How many original
members of a
band you love
still have to play for it
to really be
the band you love?
The ancient greeks were the first ones to comes up with the paradox known as the Ship of Thesis, which is also known as the Grandfather’s or Philosopher’s Axe. It works like this: A man buys a car when he is 16. He loves the car and takes such good care of it that he still has it when he dies 70 years later, but in that time every single part of the car had to be replaced at some point. The question then is if it is really the same car he bought if not a single original part remains.
It’s a fun brainteaser and one that is especially applicable in the world of music. Very often these days we find ourselves excited by the news that an old band we love–who we had no idea even still toured–is coming to our town, but then we hit the Internet and find out that it isn’t actually the band we love, but a single member touring with new musicians under the same name. Maybe it’s a couple of original members, but the sense of disappointment is still the same.
We can’t begrudge the musicians from trying to earn a living, but it still feels like a scam–trading on nostalgia to get people to go to a concert they probably wouldn’t otherwise attend.
But sometimes it isn’t that cut & dried. Sometimes all but one of the original members is present, yet it still doesn’t seem right. For example, when tickets for The Pixies went on sale in Edmonton I decided not to go. I went to the last two concerts they performed here and was blown away both times, but this time Kim Deal wasn’t performing with them. And as great as Black Francis/Frank Black, David Lovering and Joey Santiago are, she is–to me, at least–an integral part of what made them great, so I decided to not go. I have no doubt it was a great concert, but they were no longer the band I wanted to see.
At what point does a musical group become a cover band version of itself? And is that necessarily a bad thing? If people are willing to pay to see Queen with Adam Lambert in place of Freddie Mercury, does anyone have the right to grumble? Or are there some things we should just be willing to let go and acknowledge that they don’t exist anymore?
Is there a band you love you wouldn’t see live if a specific member quit? Is there one you would see regardless, no matter who was in the actual lineup?