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Return of the Dinosaurs

Long-gone bands from the '70s are reuniting with alarming frequency. Why? Because they can. Even the Sex Pistols realized that going on tour would make sense. Or at least dollars.

June 23, 1996|Robert Hilburn and Jerry Crowe | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic. Jerry Crowe is a Times staff writer

Don't feel alone this summer if you're tempted to double-check the date of the newspaper when you glance over concert ads.

Who ever expected that such presumably dead-and-buried outfits as KISS (with the makeup again, thank you), Styx and--the biggest surprise--the Sex Pistols would be heading our way again?

Is this 1996 or 1976?

Since everyone thinks these tours are motivated more by money than creative urges, the Sex Pistols, in their outrageous style of old, are thumbing their noses at everyone by calling their reunion the Filthy Lucre Tour.

If, in fact, the Pistols' first tour in 18 years (which was scheduled to have begun Friday in Helsinki, Finland) is as colorful as the group's kickoff press conference in March in London, it is going to be a blast.

"We still hate each other," Johnny Rotten, lead singer of the once-notorious British punk quartet, snarled contemptuously at an army of journalists. "But we have a common cause. It's your money."

One of the great ironies of the tour is that the band was expected to be seen by almost as many people in its three shows this weekend as probably saw the band in its original, year-plus existence, because the Pistols self-destructed before they ever did a large-hall tour. The final show was before about 5,500 fans in January, 1978, at Winterland in San Francisco.

If the Pistols make it through the entire itinerary, the band will be seen by up to 900,000 people in Europe, North and South America, Japan and Australia. The U.S. portion begins July 31 in Denver and includes stops Aug. 22 at the Universal Amphitheatre and Aug. 23 at the Hollywood Palladium.

Sitting in the backyard of a bungalow at a West Hollywood hotel a few weeks after the flamboyant London press conference, the four original members of the band are in a surprisingly serious mood.

Sure, Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock look forward to a tour gross that should top $20 million--plus royalties from a new live album that will be recorded this week and released July 30.

But the Pistols say they were also motivated strongly by the chance to step into the spotlight one more time. Though all four have remained in music, none has come close to the impact of the old days together.

"To me, the reason for the tour is more like the chance to prove we were one of the best rock 'n' roll bands ever," Jones, 41, says proudly. "People may say we're too old and we have no business coming back, but I think we're going to show them that we weren't just a gimmick."

In conversations with members of other key bands that are returning to action this summer, the same theme resurfaces: the idea of going on stage one more time--the same promise of action and applause that keeps luring athletes like Magic Johnson back onto the court for a last hurrah.

"I'm no different than the kid who jumps on the coffee table and says, 'Look, ma,' and starts tap-dancing to get a rise out of people," says Gene Simmons, KISS's 46-year-old bassist. "As long as you've got a little kid inside of your heart, you're going to want to go up on stage and be a showoff."

Rob Light, a Los Angeles agent whose rock clients range from Alanis Morissette to Bob Seger, also believes the motivation goes beyond money.

"These older bands won't ever go away because there will always be somebody with money who wants to see them and there will always be artists who need that fix of fame," he says.

"The single most addicting drug ever created--more than heroin, more than cocaine, more than cigarettes--is fame. Once you've tasted it, you want it again and again."

*

To understand why all these rock 'n' roll dinosaurs--as some of these bands were called as long as two decades ago--are hitting the concert trail again, you just have to read the box-office figures.

Managers, agents and musicians have been dreaming of one more big payday ever since they began noticing the tens of millions of dollars generated in recent years by tours starring such '60s outfits as the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. Those acts' North American tours grossed almost $230 million combined in 1994.

It's no wonder the Eagles were stirred from the retirement nest, even though the group's breakup in the early '80s was so bitter that co-leader Don Henley vowed that they wouldn't set foot onstage until hell froze over.

The Eagles did come back in 1994--with the Hell Freezes Over Tour--and they were bigger than ever. The quintet grossed an estimated $80 million in just 32 shows that first year--and they've been touring ever since.

By the time the latest leg of their world tour ends in early August in Scotland, more than 3 1/2 million people will have paid more than $210 million to see the group. Add to that another possible $200 million to $250 million in album sales and enough T-shirts to clothe half of the Sun Belt.

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