Seth Godin writes about my beloved Cowboy Junkies. He calls it the ‘Cowboy Junkies Paradox’, because the band sold huge amounts of their first album and then have never been able to repeat that success:
The paradox occurs at their concerts… when they play one of the old hits, the crowd goes wild. The people most likely to come to their concerts are the ones most likely to encourage them to become an oldies act. Of course, once the group does that, people are going to stop showing up.
Maybe I’m being overly-defensive about my favourite band, but I don’t think they’re an apt example. They probably once were, for the first few years after the monster success of The Trinity Sessions. Because their subsequent CDs were somewhat stylistically diverse, they surely disappointed a lot of Trinity converts through the early and mid-nineties.
Today, however, the people who are most likely to come to their concerts are longterm fans. Those fans aren’t expecting to hear a lot of songs off that first album, because they have given up a long time ago. The Junkies have a smaller fan base these days, but it’s one that’s familiar with most or all of their albums, and not just The Trinity Sessions. I’ve seen the Junkies live several times, and these days fans cheers just as loudly for, say, “Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park” or “Anniversary Song” as they do for “Misguided Angel”.
To the band’s credit, they continue to be reasonably experimental on recent albums. They’re no longer with a major label, and seem pleased to be free from the restrictions that relationship implies.