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When Led Zeppelin took the stage for a reunion show in honour of late Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun last week, men the world over punched their fists in the air and defiantly reminded their younger counterparts that it is, indeed, possible to rock into your 60s.
Of course the Rolling Stones continue to prove this point, but Mick and the boys have also been viewed with derision by many purists who charge that touring the world to sing Jumpin’ Jack Flash for the umpteenth time is little more than a cash grab.
Still, baby boomers have the income and are willing to spend small fortunes to witness their rock heroes jam through a live jukebox of classics for what might be the last time — no one is getting any younger so the odds that either artist or customer will pass on before the next tour stop improves with each tour date.
It’s not a new trend, of course, but it’s one that’s been filling the pockets of rock promoters for years as bands such as The Eagles, The Who, Kiss, and this year, The Police, Genesis and a David Lee Roth-fronted Van Halen, have all returned to the stage in some form with either limited or full world tours.
Each has proven immensely profitable.
There are also the artists who simply refuse to hang up their Les Pauls and retire as they move into collective middle age — think The Beatles’ geriatric Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi, ACDC, and even U2, the members of which are now all in their mid- to late-forties.
Other bands such as Pink Floyd will reunite for a one-off concert as they did at Live 8 in 2005, but have refused offers of up to $250 million US to tour the world.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to speak with Joe Elliott, lead singer of ’80s hard rockers Def Leppard, and wondered if it was, indeed, better for a band to burn out or fade away.
“I think it’s better for a band to burn out, but I still think you can burn out when you’re 70,” Elliott said. “I’d rather be Roger Daltrey than Kurt Cobain.”
I saw Elliott and his mates crank through their catalogue the next night and was duly impressed. They still rock, but throughout the show I was subconsciously waiting for a miscue.
It’s the same for Lep as for any of the above-mentioned rockers: Watching the aged version of the bands of your youth play live is akin to watching an old man return to the one activity he was great at in his earlier years and rooting for him not to fail.
The Daily Mail’s James Delingpole summarized this best when he wondered whether still being physically able to perform is reason to enough to take the plunge: “Is that sufficient justification for (Led Zeppelin’s) three surviving originators — one now looking like an accountant, one like a Muppet in a white fright wig, one like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard Of Oz — to creak back on stage and play it not quite as excitingly as they could in 1971, 1972 or 1973 for an audience of mostly staid, pot-bellied, middle-aged men in a smokeless environment named after a mobile phone company?”
I’m afraid the answer is probably not.