Roy Orbison hasn’t appeared on a concert stage in 30 years, but a hologram version of the iconic American singer will soon tour North America and make a stop at Toronto’s Sony Centre this fall.
Tickets for the Live Nation concert on Nov. 4 went on sale Friday for around $100.
The audience will see Orbison’s hologram perform his hits from the 1960s, such as Oh Pretty Woman and Only the Lonely backed up by a live orchestra.
Orbison’s son Alex, the president of Roy Orbison Music, fully supports the production. He commented recently in a YouTube promotional video for the tour,
“My dad was one of the first people to combine rock n’ roll with the orchestral sound … I think it’s going to be amazing,” he said.
But York University professor and musicologist Rob Bowman isn’t a fan of the idea, describing it as a way for Orbison’s estate to “keep income streaming in for the heirs,” although he also says it’s partly about preserving the performer’s legacy.
“I find it ludicrous,” Bowman said.
“I personally feel I’d rather watch him perform on YouTube. That’s the real Roy Orbison,” he continued, adding that he hopes the estates of other great entertainers don’t go the same route and hire companies like BASE Hologram, the U.S. firm that is providing the high-tech know-how.
“They’re extremely technically savvy … working with cutting edge technology, and if they are successful, they intend to try to licence the images and songs of a number of popular music artists who have passed on,” Bowman said.
“I hope a lot of the estates resist that. I think it cheapens it.”
BASE Hologram promises “a revolutionary new form of live entertainment.”
“This is using holographic film technology and other mixed reality technology. We look at this essentially as producing a theatrical show,” said CEO Brian Becker.
“It is a projector based upon laser digital technology.”
Becker believes people with love the show.
“First all its really fascinating and enjoyable to watch. At the end of the day, a holographic image is a cinematic technique and what that means is that we can do all sorts of really exciting things.”
Bowman says this trend with holograms of artists performing started with single songs.
For example, a Michael Jackson hologram performed at the Billboard Music Awards in 2014 and before that, a hologram of Tupac Shakur performed at a California music festival.
“Clearly, it spawned from the reception of Tupac’s hologram appearance at Coachella a few years ago. That shocked people. That was sort of, ‘Hey, this technology is actually possible,'” Bowman said.
“And of course, as with all technology, there has been significant advances since then … If you can take a full [hologram] show on the road, tour and sell out night after night, that’s potentially profitable.”
Becker says the aim of the tour isn’t to put one over on the audience.
“We are not saying Roy didn’t really pass away, we found him, and we are putting him on stage. We are creating a theatrical concert experience”
“It’s much like a magic show where the audience realizes it’s being fooled, but is still able to enjoy the experience,”
Becker attended some of Orbison’s hologram concerts in Europe. He says people applauded throughout the show.
“They reacted the exact same way as any audience, Even though they know this is holographic image surrounded by live entertainers … we got standing ovations. It was great.”
Becker’s company is planning future projects that involve multiple artists, including Maria Callas, the renowned opera singer who died in 1977.
“I think ticket buyers are going to embrace it,” he said.