LP, House of Love.

Founder Barry Hogan said he was inspired to start Don’t Look Back after seeing artists perform their albums and wanted to present it as a whole season.

"To me [it] is how albums should be heard – as a whole art form as opposed to odd tracks, which has dominated music of late with the age of the iPod shuffle," Hogan told Pollstar. "I try to promote shows with a reason that are not just about money, as anyone can do that."

This is the first year Don’t Look Back has expanded outside the U.K., with New York City and Los Angeles hosting a few shows. And Don’t Look Back is collaborating with the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago for the first day of the July 13-15 event. Sonic Youth and Slint will be there in addition to GZA/Genius playing Liquid Swords.

Although the first day features only three acts as opposed to 18 groups per day on the following days, it was the first to sell out.

Apart from the concert series, bands and artists are joining the trend on their own. Queensrÿche recently performed Operation Mindcrime and Operation Mindcrime II in their entirety. Roger Waters is touring The Dark Side of the Moon. OMD has toured Architecture & Morality. The Zombies announced they will perform Odessey and Oracle next year. And the list goes on.

Hogan believes the trend is a way to expand the circle.

"The concert industry is a booming market; it’s the record companies that are starting to be affected by everything and are suffering," he said. "I think live music will always be strong but to survive, creative approaches are necessary or the market will evolve and people will disappear as it evolves."

Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson told the New York Times that playing albums live is all about getting butts in seats, but he isn’t a fan.

It’s "a way to get people to come in and buy a ticket in a very competitive market," Anderson said. "It’s a cynical commercial ploy on the part not only of concert promoters but also of some of the artists who go along with it."

However, Jethro Tull performed its 1971 album Aqualung for XM Satellite Radio’s series "Then … Again … Live" and released an album of the performance in 2005.

While the Don’t Look Back night may have been the first to sell out at the Pitchfork Music Festival, PMF founder and booker Mike Reed hesitates to say performing albums live is a trend that will snowball too much.

"I don’t think it’s just going to start this chain reaction of people across the world doing it. I think it’s just getting a lot of attention because it’s the two festivals presenting it together.

"That’s probably why it’s up on people’s radar more than before," Reed told Pollstar. "The idea of a band performing a record is not something that’s new. It’s just the fact that you know that’s what you’re coming to see."

Whether it catches on as a widespread trend, the right band and promoter are essential.

"You need a really great record to do it. Not necessarily any band can," Reed said.

Case in point: Brian Wilson has toured albums, and great ones, like Pet Sounds and Smile. Lou Reed is currently touring Berlin.

Hogan thinks these shows are more geared toward the hardcore fans, separating the die-hards from the casual listeners.

"It’s great for those fans because some of the obscure tracks are ones that are never played live or have never been performed live so they are a real treat."

Primus bassist-singer Les Claypool seems to agree. The trio has played Sailing the Seas of Cheese and Frizzle Fry live.

"It was an interesting way of presenting material that for a good portion of our fans held a dear place," he told the Times.