09 March 2016

When does a band become an act?

So, of course, there's lots of talk about the big news from hard rock this week. Due to medical issues and the potential for permanent and complete hearing loss of singer Brian Johnson, AC/DC has postponed the last 10 shows of their current tour (and, rumor has it, their last 10 shows in the US ever). The band has announced that fans can get a refund, or hold their tickets for make-up shows likely to feature fill-in singers.

Much ado is being made about the replacement singer part. The arguments tend to fall into two camps: "Well, if it's not Brian Johnson singing, then it's just a cover band at this point!" vs "Johnson was a replacement singer himself, so what's the big deal?"

Yes, Brian Johnson was a replacement following the death of Bon Scott. Scott didn't quit over contract issues, didn't run out and form "Bon Scott's AC/DC" to compete against the 'real' band. He passed away. The current band line-up had been together about 5 years at that point. But now the lead singer has been Johnson for 35 years. Pretty sure it's safe to stop calling him a replacement.

But it brings up an interesting point: When does a band stop being a band and become an act, more like a Broadway show, where the parts are the same, but the actors are different?

KISS is a band that had divided their fandom on this issue. They made the very conscious decision to put new players - Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer - into the original characters created by Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, respectively. Now there is talk that Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons may be looking for replacements to fill their own platform boots so that the show - the act - can keep going.

Foreigner was formed by Mick Jones, Ian McDonald, Lou Gramm, Ed Gagliardi, Dennis Elliott, and Al Greenwood. In their 40+ years as a band, only Mick Jones remains. So are they still rightfully the same band?

The Who is another big one. This is a band that has legendary names associated with it: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, One of the biggest names - Keith Moon - was the band's second drummer. Townshend and Daltrey are still there, though, and touring with different faces joining them on stage.

Even AC/DC itself - they've had drummers come and go like they're Spinal Tap! They lost one of the two founding members to health issues when Malcolm Young had to step aside. The two longest-serving members - Angus Young and Cliff Williams - will be the only two left on stage with this replacement-singer plan being put forward. Does that make them less of a band than The Who?

So where is the line drawn? How do you tell the difference between a reformed band and a cover act that has a really cool long-term cameo from an original member? Is the upcoming Guns N Roses tour REALLY a reunion when there will still be "new" players in the band (who have been there longer than the original members)?

And when did it start to matter? I seem to recall days long past when a band was 4, 5, 6 guys and that line-up stayed pretty constant. But nowadays, I think bands trade members around more the Major League Baseball on deadline-day. Guys play for so many different bands, it's hard to know who they "belong" to in a given moment.

I have no idea what my point here is, other than to say that, yes, if AC/DC - or more specifically, Angus Young - decides to keep playing, the band will still be called AC/DC if that's what he wants. It's his band, regardless of who's out front. Will it be weird? Sure, but I guarantee the guy in the funny hat seemed bizarre to the Bon Scott fans in 1980.

The only question that really matters is 'Will the tickets still sell?' I know they're still still for "The Who Hits 50!" tour, so I guess that answer that question....

....or does it?

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