I've been known to speculate about the staying power of Classic Rock – the music, the format, and of course, the trappings – merchandise, concerts, and events.
Clearly, the Classic Rock format – now well over three decades old – has stood the test of time in much the same way the music and those who wrote and performed it have.
And more than 50 years after many of these artists first burst on the scene, they continue to stay top-of-mind. In recent weeks, we've examined “The Summer Of Paul McCartney” – a series of promotional events and appearances revolving around the release of his new album, “Egypt Station.”
Lindsey Buckingham‘s abrupt ousting from Fleetwood Mac's lineup has evolved into a major celebrity breakup story. Meantime, iconic artists Paul Simon and Elton John have enjoyed their farewell tours, taking well-deserved victory laps all over the U.S. and the world.
And in an odd and quirky way, 2018 may be the year we mark Roy Orbison‘s comeback tour.
The only problem is that Orbison passed away 30 years ago of a heart attack at the age of 52. This new concert venture features a tour of his hologram in “In Dreams – The Roy Orbison Tour.”
Thanks to modern technology, the virtual spirit of Roy Orbison plays an entire show, accompanied by an orchestra, as well as a permanent drummer and conductor who are fixtures on the tour.
For many of us, the first hologram we remember goes all the way back to Princess Leia's emergency plea in the first “Star Wars” movie. In recent years, holograms of Tupac Shakur and Ronnie James Dio have made onstage appearances to mixed reviews.
So, are hologram tours a future pathway for fans of Classic Rock to enjoy their favorite artists long past they leave this earth? Or will the technology and experience be perceived as inadequate, disingenuous, and even creepy?
To get some insight, I checked in with Gary Graff, renowned and award-winning music journalist and author based in Detroit. Gary attends more concerts in a single year than 10 radio PDs combined. He is a fixture at arenas, sheds, theaters, and clubs throughout the Metro Detroit area.
Gary attended the Orbison show at the legendary Fox Theater the other night. In a review for the Oakland Press, Gary was impressed with the musical orchestration and performance, but underwhelmed by the Orbison projection itself, referring to it as “gimmicky and schticky.”
Gary's conclusion? “In Dreams” is a show that provides “an ambivalent experience,” missing a certain something – namely, a real live performer. I asked Gary to give us some additional thoughts about this hologram show, and what it may portend for other artists in the coming years.
Fred: You note in the review that at no time does it feel like you’re watching the real thing. Do you suspect that like most technology, the hologram experience will improve?
Gary: Probably not. I don't think you can get the “glow” off of the hologram, and I think the image is always going to be flat, so when it's up against live performers it will always appear as a projection. The key is can they make it move?
Roy Orbison, of course, stood still and played which made him kind of perfect for this. Ronnie James Dio, too, just has to flash devil's horns. If they're really going to try this with, say, a Michael Jackson, the hologram has to be able to move across the stage.
FJ: Realistically, will this be a way for rockers who have died to continue on in this form? Like a Who concert where a holographic Keith Moon and John Entwistle play along Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend?
GG: Ooooh, don't know that we'd ever see THAT. But I can imagine a Hendrix hologram, or a B.B. King. I don't think Queen would perform with a holographic Freddie Mercury — although instead of his “duets” with Adam Lambert from the screen, maybe they use a hologram for one or two songs.
Mostly it's up to the audience to decide how much they want a chance to see these dead artists, again for the first time, and if seeing a projection “live” on stage feels valid.
FJ: Was this more satisfying than a tribute band?
GG: I would say yes. I'd rather hear a Roy Orbison projection, playing with live musicians, than lesser musicians trying to be Roy Orbison.
FJ: What was your “take” on the audience? Did they slip right into it? Were they uncomfortable? Was it cool or macabre?
GG: I wound up talking to a lot of people on the way out, and most of them were very happy and felt entertained. Keep in mind there weren't many — half of the main floor at the Fox, which is pretty dismal. But the folks I talked to seemed to like it. They recognized the gimmick but still enjoyed it.
So, is there a “there there” for technology that brings back favorite rock and pop stars from the grave? As sure as our TV screens have gotten clearer, bigger, and thinner, it seems more than plausible that holograms will advance over the course of time, making for a better and more true-to-life experience.
Will today's music fans buy into virtual reality concerts featuring hologrammed facsimiles of stars that have left us, a pattern we know will inevitably continue?
Not long after Tom Petty passed away, a member of his band – the Heartbreakers – talked to Rolling Stone. Lead guitarist Mike Campbell had this poignant reflection about the road ahead without Petty:
“I’m just so sad to think that I’m not going to play those songs again.”
Thanks to technology and an audience that wants one more chance, you just never know.
Orbison's hologram makes its appearances at the 3:00 minute mark at this performance in L.A. at the Wiltern Theater.