They're not grateful any more, but their fans and accountants sure are. The surviving band members of the Grateful Dead -- bassist Phil Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart -- have resurrected the group as The Dead (after a brief period in limbo as The Other Ones). And even though Jerry Garcia passed away five years ago now, The Dead sold out its first concert last night in San Francisco to fans happy for a chance to brush the mothballs off their tie-dyed togs. More importantly, the gig was rumoured to be the first of a tour that will cross North America this summer.
The Dead are not the only band causing reunion-revival fever. Sure, there's the biannual Led Zeppelin Reunion Tour rumour, which once again reared its ugly head last October, immediately followed by the biannual Led Zeppelin Reunion Tour Denial. But in this year's presummer rock-festival doldrums, reports are running wild about get-togethers of Van Halen, A Tribe Called Quest and even The Police.
The best bit of gossip however, is that since the idea of a Clash reunion tour died with Joe Strummer, British tabloids are speculating that Bruce Springsteen will front the band, if only for a one-night gig at the Clash's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March.
But why the never-ending appetite for reunions? "For one thing, the reason promoters like them is that it's typically a proven entity, a proven moneymaker," says Ray Waddell, a senior editor at music bible Billboard magazine, who's written extensively on touring. "In most cases, nostalgia always sells." So who's getting back on the bus this summer? How do you separate truth from rumour?
Well, start with the band that gave us Rumours. Fleetwood Mac, perhaps the greatest band of 1977, is confirmed to tour this summer, in support of Say You Will, their first studio album in nearly 16 years, due in stores in April. Fleetwood Mac's get-together is textbook reunion revival: Bands don't just overcome the old grievances that split them up because they missed life on the road.
There has to be a reason. Either a new album, or a special event (such as Jane's Addiction at this year's Lollapalooza, or nineties college faves Toad the Wet Sprocket) or to celebrate an anniversary (such as the Joe Jackson band, celebrating the 25th anniversary of their first album Look Sharp,or original R&B boy band New Edition, minus Bobby Brown, who will release a new album in September in celebration of their 20th anniversary).
Fleetwood Mac's tour, their first since their last reunion tour in 1997, features singer Stevie Nicks, bassist John McVie, drummer Mick Fleetwood and singer/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. Keyboardist Christine McVie's absence in the lineup hits on an interesting conundrum in the reunion-band theology: How many band members do you need to be considered the original band?
Quite simply, there's a credibility issue at stake. "Sometimes it doesn't work. Pricing, particularly, is a big issue -- one of the great failures was Diana Ross and the Supremes, when it was really Diana Ross and two other ladies," admits Waddell. "But if you see Stevie out there with Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood, that's big. They're going to miss Christine, obviously, but that's still three out of four of the most popular members of the band. Christine, as great a talent as she was, was never really out front. It will still do some business, and it was a huge success when they first brought it back."
Then there's The Doors, or rather keyboardist Ray Manzarek (you know, played by Kyle MacLachlan in the 1991 Oliver Stone movie) and guitarist Robbie Krieger (played by Frank Whaley in that movie). They're slated to tour this spring, joined by Ian Astbury, former lead singer for The Cult, and Police drummer Stewart Copeland. At least, Copeland will join them if the rumoured Police reunion tour, predicted in time for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, doesn't provide any scheduling conflicts. "The Doors is a great 'if,' " says Waddell. "As great musicians as the other guys are, the Doors, to me, is about Jim Morrison, and there isn't much you can do about that. You would have to get a huge name to step in to take over vocal duties for that to be a successful venture. When they've had all-star jams, and somebody like [Pearl Jam's]Eddie Vedder has taken the vocals, it's been cool, and interesting and noteworthy, and garnered a lot of press attention, but I don't see anybody lining up to do a whole tour of that."
Jim Morrison aside, there's at least one holdout for the band's former drummer John Densmore, and that's Densmore himself. While he apparently declined to play with the band because of he suffers from a hearing disorder, he's suing to prevent them from using The Doors name -- hence the band will be called The 21st Century Doors. But even if you can get past all the band infighting that broke you up in the first place, the oldies aren't so goldie.
The long-awaited Chinese Democracy Tour, a reunion of late-eighties rockers Guns N' Roses, turned out to be only Axl Rose and a couple of other guys. But when Rose blew off his very first concert last November, angry fans responded by rioting and causing nearly $400,000 worth of damage to Vancouver's GM Place. When Rose failed to appear for another concert, tour promoters Clear Channel Entertainment cancelled the rest of the dates.
But the bad-taste award surely goes to The Who. Famous for their repeated final, final, final farewell concerts, their last tour got off to a rocky start when bassist John Entwistle rode the magic bus to the great stadium in the sky a mere night before the launch of their latest reunion tour. Entwistle's death didn't stop Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey from continuing, and considering Townshend's current legal troubles, it may very well have been their last goodbye.
Still, The Who isn't high up on the critics' wish list. But Pink Floyd is, by fans and promoters alike. Waddell points out that their 1994 reunion tour played to three million people -- one million more than that year's Rolling Stones, Elton John and Billy Joel concerts, and made $103.6-million (U.S.).
"Pink Floyd, without Roger Waters, would be a monster, but with him would be one of the biggest tours ever," he says. "But I've talked to those folks, and it does't seem likely right away. "It would be great," Waddell says wistfully. "Quote me, maybe they'll do it."