Touring In The 2020’s

The past few years have been hard on everyone and every aspect of life, and that certainly includes music. It was impossible for bands to tour in 2020 and even in 2021 tours were on a much more limited basis, both in availability and capacity. 2022 saw touring come back in full force, though venue closures and other factors have altered the landscape.

And yes, ticket prices are more expensive now than they were before the pandemic. I don’t have a data-driven point to make here, but I’m pretty sure anyone who attended shows before 2020 and after 2020 can attest to the steep increase in ticket prices.

But today’s post doesn’t concern the fans’ side of the equation. It isn’t just more expensive to go see a show – it’s more expensive to put one on. And that has been throwing a wrench in the works of a lot of acts as they try to recover from the lost year of 2020.

A quick check of music news from any genre will find a now common headline – “Tour canceled due to logistical issues.” I recall that both Anthrax and Stryper called off European tours last year, citing the costs associated with gigging. And those are just two names common to my site – this has gone on across music as a whole, affecting absolutely everyone. While tours are still happening, it’s concerning to see veteran names like Anthrax and Stryper on a list of bands calling it off due to cost.

Putting on a tour involves a lot of expenses, and those prices were huge in 2021, just like everywhere else. Fuel costs were a massive concern and possibly high enough to derail a tour all on their own. A band’s crew has to be paid, and there are less available crew after the pandemic, a lot of folks had to switch careers to get by. That leaves the remaining ones at a premium.

And just like for us at home, everything else was more expensive – food, basic consumables, what have you. All those expenses snowballed to a point that made bands throw in the towel on heading out to tour.

In the pandemic climate of counting every dollar, venues have added a brutal twist – some venues are now demanding a cut of bands’ merch sales. Not only does a band have to absorb the higher costs of touring, they also have to part with a cut of the one thing that actually brings them some decent money. And with the idea now out there, this insidious idea probably won’t go away.

It all becomes a grind perhaps too much to bear for a musical act. As we’ve all known for quite some time now, the way for an act to make money is through touring. Album sales haven’t been much in years and record label deals keep bands from the money anyway. Streaming famously pays squat to anyone but those who get billions of plays. Being on the road is where the money is, or at least was.

In some respects, the issues of high-cost touring may wind down some. Prices are on a general decline and the economic forecast is at least decent in that regard. Shifting employment trends may lead more people into the road crew, helping that shortage. And more money in consumer pockets is more opportunity for acts to tour in front of them.

2020 and the pandemic obviously hit the live music scene very hard, in fact halting it for awhile. And the return to touring has been full of obstacles, some insurmountable at times. Sure, ticket prices are higher and there entities to blame for that, we all know who they are. But the musicians can’t catch a break either, and being unable to earn money on the road threatens the very ecosystem of music. I don’t know if a doomsday scenario is imminent in this case, but the struggles of the touring musician at all levels of success are a cause for concern.

Tales From The Stage – Nine Inch Nails

Gonna turn back the clock to the year 2000 and talk about a much-anticipated show I took in. The gig was Nine Inch Nails with A Perfect Circle opening and it took place at the end of May in St. Louis. It was a gig with some marquee names and – well, something of a crowd, anyway.

No massive build-up for this one, it was pretty simple – NIN booked the gig, we got tickets and went. The show was at what was then called the Riverport Amphitheater outside St. Louis. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it was the scene of the infamous Guns N’ Roses riot in 1991. (As opposed to the 1992 riot in Montreal, which was indoors). We had pretty decent seats that were under the awning, which extended a bit past the stage. The bill was simple – APC first, then NIN. No other openers or anything that I recall, and online archives seem to back me up.

A Perfect Circle were just getting started in 2000. Their debut Mer De Noms had just released a few days prior to the show, while the lead single Judith was getting a lot of play on the airwaves. The band was formed by Tool mainman Maynard James Keenan and his friend, guitar tech wizard Billy Howerdel. The album and touring cycle would prove immensely successful for the group and defined the band on their own terms as opposed to being Maynard’s side project.

APC would air a 40 minute set out in their opening slot. Given the compact nature of their songs this gave them time to play all but one song from Mer De Noms. Maynard opted to sing the gig front and center as opposed to his usual antics he gets up to in Tool, though I don’t recall any stage banter from him. The band played well and ran through the album, though not in album order. Future singles The Hollow and 3 Libras saw time and they wrapped their set up with the hit Judith.

One of the few clips I could find as opposed to full shows. This show is from a date after the NIN tour but still in 2000.

During their set a bit of rain fell from the sky. Our seats were a bit under the amphitheater roof but still close enough to the edge to get wet. It wasn’t a downpour or anything and it only lasted a moment but I did take a mental note to get seats closer if I wanted to avoid being caught in anything. The weather wouldn’t be a factor at future gigs there (rain-wise, anyway).

After the stage changeover it was time for the main event. Nine Inch Nails were touring the US on their 1999 double album The Fragile. While the album was lengthy it had gone over pretty well with the fanbase so the tour served as a showcase of that album as opposed to being a hits set with just a few newer tunes sprinkled in. The 19-song set would feature 3 tracks from the debut Pretty Hate Machine, 3 from the seminal Broken EP, 4 from the magnum opus The Downward Spiral and the remaining 9 all from The Fragile.

Trent and company made their way through their romp without much fuss. Much like Maynard and APC, there was not a ton of inbetween-song banter to be had from Trent Reznor. He did comment “fuck you pigs” at one point, without elaborating on who exactly he was referencing. He might have belched out another thing or two but it was pretty much get one song done and get on with another. Of course, one doesn’t go to a show that Trent Reznor and Maynard James Keenan are fronting for stage banter. Sammy Hagar was around a few months later, if memory serves.

One of The Fragile’s best songs with bad video but great audio from the same tour

I will say one thing – the crowd was very much not about energy that night. I mean, I suppose we can consider Nine Inch Nails a more ponderous experience than a straight up rock n’ roll band, but there just wasn’t a lot of life in the crowd. I thought it was a bit lame but honestly it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the set. It would mark the start of generally lame Missouri concert crowds I would notice in the future, though (with some exceptions).

There was a bit of energy in the crowd at one point – in the aisle not far from our seats, a few people got into a fight at one point. I have no clue what they were into fisticuffs about since I was, like, listening to Nine Inch Nails, but they had it out over something. The fight didn’t last long – security came out and absolutely messed these two up. One of the combatants got thrown straight into the concrete. Remember, this is the very place that Axl Rose tore to the ground nine years earlier and the birth of pre-9/11 big concert security. The fight got broken up in far more brutal fashion than the fight itself went.

Undaunted by action they probably didn’t see, Nine Inch Nails pressed on with their visit through The Fragile and other works. They played a handful of other hits, stuff like Sin, Wish, Gave Up and Terrible Lie were all welcome inclusions. They wrapped up the set proper with obvious hits Closer and Head Like A Hole, before coming back for an encore that featured a few Fragile tunes as well as the finale Hurt. We were still a few years away from Johnny Cash working his magic with that song.

I was a bit stumped that they did not include The Fragile single We’re In This Together Now, but it was not to be found that night. And while it wasn’t a breaker for me, I would’ve loved to hear Last and Burn, though I think the former wasn’t played much live until several years on from this show.

Overall the concert was a good experience. It does mark my first and, to date, only time seeing either band. I would like to see them again, especially Nine Inch Nails, but we will see what time and circumstances have on hand. Both bands did great in the house that Axl Rose tried to unbuild.

One other note – at one time I had the Nine Inch Nails performance on burned CDs. This was back in the wilderness days of eBay and they let people get away with selling bootlegs. I didn’t pay much for it, less than $10. It was a cool memento to have but sadly I lost the discs before the age of digital ripping really caught on and I don’t have access to the set anymore.

Sin, from an earlier stop on the same tour