It was 2004 when I glimpsed that rock ’n’ roll had changed.
My wife and I were at a Sting concert at Philips Arena in expensive main floor seats when I glanced down the aisle and saw what looked to be Dick Cheney in a blue blazer.
Moments later, I glanced back at another fan who resembled CNN’s Larry King.
I played it off as being in the fat-cat section and Sting having become a hip equivalent of Muzak. (I liked The Police, but I’ve always thought Sting was a tad insufferable in his solo career.)
At the time, I was mid-40s but saw myself as half that age and still somewhat plugged in to new music, although that was fading, and fast.
While coming up, my experience at rock shows had been nodding my mop of hair to Black Sabbath or violently slamming into other bodies in a pit in front of The Ramones in a cathartic release of energy.
But four kids and a mortgage payment later, here I was, tapping my toes to Sting and concerned about standing and blocking the view of someone’s gramps who had paid a king’s ransom for his seat.
I mention this because recently I went to see the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), 43 years after I last saw them. By “them,” I mean Jeff Lynne, founder of the band and the only one of the 13 people onstage that Friday night who had also performed during the August 1976 show.
He now calls it “Jeff Lynne’s ELO” so as not to be confused with knockoffs and pretenders.
You’ve got to hand it to Lynne, who at 71 is six years’ north of Social Security age, yet is still banging out a nice living. Atlantans were eager to revisit his string of 1970s’ hits and packed the 20,000-seat State Farm Arena. (The old Philips, which was recently remodeled for nearly $200 million, still has some exit bottlenecks that could cause problems.)
Main floor seats hit the $300 range online. Now, I like ELO and all, but 300 bucks?!? C’mon! We went with the “cheaper” $95 upper-deck seats.
It’s a far cry from the $6.50 I paid to see them in 1976, as I got ready for freshman year in college and made $2.50 an hour at Montgomery Wards. Please, get off my lawn!
The extortionate prices for concerts, especially “top tier” golden oldies, is merely a sign of the times. Back in the day, bands toured — and lost money — to sell albums. Today, they make their cash from the gate.
Ticket prices through online brokers have skyrocketed as the market sets the value of those seats. It also demonstrates that graying rockers will pay top dollar for the few bands still around whose lyrics we can sing along to.
People going to “classic” rock shows have disposable income: The kids are raised, the mortgage paid. And we baby boomers want to rekindle fond memories from a time when life was uncomplicated. It’s like musical comfort food.
I called my former Atlanta Journal-Constitution colleague Bill King, who was the paper’s music critic from 1977 to 1987 and attended the ELO show. For decades he has published Beatlefan magazine because 50 years after the Big Breakup, some folks still can’t get enough about the Fab Four.
About the high ticket prices, King said: “When you reach a certain point in life, whether it be music or travel, whatever gives you pleasure, you have the ability to indulge yourself. We were the first generation for which the rock concert was a thing.”
He sometimes gets together with some people he met during his years of writing about the music industry.
“Amid the talk about hearing aids and knee replacements, we talk about bands,” King said. “It’s the soundtrack of our lives. But not only that, our kids were exposed to it and are familiar with the music and are even fans of it.”
He said his 34-year-old son has seen Paul McCartney 14 times. In fact, one of my sons, 22-year-old Liam, attended the ELO concert with me because my wife suddenly had something better to do. He knew most of the songs, which is interesting because I haven’t played ELO around the house in decades.
The whole phenomenon is a bit odd. I cannot see myself and my dad in 1976 heading to a Tommy Dorsey show. Actually, the big-band leader died in 1956, but you get my point. Musical concerts just weren’t our parents’ bag.
“I don’t know why it didn’t stick with our parents like it did with us,” said King, who is 66. “Maybe the post-war generation was spoiled and we haven’t grown up.”
And so you have a legion of gray-haired boomers squeezing into expensive seats wearing KISS concert T-shirts or some other relic of our younger selves.
In September, Atlantans can unearth their raggedy Who garb and head down to the State Farm Arena to watch two of the surviving four band members for anywhere from $21 to $2,964, depending on your station in life.
The 75-year-old lead singer, Roger Daltrey, should sound fresh again because doctors removed some tumors from his throat a few years back.
Sure, he sang, “Hope I die before I get old.” But that was back when Daltrey was imbued with the cocky foolishness of youth — and when he contained that certain something that made The Who and other bands stand out. But a sad fact is there are very few popular songs written by bands after the rockers hit 40. Sure, many keep trying, but they rarely recapture the verve of their earlier selves.
Besides, we aging fans don’t want to learn new lyrics.
They aren’t scheduled to appear in Atlanta. Jacksonville is the closest scheduled gig on the tour. Tickets for 40,000 of Mick’s closest friends at the Jaguars’ stadium will range from $100 to $3,500.
Sure, Jagger once said, “I’d rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.”
Well, he’s three decades past that milestone and still belting it out as septuagenarian fans scream the lyrics while standing on their seats.
Please, folks, let’s be careful up there.
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