'Brotherly Love' helps redeem lackluster lineup


April 22, 2001

BY JIM DEROGATIS pop music critic


Poison. Journey. Bon Jovi. Rod Stewart. Depeche Mode. Madonna. Aerosmith. mmmmmmmm m mIf you took a passing glance at the roster of headlining acts for the summer concert season of 2001, you'd be well within reason to think you were looking at the lineup from 1981.


If any trend characterizes this year's bookings at the big outdoor amphitheaters or ''sheds,'' it's the predominance of older acts that are hitting the road to peddle the nostalgic hits of 20 or 30 years ago. That's really no surprise: In times of uncertainty, businesses and consumers alike tend to go with the tried and true.


The concert industry has been in a state of flux for several years now, ever since the excitement of the mid-'90s alternative era gave way to a more uncertain period of passing fads and teen-pop phenoms.


A few of these much-hyped MTV-friendly acts have become major stadium draws: 'N Sync is at Soldier Field on June 16 and 17, and the Backstreet Boys are playing the newly rechristened Tweeter Center on July 21. But there is a lack of headline-worthy talent between those groups and more established bands such as U2, which is celebrating its third decade by kicking off the concert season with four shows at the United Center in mid-May.


Part of the problem is the inevitable cyclical nature of the music scene. Concert promoters and critics have both been waiting for the galvanizing next big thing" in live music since the end of the Lollapalooza years, but it has yet to arrive.


A few multi-band touring festivals linger, notably radio-sponsored events like the Q101 Jamboree and Loopfest, as well as the increasingly tired Ozzfest and Vans Warped Tour. But Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair and H.O.R.D.E. are all history, and they have not been replaced by any sort of package tour with a unifying artistic vision.


Promoters are faced with the problem of having to present <ital>something<ital> while waiting for that Next Big Thing; hence the proliferation of veteran touring acts. But whether fans are willing to shell out new-millennium ticket prices for last century's musical heroes remains to be seen.


With some 70 percent of the summer season already announced, the highlights that I see include the "tour of brotherly love," the Black Crowes and Oasis at the Tweeter Center on May 20; 311's headlining slot on the Vans Warped Tour at Tweeter on July 15, and the reunited Roxy Music at the Allstate Arena on July 30 (though it's really a shame that this famously elegant group isn't playing a smaller, classier venue like the Chicago Theater).


Madonna is coming at long last, which should at least be interesting for spectacle value. But it looks as if fans will have to wait until the fall to see the other female dance diva who'd been rumored to be touring, Janet Jackson.


Sultry chanteuse Sade is expected to announce a summer tour soon that will bring her to the Tweeter Center.


R.E.M. will not be touring behind its new album, but rock fans can look forward to Blink-182 returning for a summer amphitheatre date, and to a guitar-lovers package tour that will include Jeff Beck, John Paul Jones and King Crimson.


There are also rumors of another Jane's Addiction tour, and an electronic music package tour headlined by Moby.


Chicago is one of the few cities in America with two competing local promoters. Over the last three years, the New York-based SFX Music Group spent $2 billion buying up dozens of venues across the country to become the dominant force in live music.


Here, SFX owns the Tweeter Center (formerly the New World Music Theatre) and the Alpine Valley Music Theatre, but it competes for local bookings with the long-running Chicago-based Jam Productions.


In search of further enlightenment about the state of the industry in the summer of 2001, I spoke in separate interviews with Larry Wethers, vice president of SFX Chicago, and Andy Cirzan, the top talent buyer at Jam.


Q. What would you say characterizes the concert season in the summer of 2001?


Cirzan: There has not been a formal changing of the guard. There's a real dearth of new, developing artists that have stepped up to become the next round of major ticket-sellers. Everybody in the industry has made the lack of artist development a rallying cry over the last few years, and it's really coming home to roost right now.


Wethers: I would say at this point, we're seeing some more of your classic touring acts--not necessarily new acts, but your acts like a Poison who have become perennial acts. But I think more so than probably last year, we're also seeing older acts that are more of your A-level acts--your Aerosmiths, your Rod Stewarts, your John Mellencamps. Of course, this spring is a pretty busy time as well: You've got U2 touring and playing four sold-out dates here in Chicago.


As for the acts that are new or will be new to the market or to the larger scene this year, you've got an act like Dido that's coming out and playing the Tweeter Center. She's never played the market and sold hard tickets along those levels, so it will be interesting to see how the market receives her playing in a large venue.


Q. Dido is on a very short list of newer artists who are hitting the amphitheaters. Are there any others you can name?


Wethers: Godsmack is an act that has made the rise through the ranks in a relatively quick fashion, going from clubs up to theater-level plays, and they'll be coming back to the amphitheaters over the summer. That's an act that I think hopefully we can long forward to being able to establish some longevity. The question of course every summer is, "Who's gonna be the next Dave Matthews?," a band that might be able to build a fan base from year to year and grow. It's no secret that there are a lot of acts who were the hot acts three years ago that may not be touring any more right now. Of course, it's our job to hopefully be able to capitalize on an act as they're coming up and build toward sustaining them, because it's gonna be good for the music business as a whole.


I think it's great that acts like Aerosmith to a certain extent can almost reinvent themselves. That's an act that's been on the road for 30 years, but I'm willing to bet that this summer there's gonna be a lot of people at the show that weren't even born 30 years ago. They seem to be getting a larger and larger audience base on younger acts, but that's definitely the rare exception.


The lack of new acts is a combination of things: Promoters obviously play a role in that, the acts themselves obviously play a large role in that, and the record labels as well. I don't know if it's that the attempt isn't being made to develop new acts, but there's definitely some hits and some misses. Hopefully Godsmack will continue on their growth that they've seen in the last 12 to 18 months, and they could be the next Aerosmith.


Cirzan: There are a number of bands that have gotten really solid airplay and sold a decent number of records, but people aren't reacting to them in the concert arena. It's not like a passive thing, where you go and buy a CD or you hear a song on the radio and you turn it up. You've got to really, really want to go see a band live to go through all the stuff that entails: planning on how to get your ticket, making plans to drive to the venue, then committing an evening of your life to it, probably bringing someone else and paying for them, buying a T-shirt...


The correlation between interest in a song and even buying a record is not locked in step with the logical conclusion that when that band comes, I want to go see them. There are bands that are multi-platinum artists, and kids have these records, and I doubt they could name one guy in the group. I think band's careers are more like movies now than they ever were before. If you have a hit movie that's big, it doesn't guarantee in any way, shape or form that if you take that concept to the next level and make a sequel, it's gonna be successful. Bands are a commodity now more than ever; they're marketed that way, and everything is about exploding out of the box. If it doesn't happen, then they just run off to the next one. I've never seen anything like it.


Wethers: I don't necessarily disagree with that. Definitely in an environment where you've got radio formats that change from year to year, it may be a situation where it's hard to have any continuity in terms of the exposure that a certain act is getting in any given market place. And the audience's tastes change from year to year, and I think that goes along to a certain extent with how radio stations position themselves on air. People are going to gravitate to what's quote-unquote "hot" at the time, but the true test is, "Where does that loyalty come in? If your favorite band is Dave Matthews and maybe he comes up with a new album for the first time in two years and it doesn't sell as well, his loyal fans are obviously going to stay with him and still want to go see him live. But there's good times and bad times for every band, and it's the ones that can sustain it that are going to be around for the long haul.


Q. Are there going to be any other big surprises before the summer is out--anything to equal the excitement of U2 in the spring?


Wethers: There's a lot of buzz about big name acts that potentially may be out there. I think we're going to continue to see some more big acts come down the pike in the next couple of months. If I had to bet, I'd definitely say, "Yeah, there will be more in store this summer."