Reunited, And It Feels...Just Okay
Art and life co-habitate, informing, imitating, and enriching each other constantly. Each week in Better Living Through Music, RFT Music writer Ryan Wasoba explores this symbiotic relationship.
Most of my favorite bands from high school are reuniting, either for one-off festivals or for total rebirths complete with new albums. The list includes (alphabetically) At The Drive-In, Braid, Dismemberment Plan, The Get Up Kids, Piebald, and Refused, proving my scope of favorites circa 2001 ranged all the way from emo to emo-core with the inclusion of some emo-leaning indie rock and emo-approved hardcore. I should be thrilled about the idea of these groups existing again - isn't Earth a sadder place with less music? - but I'm conflicted.
The reunion tour is so often seen as an excuse to cash in on previous successes that the knee-jerk assumption of such is a tired reaction. I care less about the motivations of the bands and more about the motivations of the audience. I sometimes wonder if the demand for reunions is brought on by negative aspects of fandom, like the inability to move on after a breakup and the reluctance to trust or invest in new artists.
Let me make the disclaimer often necessary in these Better Living Through Music columns: I ain't judging. Many of my friends made the trek up to Chicago for Dismemberment Plan's reunion shows; my main non-monetary reason for going was to give my hypothetical spot to somebody who has not seen the band as many times as I. Such a martyr, I know. But when any of these friends returned, I picked their brains about as many details of the shows as possible. Ditto for my pal who just saw Refused in the Windy City. Remember: living vicariously through your friends is always the cheapest alternative.
In the case of the Dismemberment Plan, an argument could be made that the band is more vital now than the last year of its existence, when it was losing steam live, dragging its tempos, and test-driving songs that would later end up on frontman Travis Morrison's disastrous solo album Travistan. But in most situations, a band's reunion falls short of expectations - some of which, if set by the fans, are impossible to attain. The idea of the band getting back together, of getting to yell "Cut away!" along with At The Drive-In when the group inevitably closes with "One Armed Scissor," is more romantic in thought than practice.
Nobody can fault a group of people for getting together to relive the good old days - especially if they can get paid in the process. Functionally, a fan seeing a reunited group is not much different from a fan seeing a tribute band. But when these resurrected bands start to write songs again, fandom becomes complicated. So much of what makes a band's initial run great is contextual, the way it creates its art in relation to what else is happening in music and society. Furthermore, since most of the aforementioned bands were pre-Internet touring machines, their music was connected to their complete immersion in their lifestyle.