12 Rock Reunions We Never Saw Coming
12 Rock Reunions We Never Saw Coming
They smashed each others’ instruments, swore the band was over and vowed to the press they’d never be seen in a room together again… But here are 12 amazing rock acts who buried the hatchet long enough to do a victory lap, cement their reputation and maybe even buy a couple of extra holiday houses in Seychelles.
Bob Geldof already had a history when it came to reuniting classic rock groups, bringing defunct acts The Who and Led Zeppelin out of mothballs for 1985’s Live Aid event; but in 2005, he achieved something which seemed about as unlikely as spotting a flying pig over Battersea Power Station – he brought four key members of Pink Floyd back together for one final performance at Live8. Despite not having performed under the Pink Floyd banner since 1981, bassist Roger Waters once again took up most of the between-song banter, with guitarist David Gilmour playing the composed diplomat. In spite of the legal wrangles and the nasty words the band had exchanged in the two decades since Waters had exited the group, on this warm summer evening the music was enough to make fans forget the many years of friction. There was barely a dry eye in Hyde Park for Floyd’s finale performance of "Comfortably Numb," whereupon the four former friends approached the front of the stage and gave a group hug. Within a couple of years, founding member Syd Barrett (a rock casualty who’d given up live performance in the early ‘70s) and distinguished keyboardist Richard Wright were both dead; with David Gilmour, Roger Waters and drummer Nick Mason now mostly pursuing solo projects in the shadows of their Pink Floyd legacy.
Around the time Pink Floyd were playing their final reunion show, Cream were doing the same after some 37 years apart. Breaking up in 1968, at the height of their powers (or should that be egos?), the supergroup trio was formed by guitar god Eric Clapton (formerly of The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers), bassist Jack Bruce (also a Bluesbreakers veteran and Graham Bond Organisation member) and inventive, batshit-crazy drummer Ginger Baker (a past member of both Graham Bond Organisation and Blues Incorporated). Inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993, it was another 12 years before the turbulent combo played in front of fans again. The success of four concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall – the scene of Cream’s final 1968 shows and a venue Clapton has played more than 200 times in his 50-year plus career – resulted in a short run at Madison Square Garden in October 2005, but internal ructions saw Cream sour before future plans could take shape. Bruce died in 2014, Baker in 2019.
Given Led Zeppelin had tried to wipe their Live Aid reunion from history (they opted to make a donation to charity rather than allow the sloppy footage to be included on the DVD release of the 1985 event in the early 2000s), another public performance seemed about as likely as guitarist Jimmy Page catching the Loch Ness Monster. After years of calling drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980 the full stop on Zeppelin’s career, frontman Robert Plant finally relented for a one-off show on 10 October 2007. The charity event, held in honour of the band’s late Atlantic record label boss Ahmet Ertegun, was recorded and later released for posterity as Celebration Day. And what a celebration it was. Allegedly more than 20 million Zep fans across the globe entered the ballot for tickets to this one-off reunion, but only 20,000 were successful. Rock elite including Paul McCartney, Brian May, Dave Grohl, The Edge and Peter Gabriel also attended the show, which saw the band performing tracks such as "Ramble On" for the first time ever. Despite guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones and freshly-inducted drummer Jason Bonham, son of original drummer John Bonham, wanting to take the reformation around the globe, hindsight suggests the reticent Plant was right: this solitary gig was a perfect way for the rock gods to bow out.
When frontman Johnny Rotten sneered “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” to the Sex Pistols audience at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in January 1978, the book appeared to slam shut on the band’s brief 18 months of infamy. Rotten left to form Public Image Ltd and the band splintered, but all the members' subsequent releases had to contend with the Pistols’ long shadow. The release of 1977’s Never Mind The Bollocks… Here’s The Sex Pistols might stand as the defining album of London’s punk era, but the band themselves had long complained they’d barely profited from their infamy. In 1996, the group unexpectedly reunited for a world tour dubbed, with delicious humour, the Filthy Lucre (or ‘dirty money’) tour. Of course, the 1979 death of bassist/village idiot Sid Vicious required the band to reach further back into the band’s history for a replacement. Some 18 years since being kicked out of the band, Glen Matlock, the bassist and songwriter who had been so loathed in the initial line-up that the band allegedly once fed him a sandwich they’d just beaten off in, returned to the fold. And, while Rotten/Lydon suggested the reunion was about showing ‘90s bands like Rancid, the Offspring and Green Day what punk really was, guitarist Steve Jones was more honest: “The price was right.”
The Stone Roses
Manchester’s Stone Roses looked and sounded like they were ready to take on the world when they emerged in the late ‘80s, but they fell apart with great acrimony after 1994’s Second Coming album. In the wake of the split, bassist Mani joined Primal Scream, frontman Ian Brown initiated a solo career and guitarist John Squire formed The Seahorses – a name which, through no small coincidence, was an anagram of ‘He Hates Roses’. It took 16 years for Stone Roses to put aside the hatred and get back on stage together for a lucrative run of shows in 2012. When this writer spoke to Brown a few years before the Roses reunited, he mentioned a recent Sex Pistols reunion show proved it could be done without losing integrity. “I’ve been waiting 31 years for the Sex Pistols to play and it was actually the best concert I went to last year. It was tight, fresh and they still had some kind of hunger, so it was great. I think the Pistols never really got paid, which is a similar story to the Roses, isn’t it? We both only did a little bit of work but that little bit of work influenced a lot of people.” The Stone Roses reunion, which saw the band play to massive audiences across the globe (more than 200,000 tickets were sold for three initial gigs in Manchester alone) and make the fortune they never saw on their initial run, again ended in acrimony in 2017, with a planned third album never eventuating.
The Velvet Underground
Were U2 the rock diplomats who finally brought influential ‘60s survivors The Velvet Underground back together? It seems a strange concept, yet the reunion of the group Andy Warhol once managed was slotted in around U2 support dates in June and July of 1993. Welsh instrumentalist John Cale had originally left the Velvets prior to the release of 1968’s White Light/White Heat, with vocalist and guitarist Lou Reed also walking around the time of 1970’s Loaded. The Velvet Underground’s successful appearances with U2 and their solo European shows created a widespread buzz, but a planned MTV Unplugged performance was nixed and future tour proposals scotched when Cale and Reed fell out again. "I thought we were asking for trouble - not by going back and performing, but by going back and performing the old stuff," Cale told the Chicago Tribune in late ’93 after the dust settled. "But it worked. We can still kick butt." Sadly, bassist Sterling Morrison died in 1995, with the band never performing together again. The CD and DVD Live MCMXCIII, capturing a winning reunion performance at Paris’ L’Olympia, remains a fitting posthumous release.
When the Eagles split in 1980, after a golden decade of hits, drummer and vocalist Don Henley told an interviewer the band would only play together again "when Hell freezes over." Such a definitive response might have painted a lesser group into a humble-pie-eating corner, but we’re talking about Eagles here, one of the biggest selling bands of all time. Hell Freezes Over became the amusingly apt title of Eagles’ 1994 reunion tour and first album after 14 years off the road, with Henley joining estranged bandmates Glenn Frey, Don Felder, Joe Walsh and Timothy B Schmit on stage. An MTV special was released on both CD and DVD, proving the band still had a massive fanbase: the Hell Freezes Over DVD went 20 times platinum in Australia, with the live album also selling in excess of 10 million copies across the globe. "For the record, we never broke up, we just took a 14-year vacation," guitarist and vocalist Frey stated during the Hell Freezes Over live recording. Frey continued to tour with the band until his death in 2016, with son Deacon Frey taking his dad’s place during the Eagles’ 2019 Australian tour. Henley is now the sole founding member of the Eagles in the current touring line-up, but Hell remains frozen: tour dates for 2021 see the band playing the UK and the US.
Guns N’ Roses
Unlike most of the bands in this list, Guns N’ Roses never really broke up. Even so, for die-hard fans of the Appetite For Destruction and Use Your Illusion eras, it was hard to watch frontman Axl Rose touring for 15 years with a revolving door of wannabes and salaried rock veterans. Rose’s original bandmates – guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan, guitarist Izzy Stradlin and drummer Steven Adler – had either been given their marching orders or quietly slipped from the band’s ranks between 1990 and 1996, with the danger and raw appeal of the band disappearing with them. Slash told this writer he actually traced the impending implosion to a 1992 GN’R/Metallica co-headline gig, when Rose refused to go on early despite Metallica frontman James Hetfield being forced offstage after receiving third-degree burns from a flashpot. Years of animosity were publicly put to bed when Slash and McKagan returned to the Guns N’ Roses fold for the Not In This Lifetime… Tour in 2016, with the tour ultimately becoming the third most lucrative concert tour of all time. Named after a 2012 Rose quote ruling out a reconciliation with his old cronies, the Not In This Lifetime iteration of the band has been touring ever since (give or take a pandemic or two), with Australian dates locked in for 2021.
The hard rock blueprint they set with their albums Badmotorfinger and Superunknown in the early ‘90s set them apart from their Seattle grunge affiliates, but anyone who saw Soundgarden’s Big Day Out appearances in 1997 would recall a disappointingly tepid affair. The band announced their breakup just weeks later, with frontman Chris Cornell embarking on a successful solo career (including the James Bond theme "You Know My Name" for Daniel Craig’s first 007 film, Casino Royale) as well as kicking arse in supergroup Audioslave. Even given this sideline of success, Soundgarden fans were excited when January 2010 brought news of a reunion of the "Black Hole Sun" hitmakers. "The 12-year break is over and school is back in session,” Cornell wrote on Twitter. “Sign up now. Knights of the Soundtable ride again!” The band returned to the Big Day Out circuit in 2012 and delivered far more engaging performances, but the glory was shortlived. Final album King Animal was released in November 2012, with Chris Cornell tragically committing suicide in May 2017.
You know you’re probably not on your bandmate’s Christmas card list when he’s written the message ‘Fuck off you cunt’ across his drumskins for you. Such was the animosity between The Police’s frontman Sting and drummer Stewart Copeland, who were barely on speaking terms by the time the yoga-loving bassist stepped away from the day job to record his debut solo album The Dream Of The Blue Turtles in 1985. After a couple of Amnesty charity gigs in 1986, an aborted studio session proved the band were “doomed”, according to guitarist Andy Summers. It seemed the band who recorded "Don’t Stand So Close To Me" took the adage to heart, but more than 20 years after their split the trio reunited for a performance of "Roxanne" at the Grammys in 2007, whereupon Sting announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are The Police, and we're back!" A reunion tour followed, with the band touring Australia in early 2008 (with the Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie, no less) for the first since 1984. A quarter of a century on from the release of their final studio album Synchronicity, old wounds appeared to have been soothed by time and a tidy monetary reward, despite Sting noticeably giving guitarist Andy Summers routine death stares during the set for indiscernible musical indiscretions.
Imploding in the wake of their 1991 album Trompe Le Monde, it seemed like Boston’s Pixies had run their course in the space of seven frenetic years. Frontman Frank Black became friends with David Bowie, bassist Kim Deal found success with The Breeders and drummer Dave Lovering went metal detecting and worked as a magician. In their lay-off, the band’s renown only grew. As well as Pixies fans including Bowie, Kurt Cobain, Radiohead and Placebo spruiking about the band during their hiatus, the famed final scene of 1999’s Fight Club, soundtracked by Pixies’ 1988 track Where Is My Mind?, solidified interest in the alternative group. Having rarely played anything bigger than theatres as headliners, the band’s first reunion show at Coachella in 2004 was “a surreal experience” according to drummer Dave Lovering. “That gig was the first time I’d walked out and seen a sea of people,” he told this writer in 2013. “A lot of people were my age, but the majority were kids that weren’t even born back in the day! The kids know all the words to all the songs and it’s a surreal thing.” With a nod to alternative music’s easily jaded fanbase, Pixies called their 2004 DVD compilation of reunion performances Pixies Sell Out. Unlike most acts on this list, they’ve since released three reliable albums of new material, although bassist Kim Deal departed in 2014.
Faith No More
Few bands as inventive and disruptive as Faith No More ever see commercial success, yet vocalist Mike Patton’s first album with the San Francisco group, 1989’s The Real Thing, became a breakthrough album which reached number two in the Australian ARIA Albums Chart (behind, of all things, a Van Morrison hits collection). The band called time in 1998 after the madly creative Angel Dust (1992), the punchy King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime (1995) and initial curtain-call Album Of The Year (1997); with internal conflicts leading to the break-up. It didn’t mean the band disappeared from the charts though, with 1998’s Who Cares A Lot: The Greatest Hits reaching number four on the Aussie chart. “Right around the time Faith No More was winding down but we hadn’t officially broken up yet we went into our label for some sort of meeting,” Patton told this writer years later. “I remember seeing on a blackboard of upcoming releases: Faith No More Greatest Hits. None of us knew anything about it! Obviously, they knew we were going to break up before we knew we were going to break up!” While Patton spent a decade busying himself on projects including vocal effects on Will Smith’s I Am Legend, an appearance on a Bjork record and his Peeping Tom album project (featuring a weird list of special guests including Norah Jones and Massive Attack), in 2009, Faith No More stepped back on European stages for the beatific Second Coming Tour. They returned to Australia in 2010, with the moody Sol Invictus album following in 2014. An Australian tour is now rescheduled for 2022.
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