It wasn’t creepy.
I was shocked how many people were there, it was essentially sold out. How did they know and why did they go?
Advertising, Nelly told me, she runs marketing for the tour. I didn’t see any of it, not a bit, but that just shows how vast the world now is, you think you know everything, you think everybody else is clued-in when that’s rarely the case.
Yes, they were oldsters, but they’d paid to come. Tickets were not exorbitant, the average price was $55, but what got them out of the house in an era where all the entertainment is inside the house? Was it the acts, the experience..?
Having seen it, I’ll tell you it’s about the music, the songs.
I went expecting to laugh, figuring this was a novelty that no one was interested in. I expected the place to be a third full at most. I mean this is a gimmick, right?
Now it started at 9, which is so reasonable in this era of gridlocked traffic, most people can’t make it for the opening act even if they want to, they’d have to leave work early and sit on the freeway forever.
And at the appointed hour, the band began to play.
Didn’t they do this first with Elvis? His players?
But these were not famous cats, and they were astoundingly good, better than most people plying the boards today, at least the new acts. It was shocking. But then I learned that they’re all from the Broadway scene, they’re pit players, and they’re used to getting it right every night.
So Roy Orbison emerges from the footlights and…THE PEOPLE CHEER! It was like a regular concert, it was like everybody in attendance suspended disbelief and it was truly Roy Orbison on stage, alive.
But once you’ve seen the gimmick…
I found for the first half of the show, I could only watch the holograms for two numbers, after that I let my mind drift, I marinated in the music. But my eyes did lock on Buddy a bit more in the second half.
And it’s not Pepper’s ghost, it is something like a hologram, not that I heard exactly how these images were created. It’s expensive. The rightsholders get an advance and then everybody’s a partner, it’s seen like a Broadway show, if it plays long enough, there’s plenty of dough, right now there are two companies, two Roys and Buddys, one here and one across the pond.
Roy Orbison barely moved. After the show Nelly told me that one of his original players, upon seeing the hologram, said that Roy didn’t even move his hips that way, he stood stone still. Did that detract from the experience? I don’t think so.
The first thing I thought of was Journey, who I saw at the Hollywood Bowl a few years back. The songs had transcended the band, they were owned by the audience, which was singing along. It didn’t matter it wasn’t Steve Perry, and the truth is these attendees don’t care about Steve Perry, his new album came and went in a matter of weeks, which is faster than the instant the new projects by Madonna and the Boss got, but Steve had been gone so long, if Perry puts out more new music, it too will fade away instantly. I’m not saying if Perry came back Journey couldn’t do stadiums, like if Plant got back together with Page and they called it Led Zeppelin, but Robert still does good business by his lonesome and Journey does play stadiums, albeit with Def Leppard.
And the truth is you can never get these acts back together, Buddy Holly died in 1959, that’s sixty years ago, and Roy Orbison died in 1988, which was thirty one years ago, before Gen-Z was even born. It’s not like I passed on seeing Holly back then, I wasn’t even aware. But now I know the songs.
Orbison opened. I heard he was closing, but you know how it is with billing and performing with these acts, even if they’re dead!
And Roy’s immediately playing his hits. People are oohing and ahhing, they’re clapping during the songs, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.
And then Roy dissolved and Buddy came to life.
Now I was wondering, how short was this show gonna be? I mean after the gimmick did people get tired and did the producers not want to burn out their welcome?
Buddy was different. He had a long yellow guitar cord, at least it was yellow under the lights, and he jumped around like he had springs in his shoes and his body was made like Gumby’s.
Like I said, I could watch the holograms for about two numbers. Normally you focus on the lead singer, but these guys aren’t real.
But the music is.
The highlight of the show for me? “Well All Right,” which Blind Faith covered so well on their first and only album, only ten years after Holly’s death. Holly’s version is more raw, more simplistic, less rocking, but it’s the same damn song. As is “Not Fade Away,” covered by the Stones back in ’64. I heard “It’s So Easy” and thought of the famous Ronstadt version. “Maybe Baby”… What would it have been like if Holly lived, would he be seen as a has-been, a legend, would he have had more hits? I’m not sure the younger generation is aware of him, but they should be.
And when the curtain came down, I thought it was over.
But after the break you had people testifying on a screen… There wasn’t much screen time, a little nostalgia, illustrating the era, and then testimonials. Tom Petty got the biggest applause, illustrating that the audience was neither dead nor quite that old. And Petty was the only creepy part of the evening, it’s so weird that’s he gone, before his time.
And a few people left before the second half. And a couple left after a couple of numbers, but the rest stayed.
After Holly, Roy came back.
And then Holly again, with the aforementioned “Well All Right.”
Then Orbison closed the evening with “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
I never knew Orbison covered “Love Hurts,” he does a killer version, but I still think Nazareth’s is the best (the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris version kills too), but my lack of awareness of Orbison’s iteration demonstrates I can still learn something.
So I’m sitting there contemplating who else they could get on the boards. In the future would acts film themselves just for this purpose, for when they were gone?
And the reality is, this is just a gussied-up tribute show. But tribute shows do great business, and this is the actual act and the playing is flawless.
We’ve seen gimmicks/fads come and go. Do you remember 3D TV? Hell, there’s barely any 3D movies anymore. Do you see the trick once and forget about it?
But what if you never got a chance to see the act originally? Maybe you weren’t even born yet.
This is the legacy of rock and roll. The songs. We all know them by heart.
And this is testimony to today’s music business. Once upon a time it was all about the hit parade. But now the action is live, it’s the aforementioned experience, leaving the home, sitting in a room full of people. There are many ways to skin the cat, many ways to bring people to the gig.
I have no idea.
If you’re a muso, if you groan at any change or exploitation of music history, you’ll be bored, you won’t even go. But most people are just fans of the songs.
You can’t get people out of the house to see old movies.
But there’s something special about music, live music, when done right it loosens you up and sets your mind free. You go to a concert and the world outside fades away and you move to the tunes, you think about where you were when they were hits, when they played during your life.
And you sit there observing, and then Buddy Holly kills and you clap.
Just like me, I kid you not.