CONCERT REVIEW – ’80s Weekend #3
Nostalgia for the most plastic of decades – the 1980s – simply refuses to wane. The Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles played host to its third sold-out ‘80s Weekend concert
on Saturday night and I got to witness the time warp firsthand.
Hosted by radio icon Richard Blade, the ambassador of Sirius XM’s First Wave channel, ‘80s Weekend #3 was a rapid-fire showcase of the decade’s middleweight contenders – with a couple of featherweights on the undercard. A revolving stage kept the music coming with no breaks between acts, a kind gesture for those with babysitters being paid by the hour.
The show opened with The Flirts, lone original member Christina Criscione front and center, airing out their one hit – “Jukebox (Don’t Put Another Dime)” – and spinning out of view. Next up was Scottish post-punk-turned-pop band Altered Images (singer Clare Grogan being the sole remaining member) performing their hits “Happy Birthday” and “I Could Be Happy” with the enthusiasm of 20-year olds making their first Top of the Pops appearance. Thus the template for the night was set. The hits would come fast and furious; while the band names were loosely applied to groups with as few as one original member. No worries though; the 1980s were the disposable decade of fun and the synth player didn’t matter much to the audience. In fact, I started to feel guilty about nerding out on the minutiae of the lineup changes when that missed the point entirely. This gig required an open, albeit nostalgic, frame of mind.
The first hiccup of the night followed when Bow Wow Wow, one of Malcolm McLaren’s more notorious creations (an underage girl paired with Ants stolen from Adam), turned out to be only singer Annabella Lwin and a backing track. A little crestfallen that I wouldn’t be hearing the famed “Burundi beat” live, Lwin’s personality still won the crowd over and it’s impossible to stay angry at anything in this world when “I Want Candy” is blasting through a massive PA.
Following her to the stage was Naked Eyes (Pete Byrne and some hired hands), a band that struck gold twice in the 1980s after splintering away from the guys who would form Tears For Fears. Determined to embody every rock cliché with his acoustic guitar, Byrne missed the memo that the evening was about tapping a keg of nostalgia and getting a little tipsy. Having a near-meltdown over technical issues, the visibly agitated Byrne overcompensated and tried to get serious with an acoustic intro to “Always Something There to Remind Me” that was out of time with the band.
The night shifted gears as the remaining artists were pulling from deeper catalogues and playing with familiar faces. The English Beat (the Dave Wakeling incarnation minus Ranking Roger) took the evening’s fun factor up a notch with a string of memorable hits including the General Public gem “Tenderness” and the ska-tastic “Mirror in the Bathroom.”
Guitars gave way to keytars as the English Beat spun out of view and Howard Jones launched into a string of electropop hits. One of the best songwriters of the synth-pop era, HoJo’s music and use of technology didn’t feel as nostalgic as the other acts on the bill. Proof of this came when his Macbook needed a reboot and he delivered “No One Is To Blame” a cappella as the crowd sang along. For one of the most tech-savvy artists of the era, this unexpected organic moment proved that substance beats style every time.
Following Howard Jones, Tony Hadley (of Spandau Ballet) stormed the stage with a powerful presence and talented backing band. Still packing a swagger drawn from Bryan Ferry records and Rat Pack movies, Hadley has aged gracefully from his Blitz Club youth and the Spandau hits fit his demeanor well. A tip of the hat to Freddie Mercury with a barnstorming “Somebody to Love” brought the crowd to their feet and the undying love for “True” was apparent as the crowd sung him off the stage and my most anticipated band of the night, ABC, spun into view.
Martin Fry, having lost none of his vocal range, delivered hit after hit and even kept the crowd engaged with a song from last year’s Lexicon of Love II, a surprisingly strong sequel to one of the finest pop albums produced in the ‘80s. From “Look of Love” to “Be Near Me”, ABC’s songs possess a distinct sound and style that encapsulate the decade. Hearing them sound so fresh in 2017 speaks to how timeless a good hook is and how many of those poison arrows ABC carry in their quiver. On a night all about rekindling musical memories, ABC capped the evening with a performance so strong that it was a sort of vindication for those of us who unapologetically love this stuff.
With my nostalgia high starting to wane, I slipped out before German chanteuse Nena ended the night with “99 Luftballons” and the obligatory red balloons fell from the rafters. Four hours of being 13 years old again was enough.