Since a former Houston Press music editor dubbed me “Classic Rock Bob” ages ago, it’s no surprise that the majority of shows I attended in 2019 fell squarely into that genre. But there were a bit fewer than last year, which was even fewer than the year before. And that’s due to one unavoidable reason: The March of Time.
As classic rock’s originators of the ‘60s and ‘70s are now themselves in their (late) 60s and 70s, many have understandably either stopped touring or scaled back. Of particular news in 2019 were the number of acts embarking on self-proclaimed (and so-thusly named) “farewell tours” like Lynyrd Skynyrd (“The Last of the Street Survivors”), KISS (“The End of the Road”), and Elton John (“Farewell Yellow Brick Road”).
That all three of these jaunts will spread into three calendar years means it's a long goodbye – and maybe not even final. Elton John played his supposed last Houston show ever on December 8, 2018 at the Toyota Center. But wait! He’ll be Crocodile Rockin’ the same venue on June 30 and July 1 next year.
Upon hearing that a performer or group swear up and down on their pinkies and their dear mother’s eyes that they’ll never ever hit a string of stages again, classic rock fans have learned to take those proclamations with a mine’s worth of salt. The Who’s first “farewell tour” was in 1982 – but you can see Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend (aka “The Two”) on April 30 at the Toyota Center.
Some acts have even built the smoke-and-mirrors sham into their tour titles – like Ozzy Osbourne’s “No More Tours 2” and the Eagles’ “Farewell 1” tour…from 15 years ago. Those birds will circle back to the Houston on March 6 and 7 at the Toyota Center.
Even when the members of a band purportedly signs an “unbreakable legal document” that formalizes a cessation of touring, it’s worth: pretty much zilch. That was seen when Mötley Crüe made a big PR effort of doing so prior to their absolutely-positively-no joke 2014-5 last tour. That is until the Netflix bioflick The Dirt revived interest in the band. And a hella smart promoter put them together with Def Leppard, Poison, and Joan Jett for the much-hyped The Stadium Tour (hitting Minute Maid Park on July 15!). The Crüe recently posted a video of the purported document being literally blown to pieces.
Which brings me to my two favorite concerts of 2019. Both of them “Farewell” tours that came to The Woodlands Pavilion: Bob Seger and Peter Frampton. These classic rock kings have faced huge health obstacles recently – back problems for Seger and a degenerative muscular disease for Frampton – so my gut tells me this really is the last rodeo for both.
Both men offered a set list stocked with familiar hits, deep cuts, and choice covers played with an enthusiasm and genuine joy that was evident on both of their faces. Both also had ample support from crack backing musicians, some of whom themselves have been with the headliners for decades. And as both waved goodbye as they left the stage, there was a choked-up kind of finality emanating from both performer and audience.
I will also freely admit both shows also held sentimental value. I took my 15-year-old son Vincent to the Seger show. And while the Gen Z-friendly music of Post Malone, Travis Scott, and Billie Elish flow freely from his ever-present headphones, he also has a great love for Classic Rock (imagine that…).
So he knows his Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan deep cuts, and he found affinity with Seger’s cross-generational young-man-on-the-move lyrics like “I was a little too tall/Could’ve used a few pounds” and “We were young and strong/We were runnin’ against the wind.” The latter only appealed to him further upon discovering that Seger ran track in high school, just like he does. And this show was absolutely worth the hour and a half weather delay.
As for Frampton, my brother Jamie sat in the seat next to me. Both of us were raised on endless repeat vinyl spinnings (long before vinyl was retro-hip) of Frampton Comes Alive! and I’m in You. And in a way, our late father – the Original Classic Rock Bob – was there in memory. Just as my mother was when both of my children went with me to see Queen + Adam Lambert this year. She was a huge Freddie Mercury fan, and those who signed the guest book at her funeral service had to do so under the watchful eye and outstretched arm of a large Freddie action statue positioned above.
Seger and Frampton’s performances also laid waste to an annoying trope. Some “fans” like their musicians frozen in time, to look like they did when their music first became integrated into their lives, no matter how idiotic or unrealistic that sounds. And that’s doubled down for classic rockers who had videos in repeat rotation on MTV.
When I interviewed Mike Reno of Loverboy last year, he was alternately bemused and exasperated that some audience members still expected to see today the lithe, tight-red-leather pants wearing version of himself from decades ago rather than the actual, heftier man he is today.
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“I have a good chuckle when I see the [videos]. But we recorded most of them in our early twenties. Forty years on, people don’t generally look the same. People change,” he offered. “But some people want us to not change, and to look and act the same way we did in our videos. I think that’s a little odd. They don’t worry about how they look, but they expect us to! I mean ‘have you noticed the change in yourself sir?’”
No, Bob Seger no longer had the leonine, dark brown hair and beard from the cover of Stranger in Town, and Frampton has long ago lost all of the curly golden locks of his heyday. But so what? When they opened their mouths (like Reno) or played their guitars, their skills were little-touched by age. And isn’t that more important?
As I reflect on my concerts of 2019 – and already eye dates for 2020 – it’s with the knowledge that the last time may indeed be the last time for classic rock acts – whether by choice, or passing. I will never forgive myself for not seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in April 2017, figuring there would always be another time. Less than six months later, Petty was gone.
So whether it’s a band’s first tour or their farewell trek, their median age is 25 or 65, or their show is – gasp! - on a school night, I want to get out to see and hear more live music in 2020. And not just those who populate the playlist on the SiriusXM’s Classic Vinyl and Classic Rewind channels. You should too.