Tuesday 17 July 2018

Old gold: here come rock's strolling bones

Blasts from the past:
Neil Young
Blasts from the past: Neil Young

Nick Kelly

Hey hey, my my, ol' rockers can never die ... and if you need proof, you only have to look at the live music calendar in Ireland this summer.

Mister Shakey himself, Neil Young, who turns 64 on his next birthday, plays Malahide Castle on June 29 and Cork Marquee on June 30. 'Laughing Len' Cohen, a sprightly 73 years old, will stop off in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham for his first Irish concert s in two decades on June 14 and 15; while Lou Reed (63) kicks off the European tour of his legendary Berlin song cycle in Cork Marquee (June 23) and Belfast Waterfront (June 24).

In addition to these three titans of popular music, whose collective influence can hardly be gauged, we have Croker-bound Neil Diamond, who at 67 has record sales (120 million at last count) almost as large as his short collars and sideburns He plays the hallowed turf on June 14. And as I write, septuagenarian Texan Kris Kristofferson is continuing his love-in with Irish audiences with a nationwide tour that takes him from Kerry to Derry.

By these standards, Prince is a veritable baby just out of nappies, yet the impish pop genius who plays Croke Park on June 16 actually turns 50 this year.

Forget these old farts, you say, Oxegen is where the kids will be this summer. Yet the line-up, which was announced last week, features some of rock's most battered warhorses in the main headlining slots. REM, who formed in 1980, are hardly the darlings of today's teen rock fans, yet they will be the last band standing on the Saturday (July 12). Also on the bill are Nineties throwbacks like The Charlatans (whose new single sounds like a New Order knock-off), the reformed Verve and whiney dad rockers Counting Crows.

The Sunday, meanwhile, is headlined by another reformed Nineties behemoth, Rage Against The Nursing Home ... sorry The Machine, who clearly meant it when they said they wouldn't do what we told them. Bringing up the rear are Eighties legends Ian Brown and The Pogues. And is anyone genuinely excited by the prospect of seeing The Prodigy again?

It's hard to tell if the promoters are hoping to entice older thirtysomething music fans to the festival as well as the younger teen and twentysomething audience who traditionally make up the bulk of the audience demographic at Oxegen, or if the younger folk genuinely hanker after the ghosts of rock's past.

One thing that struck me while I tried in vain to see or hear the great Black Francis during his farcical impromptu set outside the gates of St Stephen's Green was just how young everyone was who turned up. Hundreds of fresh-faced teens scrambled up lamp-posts and scaled the Green's walls to catch a glimpse of their hero, whose legend rests on a clutch of classic albums released 20 years ago. It's hard to countenance that two decades have passed since the release of Surfer Rosa but the calendar on my wall doesn't lie.

It's curious that some great acts from the days of yore survive the ravages of time and fashion to become elder statesmen beloved by fathers and sons alike (and even grandsons), while other once-heralded acts sink like a stone into history's deep blue yonder.

If you'd told me a year ago that Journey would end up back in the Top 10 again and would play the National Stadium in 2008 (June 25 to be precise), I'd have needed a strong dose of the smelling salts. Yet the Seventies rockers, whose records are so cheesy they should be sponsored by Galtee, have somehow found themselves hip again, thanks to the music supervisor of The Sopranos, whose finale they soundtracked.

To go back to where we started, Neil Young is a classic case in point: the darling of the Laurel Canyon set of West Coast-based singer/songwriters in the Sixties and a rock colossus who bestrode the Seventies, Young was tragically out of favour through the Eighties, until Kurt Cobain helped resurrect his career in the Nineties, when he was christened the Godfather of Grunge.

That other wise old King Canuck, Leonard Cohen, has also undergone a renaissance of popularity in middle age, thanks partly to the endorsement of another ill-fated young star, Jeff Buckley, whose inspired cover of Hallelujah led a whole new generation to its author (including far too many members of Dublin's busking fraternity, but we'll let that pass).

Since then, every other A-list rock star (including Bono and The Edge) queued up to pay tribute to him in Lian Lunson's documentary I'm Your Man as well as the sporadic series of tribute concerts, titled Came So Far For Beauty, whose Dublin leg featured an unforgettable performance by ... Lou Reed. First he takes on Cohen, then he plays Berlin. My my, hey hey ...

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