Top 14 nostalgia shows of 2014

Corb Lund with the smalls at Sonic Boom

Corb Lund with the smalls at Sonic Boom

Excluding Bro Country for Young Men – Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Dirk Gently – and Trix for Little Girls – P!nk, Gaga, Lady Perry – which will always be with us, an astounding trend emerges from the 2014 concert season: People sure love nostalgia.

Stop whatever has replaced presses!

Septuagenarians had a field day. Steve Miller is 70, John Fogerty will be soon, Cher and Ozzy aren’t far behind. But no generation is immune. Generation Xers, too, have become a nostalgia market to be reckoned with. Why do you think all of these 1990s bands are reforming?

Here are the top Edmonton shows of 2014 that celebrated the “good old days.” Actual goodness of said days may vary:

1. The smalls

It wasn’t all a dream. Edmonton’s champion alternative heroes of the 1990s came back for a brief but glorious run for the first time in 13 years since they broke up, proving with their uncompromising and passionate blend of metal, punk and roots music why they were such a big deal to begin with. From a spot at Sonic Boom, on the same stage as Jack White, they did a successful Canadian tour that included a sold-out three-night residency at the Starlite Room. The bad thing? It may never happen again.

2. Steve Miller

Yesterday’s Kings of Leon is today’s Steve Miller Band – or maybe it’s the other way around. All that midnight toking can confuse a nostalgia buff. This San Franciscan soft rocker could better be compared to John Mayer: a guy who had a few massive hits that don’t accurately reflect his true musical passions. In both cases, it’s the blues, which Miller played in top form for a crowd of baby boomers at Rexall Place, amongst the real reason they showed up: songs like Fly Like An Eagle and Abracadabra. Highlight or hallucination: The giant, smoke-billowing head of The Joker asking, “You want some weed?” Miller just said no. Many fans said yes. And then all their oxygen tanks exploded! Just kidding.

3. Queen + Adam Lambert

Queen + Adam Lambert GigCity Edmonton

Adam Lambert (centre) filled the role, if not the enormous shoes, of the late great Freddie Mercury

Four out of five Queen fans agree that Queen with a False Freddie is better than no Queen at all. American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert did a fabulous job filling the role – if not the actual enormous shoes – of the late great Freddie Mercury in a sensational nostalgia trip that literally hit all the right notes for Queen fans of all ages. Among rock ‘n’ roll understudies, this is one of the best hires – better than the new guy in Yes, the new guy in Journey, and David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar put together. Freddie, we like to imagine, would be proud.

4. Earth Wind and Fire

Masters of dance songs about dancing and love songs about love, there’s no negativity in Earth, Wind and Fire – no anger, no hate, no politics, maybe a little heartbreak, but nothing a little Boogie Wonderland couldn’t cure. With three 60-something original members in amazing form for a full house at the Jube, the spectacle of this legendary soul band ripping through their generation-defining anthems was a pungent dose of nostalgia for people who came of age in the 1970s. Do you remember? Of course you do.

5. Chicago

Much like Earth Wind and Fire helped popularize soul music, Chicago did the same with jazz. Schmaltz was elevated to high art in a sold-out show at the Winspear Centre with the horn players the rock stars of this band, as they should be. Chicago actually played all of their own instruments without the aid of backing tracks. Isn’t that something? For pure incontinent nostalgia, few shows were better: Another set of songs that defined a generation, from If You Leave Me Now to Will You Still Love Me?, which remain some of the neediest love songs ever written. Coincidence?

6. Boz Scaggs

Those who invented “soft rock” have much to answer for, but you have to give it up to this cool Northern California cat for doing it better than anyone else – and that includes the Eagles, and also his former boss Steve Miller. Mellow, peaceful, easy, tasty feelings dominated Boz’s show at the Jube, where the Wayback Machine was set firmly to the mid-1970s and mom’s AM kitchen radio therein.

7. Cher

Cher GigCity Edmonton

‘There can’t be another farewell tour … because I’ll be dead!’

“There can’t be another farewell tour,” cracked the diva of all divas at her Broadway-Vegas Cher du Soleil spectacular in Rexall Place, “Because I’ll be dead.” As with cash grab reunions (see below), no one really gets mad about false farewells – especially in the presence of such charm and easy wit during what may be, possibly, unless she feels like it, Cher’s last tour ever. Remember she was a TV star before she was an artist, so she knows showmanship. Bonus points for a duet with the actual voice of her ex-husband, the late Sonny Bono, on I Got You, Babe, and for the opening act Cyndi Lauper, who evoked the 1980s far better than Madonna ever could – with 10 times the voice, too – on Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. Talk about nostalgia. Oh, right, we are.

8. Yes

To call these giants of art rock self-indulgent is like calling the Milky Way galaxy “big.” With imagination, ambition and talent far beyond most mortal rock musicians, original members Chris Squire and Steve Howe got another Jon – Jon Davison – to ace the role of original singer Jon Anderson in a convincing night of progressive rock nostalgia.

9. Mötley Crüe

Motley Crue GigCity Edmonton

Masters of excess shine in excessive concert

They were a stupid band from a stupid place who wrote stupid songs. They only had about three hedonistic hits that stood the test of time from the ‘80s, the biggest called Dr. Feelgood, and have never been confused with the greatest rock musicians of all time. So why, God, is Motley Crue so huge? They’re masters of rock ‘n’ roll excess, that’s why. We shall never see their like again! So for their last tour ever, nothing less than a pointlessly extravagant rock spectacle would do. The crowd went mad with delirious nostalgia. Opening act Alice Cooper outclassed the headliner in almost every way, but at least he was back at the hotel sipping his tea and reading his Bible by the time Crue hit the stage. Sweet deal.

10. John Fogerty

Jeez, now he’s being sued again – by his former bandmates in Creedence Clearwater Revisited for allegedly relying too heavily on the CCR legacy in his recent “One Extraordinary Year” tour with a great band (not CCR) to render it. They may have a point. In 1969, CCR released three big albums, most of which their frontman played the hell out of for a crowd of delighted fans at Rexall Place. Fogerty wouldn’t be here without CCR, without 1969 and all the massive hits therein, including Proud Mary – and neither would his fans. Can’t they all get along?

11. Fleetwood Mac

Yes, they can. For $120 million, you better believe it. That’s the estimated take for Fleetwood Mac’s “On With the Show” tour that saw the four core members, including the reluctant Christine McVie, on stage for the first time in 15 years. How many ways can a generation be defined? By pretty much every song of the non-stop hit parade at Rexall Place. Most of Rumours, at any rate. Like the Eagles, the members of this band spent a lot of time spotlighting their individual gifts, the others relegated to supporting roles, but they came together beautifully when it counted for what turned out to be the biggest Baby Boomer event of the year.

12. Nick Cave

Nick Cave GigCity Edmonton

Nick Cave was the best rock show of 2014 in Edmonton – FACT

For the record, this was the best rock concert of 2014 in Edmonton. Oh, don’t try to argue. It was the best by all the ways you can measure: Passion, drama, comedy, showmanship, the great songs, the general awesomeness of the Bad Seeds and that indefinable feeling of being in the presence of a Rock God truly in his own zone, every fibre of his being connected with an intense, poetic performance. Fans pick up on this sort of sincerity. Aside from being the Australian alternative icon’s first-ever Edmonton appearance, this was a very special event for members of Generation X, who are only now starting to realize, “Holy shit, we’re old! How did that happen?!” Baby Boomers don’t have a clue. They’re too busy feeling young at their own nostalgia concerts.

13. Black Sabbath

Cash grab reunion or not, of all the nostalgia acts that came to town this year, few managed to transcend its generation better than the mighty Sabbath. Metal fans of all ages and black T-shirts went mad for the old-school classics performed with powerful, workmanlike simplicity that served the songs above the musicians, and the gracious host Ozzy Osbourne, whose favourite words were – you guessed it – “I love you!” Maybe you didn’t guess it. Some “Prince of Darkness,” eh?

14. Rod Stewart and Carlos Santana

Finally, here’s another show where fans grumbled who should’ve opened for whom. Who’s the better musician? Who has more hits? Whose music defined his generation better? Seniors ruled here: The 69-year-old Rod, two years older than Carlos, got the last spot, letting the husbands trade places with their wives drinking in the Rexall Place concourse. But here’s the thing: Santana, with his abundant guitar gifts and killer band, basically phoned it in, while Rod made the most of what little he’s got left and in the end proved to be the better guide for this particular trip down memory lane.