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Reunion Acts: Second Verse, Same as the First

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- Maybe it's some residual nostalgia from last week's observations about Generation X's newfound role as Old Guy At The Rock Show. Maybe it's just some selective amnesia wearing off and the writer remembering he'd seen Gorilla Biscuits, Lifetime and The Sheila Divine reunion gigs in recent years.

Either way, an apology is in order: Reunion concerts are a great thing and should be embraced by anyone who claims to love the bands that are reuniting.

That's been made as clear as a reissued album on 180-gram vinyl to indie rock fans who suddenly find themselves scrambling for tickets to see Neutral Milk Hotel after the band announced a tour in April. Lead singer Jeff Magnum has been playing solo shows and hinting at a reunion for a while, but his cohorts haven't viewed revisiting the band's scant back catalog of two studio albums and a handful of EPs as a priority since the band called it quits in 1999.

That was still a full eight years after The Replacements played its last show in Chicago and spawned years of fan lament about their beloved Mats missing out on the '90s indie rock wave that swept up Nirvana, R.E.M. and others. Like Magnum, Replacements singer Paul Westerberg still did solo shows and still played his old band's fan favorites like "Can't Hardly Wait," "I Will Dare" and "Left Of The Dial."

A few days ago, The Replacements announced reunion shows this summer in Denver, Chicago and Toronto as part of Riot Fest. They couldn't have picked a better venue, as the Chicago-born festival has been reuniting '80s and '90s punk and indie acts including Naked Raygun, Screeching Weasel, Jesus and Mary Chain, Descendants, Violent Femmes and others since 2005.

During that same span, reunion shows have become something of a closet industry for indie rock bands, punk bands and even hip-hop acts. Earlier this year, we framed such tours as cynical, nostalgia-laden plays for Generation X's expendable income. In many circumstances, especially those involving cruise ships, we stick by that assertion. When The Pixies reunited in 2004 and toured off and on until 2011, lead singer Frank Black made no qualms about the band's motives.

"We're interested in anything that's going to earn us a fair wage," he told The Quietus. "It's not to say it's not about art, but we made that art [expletive] 20 years ago. So forget the [expletive] goddamn art. This ain't about the art anymore. I did the arty-farty part. Now it's time to talk about the money."

Westerberg always seemed confident that a Replacements reunion would happen -- even if it was just him and bassist Tommy Stinson -- but even this 22-years-in-the-making tour is only about the money.

Pulp, Blur, The Stone Roses, Pavement, Sebadoh and Kraftwerk have all either reunited for tours or started working on new material in recent years and, yes, there's a strong chance that money's involved. Both the Pixies and Dismemberment Plan were playing bigger shows than they ever did in their prime by the time their last reunion shows ended. By doing nothing for a decade or so, these bands have created more demand for their music than active performers who fueled a 10% drop in global concert grosses and attendance each fell 10% last year, according to Billboard.

In the U.S. and Canada alone, attendance down 6% from 2011 and may actually be worse, as companies such as Live Nation (LYV) cut back on reporting their attendance and income figures after they took a nosedive during the economic downturn in 2010.
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