In this Best Music of 2016 feature, we take a look at some acts whose deaths were exaggerated, who rose from the ashes like a phoenix. These are the biggest comebacks in music of 2016.
Sometimes it isn’t about the music, but the cold hard cash instead.
With Coachella’s profile growing year after year, they have to continue to think outside the box in order to maintain their place at the top of the American music festival power rankings. Axl Rose and Slash hadn’t shared a stage in 16 years, so naturally that was one of the biggest possible gets Goldenvoice could go after. It only took a guaranteed high seven figures and the potential for $100 million more to get Axl, Slash, and Duff McKagan back together.
Everyone was expecting G’N’R to fall on their faces. Hell, I bet a friend that they would miss at least one date and I thought that was a lock. Their comeback wasn’t without a pitfall or two. Axl Rose injured his foot during a warmup show at the Troubadour before Coachella and they were sort of the joke of the week, people expecting them to pack it in already. But Axl borrowed Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl’s chariot from when he broke his leg and they rocked on. In fact, some even argued that Axl being able to focus on singing and not running around the stage may have helped his vocals. As someone who was blitzed out of their mind during that first Coachella show, I can’t argue with the logic. They sounded great and Slash murdered every solo he broke out.
Yes, there was no Izzy Stradlin and original drummer Steven Adler only guested a few times throughout the tour, but the nucleus of one of the most iconic bands of the ’90s proved they still had it. By September, Consequence of Sound reported their cheekily-titled Not in This Lifetime tour had grossed $112 million dollars. That alone has to qualify it as one of the greatest comebacks of this decade, let alone this year. Axl Rose himself joined AC/DC when their singer couldn’t perform anymore to help them finish out the dates. What a year for a guy who looked like hell just a few years ago.
What makes this the year’s best comeback besides the windfall of shitloads of money is that people would have laughed at you in 2015 if you said the following year Guns ‘N’ Roses would be headlining stadiums and killing it. I know that their two-and-a-half marathon set at Coachella was a bucket list item I never thought I’d see.
Here are a couple other acts that had memorable 2016s that we didn’t see coming:
James Murphy may have been upstaged a bit at Coachella by Guns ‘N’ Roses’ reunion, but they still delivered killer performances and topped more than a dozen festivals across the world after dusting their gear off following a five-year hiatus. I saw them six times on the comeback trail, starting with a show at the Fox Theater in Pomona that ranked as one of my favorite memories of the year. I admitted in a review of that set to not be a die-hard fan, but quickly became one after witnessing their elite musicianship from the pit of that show.
They consistently put on some of the best shows at any festival they headlined. Sure, they didn’t ever mix up the setlist, except for an excellent cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” in celebration of the late singer (which I somehow managed to slow-dance to with an Aussie girl I just met on the Polo Grounds). One strike against them was that some of their sets were a bit under-attended — perhaps we overrated the reach of this electro-rock band that New York media made seem so big. For a band I never remember hearing on the radio during their peak, however, they raked in the cash and made tens of thousands of new fans that may not have been previously familiar. With new music on the way, their comeback 2016 could serve as the bedrock for them to become one of the biggest American rock bands around.
A Tribe Called Quest
This influential hip-hop collective’s comeback has only just begun. Their first album in 18 years dropped this November and their SNL performance served as one of the few uplifting moments in the immediate wake of this year’s horrendous election results.
Hip-hop acts have often fared worse than their rock counterparts in the art of the comeback because they face a higher likelihood of being out of touch with the now. But Tribe was always light years ahead of their time with their brand and their return couldn’t have come at a better time. The loss of Phife Dawg was a huge blow to the entire community and many wondered what new music would even sound like. They managed to scrape together some tremendous verses from him from the vaults, as well as guest spots from the likes of Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, and Anderson Paak that suggests that while they’ve been on the sidelines, they’ve been paying attention and staying on top of what’s hot.
A tour is imminent and you can expect them to hit the festival circuit hard in 2017. I’d be shocked if they didn’t headline at least one New York-based festival and serve as second-line acts at the likes of Coachella, Bonnaroo and other top-tier festivals around the globe.
Third Eye Blind
Third Eye Blind’s musical output in 2016 wasn’t very impressive itself but they still managed to make headlines in a variety of ways, parlaying that with newfound success as a nostalgia act at festivals across the country, from Bonnaroo to Outside Lands. The band made waves when they trolled members of the Republican National Committee at an event in Cleveland, asking people to “raise your hands if you believe in silence” while also noting “Jumper” was a song inspired by the suicide of his gay friend.
They once had a reputation for being an inconsistent live act, relying on new songs that people didn’t connect with as much instead of performing a favorite-heavy set like people wanted. But as they toured the festival circuit they struck just the right balance of old versus new, people fell back in love with the band. At Outside Lands, I got to enjoy them with a friend I’ve known since sixth grade and her family and the wave of nostalgia was like a drug. There’s something to be said about singing at the top of your lungs to some of the catchiest pop tunes written from your childhood, and Third Eye Blind were behind many of people’s favorites.
Watching twenty-somethings appreciate legendary R&B and gospel singer Mavis Staples as she swooned them and schooled them was one of the unexpected highlights of 2016. For her newest album Livin’ on a High Note, Mavis approached a number of talented musicians for help writing the record. She tapped the likes of Ben Harper, The Head and the Heart’s Charity Rose Thielen, M. Ward, Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver, Neko Case, Nick Cave and others and it lifted it onto many year-end best-of lists. Mavis often performed in early-afternoon slots at these fests, handling hot temperatures at 77 years old much better than some of the younger folks in the crowd could. Her between-song banter at these shows was illuminating and damn if you didn’t leave wishing you could hang with Mavis for hours as she regaled you with stories.
Ja Rule + Ashanti
I had no fucking clue what I was getting into when I decided to go see Ja Rule and Ashanti perform together in 2016. Two acts that were massive while I was still in grade school, I wondered what they had left. On their own, these two might not have been able to justify multiple sold-out shows in LA, some on the same night. But together, they are magic. People forget Ja Rule and Ashanti were on top of the world with Billboard No.1 smash after No. 1 smash. Revisiting their music, the tunes have held up nicely over time. Ashanti still looks incredible and her voice sounds great. Even the new tunes were easy to digest. Ja Rule has slipped slightly, but he seems to be at peace with where he is and his deep voice is still so damn unique and you just forget how many hits he had. If I was booking a festival, I’d give the two of them an hour-long slot to share without hesitation. They’ve got more dates in stores for 2017 and though their days of topping the charts may be behind them, they’ve still got something left as performers as the generation who grew up on them’s disposable income grows.