Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The 80s, Redux



My favorite thing about the 80s isn't the big groups necessarily -- your U2s, your Cures, your New Orders, even your Duran Durans or your Guns and Roseses, though I love every single one of those bands. No, the best thing about that decade are the mid-sized groups; the hits that fell in between the BIG GIANT SMASHES that everybody remembers. That's true of the 60s, too, as witness my huge collection of obscurities like Sagittarius and the Free Design, but I think its even more true of the 80s, the age of the one hit wonder.

Last night, I got to see some of those groups that have sadly, ridiculously, unfairly fallen between the cracks of history. Much like the 60s nostalgia package tours (THE TURTLES! Featuring Flo and Eddie! THE BYRDS!! Featuring the drummer!) that roamed the countryside in packs a couple decades ago, the Regeneration Tour takes a passel o' 80s bands and throws 'em together in a gigantic nostalgia package aimed at me, a Card-Carryin' Child of the 80s, and my compatriots. The weird thing, though: the amphitheater was packed, unlike some of those State Fair 60s shows I've seen. I don't know what that suggests, other than that a). the 80s are big business right now, and b) there's a lot more people who like these bands than I thought there were.

Thing is: unlike the sort of la-de-da miss-the-point bullshit the 60s bands degenerated into, these groups -- though frequently just featuring the Lead Singer and Other Guys -- still seem, well, sorta vital, and completely fucking weird, which is why the 80s were so damn cool in the first place. It was the last decade where being batshit crazy and singing like a computer and just sounding nothing like the past decades was the thing. Nowadays, its all about retro and nostalgia, and I'm just as guilty of that as anybody else, but the 80s were all about invention and re-invention and just being as strange as possible 'cause that's, for some reason, what played in the malls of middle-America.

We missed most of Naked Eyes so I can't say much about 'em, other than that the singer bounced around like a man half his age. Whee.

ABC, on the other hand, was half the reason we were there. Trix is a HUGE ABC fan, like super-mega-extra-huge, and rightfully so, I think. If you wanna point to a band from that decade that hasn't received their critical due, that's ABC. They're this wonderful, fizzy mix of pure synth pop goodness and blue-eyed soul, with a heapin' helpin' of Roxy Music-style suave lathered on top. Lead singer Martin Fry, who basically IS the band and has always BEEN the band, has morphed from a slick, skinny, smart-ass soulster into, well, Tom Jones, but not in a bad way at all. His pipes are still in top form, and the band cruised through their hits -- "Poison Arrow," "Look Of Love," "When Smokey Sings," gems every one -- and at least one new song from a new album with tremendous aplomb and an abundance of style.

Belinda Carlisle sucked. She sang her freakin' SOLO HITS, none of which I like even remotely, and then dissed the Go-Gos before launching into a trio of their hits with wonky pitch. Bleh. Belinda, I love you, honestly, but that was appalling.

The real surprise of the evening was ostensible headliners Human League, who came across like the great lost link between Kraftwerk and, like, New Order or something, which I guess they really are. Their stage setup was not unlike Kraftwerk's, with a bank of all-white keyboards and Machines With Blinky Lights That Didn't Really Do Anything, and bald lead singer Phil Oakey was flanked by Those Two Girls Who Don't Sing Very Well. The whole thing came off far more avant-garde then I'd even hoped, and though the band of course sang "Human" and "Don't You Want Me" and their other big massive hits, they peppered the set with some oddments off "Dare" and "Hysteria" including weird political hit "The Lebanon." It didn't come across as pandering to a hit-crazy crowd, even though I'm sure it was, sorta -- it was far closer to the strange sort of computerized weirdness that Kraftwerk propigate, and it made me happy.

My goal -- and I will not rest until its completed -- is to see some of these bands restored to the glory they deserve in pop music history. Now that people are rediscovering and hippifying some of the bands from the 60s that went forgotten -- even to the point where albums that never even got released at the time are becoming part of the canon -- it's time to bring some of the bands from this decade forward and say "Hey -- just 'cause they wore makeup and had rock videos on MTV doesn't mean they weren't weird as fuck and deserving of glory." Consider it my mission.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

My name is Martin Fry. F R Y. Who needs the moon? When we have the Stars!

Jon Hunt said...

Fixed, Mr. Fry, and may I say you looked particularly dapper last night.

MissTrixi said...

Oh My Laws Yes, I AM an ABC fan through and through. Poor jonny...I went all 'geek' on him during intermission. I just HAD to explain to this guy behind us (who had mistaken one of the tour musicians as David Yarritu) that he was so very wrong. I went on to tell him that David was not really a musician, and that both he and Eden were brought on to the Millionaire albumn strictly to create more of a 'visual appeal' to the American audience. I THINK he went on to a career as a DJ in the 90's and...... there I go again! Where is he now? Dunno, but I found this little gem from '87 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMyfDKLJ36g

Seriously, the show was mahvelous. 'Tears Are Not Enough' sounded much like their demo - a little slower and more soulful. 'Be Near Me' was a little more down tempo sounded very smokey and sultry. 'When Smokey Sings' Woot-Woot! Thrilled, I tells ya!

Belinda...sorry babe, but you annoy me like a mosquito bite on my big toe.

Human League. Squeee! They gave such a performance! 'Seconds', 'Mirror Man' *sigh* I was in pure Sheffield Sound Heaven!

So, who are we seeing next jonny?

xoxo
Trix

Jon Hunt said...

Human League, ABC and Heaven 17!

Nick said...

Jon, if you haven't seen it, you gotta see Made In Sheffield, the documentary. We caught it on Showtime or Skinemax or one of those other channels a few months ago. Just amazing stuff about the Human League (who come off hilariously arch but also pretty much way cooler than anyone else) and ABC.

(aka Jeffrey) said...

Jon/Trixi:

-Did one of Martin's classic gold blazers make an appearance?

-Don't suppose "That Was Then, This Is Now" was performed...I always liked that one myself because it was so different from The Look Of Love sound.

(aka Jeffrey) said...

Almost forgot: I gave your review a shout out in my latest dispatch on my new blog that's a companion to my radio show:

http://radiojmr.blogspot.com

You're also listed amongst by picks for best pop culture stops on the webby. Keep at it.

JMR (who's tickled pink THL included Mirror Man in their set list)...

Cybele said...

Jonny, in the interests of furthering your mission, may I suggest Soft Cell. They don't qualify as a mid-sized band, but Oooo, the lyrics!

MissTrixi said...

No gold threads from Mr. Fry. The original suit is packed away in his home somewhere (well, one of them). He played at First Ave. back in '99 and I was able to sneak in during rehearsal and chat with him (and rangled a back stage pass for after the show....squeeee!). He wore a twist on the original gold suit then, but for Tuesdays show he had this rad white jacket with rhinestones - it was sort of Country Western meets Vegas. He looked very dapper in it. They didn't do 'The Night You Murdered Love' :-( Ah well, what can one do when they have to share the stage with several other acts? It was an amazing show!

Soft Cell...weee! I was lucky enough to see Marc Almond play back in the late 90's early 00's. He's a wee little pocket person, but those pipes! Woudn't a Yaz/Soft Cell tour bill be utterly fabu? C'mon, get on it you lot!

Oh, wait...this is jonny's blog. I should be yammering away on my own!
ziiiiiiip.....

xoxo
Trix

Chris Hill said...

I love ABC. ABC and the Human League are huge stars, not merely one hit wonders. I have MTV's top 20 video coundown October 1985 on tape. I knew it would be important for posterity. ABC's video for Be Near Me is so awesome and funny. They were going through some line up changes then, but it's still worth checking out. By the way my favorite Soft Cell song is not Tainted Love, its Sex Dwarf.

Anonymous said...

Did Human League play "Facination?"

Jon Hunt said...

They did, but that is not the heights of their achievement, as great a song as that is!

Tilt Araiza said...

So you *were* there! My fiancée said she thought she'd seen "that Chelada guy" at the venue.

Jon Hunt said...

THAT CHELADA GUY!! I'm so glad I'm now KNOWN for liking that drink!

Tilt Araiza said...

Well, mi novia Latina was shocked when upon trying to explain Chelada to me I had to tell her I'd already learned about it from your blog.