When your favorite band goes into Greatest Hits mode

June 4, 2012

My lady friend and I saw one of our favorite bands, Silversun Pickups, play last Friday night. The concert was at the Santa Barbara Bowl, an outdoor amphitheater nestled in a residential area, which means the show was restricted by a 10:00 pm curfew. Due to a 20 minute turnover between acts, SSPU ended up playing for about an hour, which amounted to, by my count, 10 songs. It was a good show, and I’m not complaining about the content or the duration (I was familiar with the situation after seeing them play at the Greek Theatre in L.A.), but I was struck by which songs they ended up playing.

SSPU recently released a new album, “Neck of the Woods,” and in the past couple of weeks I’ve seen them play 2 other shows intended to promote the album. First, I saw them play a surprise show, opening for Cage the Elephant, where they played about 5 songs from the then-unreleased album and finished with ‘Panic Switch’, one of their biggest hits. Then, on the day the album was released, I saw them play for the Jimmy Kimmel Show, where they played 2 new songs for TV, then, off the air, they played an additional new song plus ‘Panic Switch’ and another classic ‘Lazy Eye’. (My memory is foggy on this, but I’m pretty sure the Kimmel mini-concert was 5 songs total.)

At the Santa Barbara Bowl, where they were the headliner and not in a strictly promotional setting, they played 5 new songs and 5 old songs. This struck me because I can see that SSPU has reached a point where they have enough songs not to play their old stuff every time they go on stage. Or, to put it another way, as a long-time fan, I must come to terms with the realization that I may not get to hear my favorite songs every time I see Silversun Pickups play. While it was great to hear ‘Future Foe Scenarios’ from the first album, I would’ve also liked to hear ‘Well Thought Out Twinkles.’ And while my lady friend likes ‘Substitution’ from the second album, I would’ve preferred to hear ‘Sort Of.’

But that’s all well and good, I can appreciate that bands change over time, that they write new music and need to sell albums to stay commercially viable, but there’s also a bit of melancholia there for me. I am excited by the prospect of Silversun Pickups playing a 2 hour show packed with great songs, but I’m also aware that I may never get to hear songs like ‘Dream at Tempo 119’ live again. And while I’m assured that songs like ‘Panic Switch’ and ‘Lazy Eye’ will get played at every show, I also dread that SSPU might adopt the Bad Religion tactic of playing 5 consecutive shows, each with their own mutually-exclusive set lists.

I know bands don’t like to turn into “greatest hits” machines, where they only play old stuff a million times over, but I hope they also remember that some of us fans love them for their early stuff and don’t really want to give up on our collective histories just yet. I’m ready to listen to and appreciate new songs and new musical directions, but I don’t want my favorite bands to forget where they came from. If only to make me happy when I hear an old song live for the millionth time.