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.