NASHVILLE (Billboard) - The album concept is enjoying a big comeback — if not in record stores, then at least on the live concert stage.
In 2009, such acts as Steely Dan, Phish, the Pixies, Motley Crue and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band have included performances of entire albums in their concert sets.
The concept has been around for years. Pink Floyd routinely played such albums as “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Animals” and “The Wall” from start to finish on tour.
But even if playing an album in its entirety isn’t a new idea for a live act, Nashville’s Long Players — as their punny name suggests — embrace the concept like few others. The group exists solely to perform classic albums, which it does several times per year in its hometown, often with guest vocalists and performers.
The Long Players began some six years ago with a performance of the Rolling Stones’ “Let It Bleed.” On December 26, 35 albums later, the Long Players rolled out Sly & the Family Stone’s “Stand” with Mike Farris and the McCrary Sisters as guest vocalists.
Nashville is uniquely suited for a group like the Long Players. “The bench here is amazing, the number of people you can call on,” band member Bill Lloyd says. “We have had a lot of local heroes on our stage, but also a lot of international rock stars come play with us as well.”
The Long Players’ founding members — Lloyd (Foster & Lloyd) and Steve Allen (20/20) on guitars, Garry Tallent (E Street Band) on bass, Steve Ebe (Human Radio) on drums and John Deaderick (Dixie Chicks) on keyboards — gathered to play a John Lennon tribute every year as a benefit. Brad Jones eventually replaced Tallent, when the latter returned to the road with Springsteen.
“Garry and Steve and I were always hanging around spinning vinyl records,” Lloyd recalls. “Maybe there was some alcohol involved, and the idea came up: ‘What if we did one of these albums from start to finish with these players involved?’”
Lloyd says he was “sort of the concept guy,” devising the Long Players’ name (which they own) and organizing the performances. “We democratically choose the albums,” he says. “We always take a percentage off the top for a charity, then we pay ourselves and we pay the singers.”
Album ideas come from the band and fan requests. A local Beatles fest has hosted Long Players performances of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Revolver,” “Abbey Road” and “The Beatles” (aka “The White Album”).
The Long Players have never played an album twice in public but have done repeat performances for private gigs. “We’ve played ‘Let It Bleed’ at least four times now, and we’ve played Elvis Costello’s (“My Aim Is True”) three times.”
The band plays most of its shows at Nashville’s 300-capacity Mercy Lounge or at the venue’s 1,000-capacity sister venue the Cannery Ballroom for “bigger” albums. Mercy/Cannery co-owner Chark Kinsolving says the Long Players are a winner for his venues. “On average, 90 percent of their shows are sold out, which is not bad for what is at its core an above-average tribute act,” he says. “What really makes it so special is once the show’s over, it’s over. It’s a one-time thing that’s never repeated.”
The current trend toward live performances of albums flies in the face of the track-oriented listening habits attributed to the generation that’s grown up with iTunes. “I like the idea of the album as an art form,” Lloyd says. “And I love the fact that there’s a whole generation of people who know that one song follows another, and they’re ready to sing along with it.”
Lloyd says the band has thought about taking the concept on the road, but for now, Nashville works fine.
“We have learned 35 albums and we’re not bored,” he says. “From a creative point of view, it’s a great way to spend your time because you’re absorbing all this great, classic music. We’re proud of it, we enjoy it, we try to keep our karma clean by always doing the charity aspect, and everybody has a good time.”..