What do you call Kraftwerk’s feat of performing eight of the groundbreaking German techno band's albums in their entirety during their stint at Walt Disney Concert Hall?
A good start?
Not to take away form the achievement for which the pioneering electronic music outfit is being lauded this week, but it’s just the latest example of the trend in recent years of artists performingcornerstone albums from beginning to end in concert.
Beach Boys creative leader Brian Wilson first did that group’s high-water mark “Pet Sounds” album in toto more than a decade ago at the Hollywood Bowl, then took it on tour. Subsequently he completed the group’s loing-shelved “Smile” album and unveiled it in London in 2004 before also touring with that latter-day masterwork.
Roger Waters has mounted massively successful tours built around full performances of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall” albums, Weezer played “Pinkerton” and “The Blue Album” together live on a 2010 tour and Lucinda Williams played five of her favorite albums over the course of five nights in Los Angeles in 2007.
No one, however, has yet come close to what L.A.’s own quirky pop duo Sparks pulled off in 2008 in London: Over the course of 21 nonconsecutive nights, the band possibly most widely known for its 1984 dance-pop hit “Cool Places” played all 21 of its studio albums, back to front, live.
"We're not interested in doing nostalgia," Sparks lead singer Russell Mael said at the time. "We thought, 'What could we do to focus attention on our current album that probably no other band could ever do on this sort of scale?' Any band that would have 21 albums in their repertoire wouldn't have the focus, the hunger and the kind of daring to want to do it."
The practice for many musicians has been to underscore what seems to be a fading concept in the digital era of cherry-picking individual tunes for downloading.
"In one sense, with iTunes and all that, it's moving in the other direction, where people are choosing just to listen to the strongest song off an album and have no interest in an album as an entire piece,” keyboardist Ron Mael said. “They're not interested in the bigger picture."
Indeed, most of the artists who’ve undertaken these grand-scale projects have said their motivation had nothing to do with gently strolling down memory lane.
"It's good to go back and respect your early work," Williams said. "For every song I've written, there's going to be someone who loves that song. It's good not to just leave them behind and never go back and look at them. And you can learn something. My 'Car Wheels [On a Gravel Road' from 1998] album was the pivotal one for me, and I was thinking, just asking myself, 'What was it about those songs that drew people in? What can I learn from that?'
“Ultimately, though,” she added, “it gave me this freedom to do whatever I wanted to do."
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