For my first proper post this month, I’m going to take a step back to the past, to explore that magically nostalgic era known as the ’80s. It’s not the first time I’ve attempted to do so. But typically, it’s from the perspective of contemporary eyes and ears, modern-day interpretations and appropriations as homage and cultural touchstones, all adapted to today’s tastes.
This round, I thought it’d be infinitely more fun to head straight to the seminal source, and view the day-glo decade of eclectic-eccentric through the untarnished eyes of some of its original originators.
Fortunately, in this day and age, we have the Richard Blade hosted event, known simply as “80’s Weekend,” to help with that.
Some might remember Blade as the renown and influential DJ from the “world famous” KROQ, where he spun all things alternative and new wave from 1982 all the way to 2000. So he definitely knows his ’80s music history. He’s still at it, of course, curating the line ups for these nostalgic revivals, as well as keeping the bygone spirit alive and well at his current gig on Sirius XM’s 1st Wave.
The “80’s Weekend” is a bi-annual music event, a mini festival compressed into a Saturday evening (so the “Weekend” is in name only), all featuring original artists (or as many as remain together) from the influential era to perform their biggest hits. There’s been nine of them so far, the latest occurring in February, just prior to our stateside pandemic woes. I should also add that this marks the third live show (of four) I had the privilege of attending, before it all went to Covid hell.
The Microsoft Theater in DTLA again played host to the ninth iteration of the “80’s Weekend,” featuring a number of decade mainstays – Violent Femmes, Wang Chung, A Flock of Seagulls, Big Country, The Romantics, Josie Cotton, MC Hammer, and more.
Chances are, you’ll recognize most, if not all these acts. And if you don’t, you’ve undoubtedly heard their hits in one place or another. Some of these artists were huge for their day, skyrocketing to number one on the commercial radio charts, when that was still a legitimate accolade and achievement. Others aimed for more modest aspirations, conquering the alternative and college markets, where creative freedom and eclectic tastes ruled with an unbiased hand.
All of them are still active today, barring any breaks and breakups in the intervening years. And many of them are still producing new material today, even if none of it is on display during their “80’s Weekend” performances. After all, these events are entirely meant for all the memorable moments, whether they be one-hit wonders, or repeat offenders.
So let’s get started with “80’s Weekend #9.” I’ve got coverage for most of the acts. But there’s a few I skipped out on. Dramarama, When in Rome, and Missing Persons have all performed at previous events, so I’ll cover them when I get around to resurrecting those earlier “80’s Weekends,” of which I have three sitting in the queue. I opted to skip English synth-pop act China Crisis, since my memory is a bit foggy on their achievements. And the U.K.’s new wave outfit Heaven 17 was a no show, probably due to visa issues. The line ups, as the promoters forewarn, are subject to change. They don’t often do so. But every now and then, it happens.
For starters, let’s kick off with one of the acts that I was most looking forward to …
I can’t exactly recall if Wang Chung was the first or third band I ever saw, way back when I was a wee teenager. The year was 1984, and the U.K. trio opened for new wave synth-pop act Berlin at this Northern California amusement park called Great America. I confuse this show with the straight-up rock-oriented Eddie Money/Y&T double bill at the same venue. I don’t have the ticket stubs to confirm the exact dates. But I recall both shows being close to one another. So if Eddie Money/Y&T was first, then Wang Chung would’ve been my third band I’ve seen. Otherwise, they’d be my first.
Anyway, history lessons aside, and they’ll probably be a few more of them before this post is finished, Wang Chung was always one of those acts that took a bit of time to settle in my mind. They were super popular when they debuted, which my youth mistook for something to avoid. And back then, you couldn’t escape the radio-play of the infectiously bouncy “Dance Hall Days,” spun again and again, on the hour, every hour. It’s one of the characteristics I couldn’t stand about the commercial radio format, mainstream, alternative or otherwise. So even if a song was really, really great, oversaturation created a knee-jerk avoidance.
It’s taken me a number of years to move beyond that sort of conditioning. But these days, and thanks to these “80’s Weekend” mini-festivals, I was actually most interested in seeing Wang Chung return to the stage. They’ve reunited before, but U.S. performances have been mostly scarce.
Wang Chung, which is actually taken from the Chinese “huang chung,” meaning “yellow bell,” falls squarely in the new wave category. But alternative pop and rock also apply. The trio, which has since been paired down to a duo, but operates as a fourpiece when performing live, is lead by original members vocalist/guitarist Jack Hues and bassist Nick Feldman. I don’t know the names of the remaining members, but like a lot of reunited ’80s acts, the new additions definitely skew younger, with wide-eyed enthusiasm to match.
For “80’s Weekend #9,” Wang Chung performed a handful of songs, three of which I’ve featured here. They opened with “To Live and Die in L.A.,” the theme song to William Friedkin’s cops and crime classic, as well as a prescient harbinger for today’s Covid times – at least, for me, since I live in the City of Angels. They followed up with their two most recognizable singles, the aforementioned “Dance Hall Days” and the mega-party smash “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.”
I will say that one of the drawbacks to the “80’s Weekend” format is that most of the bands are allotted twenty to thirty minutes each, amounting to roughly three to five songs, with the headliner(s) getting up to an hour. Wang Chung was slotted somewhere in the middle, so they had these three, and maybe one extra. I don’t entirely recall.
Given more time, Wang Chung have a few others I’d love to hear performed live … “Don’t Let Go” and “Don’t Be My Enemy,” to name two. Perhaps, once these pandemic days are behind us, they’ll embark on their own headlining tour, where they’ll have enough space to resurrect a more robust selection of early works. I’d certainly welcome the experience, judging from this trio of tunes.
Here’s Wang Chung at “80’s Weekend #9.”
Wang Chung perform “To Live and Die in L.A.”at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
Wang Chung perform “Dance Hall Days” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
Wang Chung perform “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
Speaking of headliners, Milwaukee’s Violent Femmes took center stage for another deep dive into the seminal decade.
Until this show’s announcement, I honestly had no idea these guys were still together. The trio, which still consists of original members Gordon Gano (vocals & guitar) and Brian Ritchie (bass & a mean xylophone), is another band I immediately associate with my former high school years …mostly as soundtrack to getting drunk and stoned in a Pizza Hut parking lot, or cruising around as passenger in a convertible MG, while also drunk and stoned.
It seemed like the cool fuck-all thing to do back then, and the oddball folkish punk of Violent Femmes were an appropriate score to my irresponsible semi-rebellious stupor, better known as my youth.
Violent Femmes have released a lot of albums since I stopped paying attention, including last year’s “Hotel Last Resort.” Admittedly, I’m only now listening to that one, while I tackle this write up. My familiarity runs up to ’89, with their fourth album, ironically titled “3.” I think it was around that release when I interviewed Gano. That was roughly the midpoint of my music journalism career.
Ultimately, the songs I continue to identify with and know by heart, come from their self-titled ’83 debut, treasures such as “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off,” and the iconic “Add It Up.”
There’s something obtusely alluring about the acoustic minimalism and awkward intensity that permeates these debut efforts. And the lyrics … they’re so poetically punk, razor sharp and playfully subversive, full of fucked up folk and spoken words, entirely memorable for its backhanded humor and full frontal bluntness.
As such, those are tunes I’ve featured below from “80’s Night #9.”
Also, for their live performance featured in these clips, drummer John Sparrow and saxophonist/keyboardist Blaise Garza, round out the core on-stage outfit. Sparrow completes the trio, while Garza functions as an offshoot known as the Horns of Dilemma. They both joined in the mid-’00s, so they’re not part of the original line-up. But they’ve definitely been around long enough to know the drill.
Here’s Violent Femmes headlining “80’s Weekend #9.”
Violent Femmes perform “Gone Daddy Gone”at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
Violent Femmes perform “Blister in the Sun”at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
Violent Femmes perform “Kiss Off”at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
Violent Femmes perform “Add It Up” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
For better or worse, Detroit’s The Romantics are one of those bands I immediately associate with one particular song, the power-popped rockabilly rock of “What I Like About You.” It was their big breakout hit, hailing from their self-titled ’80 debut. There was an overly-energetic performance-based music video to match, which I’d see repeatedly on MTV and/or USA Night Flight. And both commercial and alternative radio beat it into the airwaves like there was nothing else to listen to. For me, that station was the San Francisco based “The Quake.” I don’t actually remember the call letters, just the nickname they gave themselves.
Obviously, The Romantics had more material than the , and quite a few sizeable singles as well. Going into “80’s Weekend #9,” I just didn’t remember any of them … well, maybe “Talking in Your Sleep,” but that’s about it. Plus, I’d never seen them perform live before, which usually helps imprint any and all material into my brain.
The Romantics ranks as one of the earliest formed acts from the evening’s festivities, debuting on Valentine’s Day way back in ’77. Amazingly, three of the four original members are still present and accounted for, vocalist/guitarist Wally Palmer, vocalist/guitarist Mike Skill, and vocalist/bassist Rich Cole. Original drummer Jimmy Marinos has since been replaced by Brad Elvis, who joined in 2004.
Given my memory lapse of The Romantics, I only have the aforementioned “What I Like About You” on offer. Considering how long these guys have been around, their constant on-stage energy is refreshing and encouraging. And I probably should’ve recorded more.
Here’s The Romantics at “80’s Weekend #9.”
The Romantics perform “What I Like About You” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
A Flock of Seagulls:
Whenever I think of the former U.K./now-U.S. act A Flock of Seagulls, I always remember frontman and founder Mike Score’s ridiculous haircut. It resembled something that might be likened today to a superhero’s helmet or cowl. It had a flared fin on each side above the ears, almost like upright wings, punctuated by a big ‘ol downward swoop of strands covering one eye. For me, it was one of the stylish flourishes of the new wave movement, an expressive visual touchstone of what this music could and would be about.
Ironically, Score’s now bald. And when he performs, he occasionally sports a bobble head of his former self, hair style and all, on his keyboard. He didn’t for “80’s Weekend #9.” But during previous performances at earlier editions of the mini-fest, it’s most definitely made an appearance. I first saw it at “80’s Weekend #2,” which I’ll eventually get around to posting, once I’ve wrapped this one up, as well as a few others.
Hair issues aside, A Flock of Seagulls also had the musical chops to back up such visual flair, crafting one of the more uniquely memorable sounds of the new wave era. That’s mainly due to original guitarist Paul Reynolds, who’s echo-laden string-work crafted an electric melodica of infinity and beyond. It just sounded super cool, and totally distinct from anything else at the time.
Reynolds is no longer with A Flock of Seagulls, nor are any of the original members, with the exception of Score, who continues to keep the project in flight for future generations. Bassist Pando is the longest running “new” member, starting in ’04, with the additions of Kevin Rankin on drums and Gord Deppe on guitar, joining in ’16 and ’17 respectively.
Below, I’ve featured three of the four selections from A Flock of Seagulls spirited performance at “80’s Weekend #9” – “The More You Live, The More You Love” from the ’84 concept album “The Story of a Young Heart,” and the otherworldly “Space Age Love Song,” along with the iconic “I Ran (So Far Away),” both from their ’82 self-titled debut. The fourth song that I neglected to film was “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You),” which for some reason, never really resonated with me as it probably should have.
I know everyone loves “I Ran (So Far Away).” And when it first came out, I did too. But as the years have gone on, and nostalgia gives way to contemporary tastes, I’ve become more partial to the other two, and “Space Age Love Song” in particular. The guitarwork on that one still sends shivers down my spine. It’s so delicately smooth and evocative in its cosmic conjuring that it just takes me far and away.
Here’s “A Flock of Seagulls” at “80’s Weekend #9.”
A Flock of Seagulls perform “The More You Live The More You Love” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
A Flock of Seagulls perform “Space Age Love Song” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20..
A Flock of Seagulls perform “I Ran (So Far Away)” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
Texan Josie Cotton might forever be known for her appearance in the iconic ’80s romantic comedy “Valley Girl,” where she fronted the high school prom band with her hits “Johnny, Are You Queer?” and “He Could Be the One.” At the time, I was really, really young, so I didn’t know if she was a movie musician or the real deal.
It’s only through the Bay Area alternative radio station, the aforementioned and now defunct “The Quake,” that I actually realized she was legit, and her subversively innocent bubblegum pop efforts were songs to be reckoned with – albeit in an too-young-to-truly-get-it kind of way.
I honestly don’t know a great deal about Cotton beyond what appeared in “Valley Girl,’ and subsequently on the radio airwaves. But I do remember these two songs quite vividly, even though they came out in ’82, both from her debut album “Convertible Music.” They just possessed this bubbly innocence and simplicity, a sort of ’60s doo wop revamp, splashed with a youthful vibrancy of day-glo power pop.
I only have “He Could Be the One,” featured below. Cotton still seems as spirited as ever, although I’m pretty sure her backing band wasn’t born before the ’90s … at the earliest.
Here’s Josie Cotton at “80’s Weekend #9.”
Josie Cotton performs “He Could Be the One” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
Scottish rockers Big Country were another band I was really curious to see. Like many others, I was addicted to their ’83 single “In a Big Country,” wild-eyed and amazed by how they could make guitars sound like bagpipes, fiddles, and all manner of traditional folk instruments. These days, that’s all solved with technology. But back then, it was the equivalent of magic.
I never had the opportunity to catch Big Country perform in their hey dey, nor in the years that followed. And despite their appearance at “80’s Weekend #9,” I didn’t get to get to do so with original vocalist Stuart Adamson, who tragically took his own life in late ’01. There’s been a few vocalists who’ve attempted to pick up the reigns, including The Alarm’s Mike Peters, another ’80s mainstay, and founding member and bassist Tony Butler.
Butler has since departed, with their newest member Simon Hough, who joined in ’13, taking the vocal lead, as well as handling guitar and all the harmonica parts. Hough doesn’t quite have the same range as Adamson, who’s voice was as instrumental in defining Big Country, as were the exotic folk guitar grinds that were inherently Scottish in sound.
But he’s got the enthusiasm, energy and spirit to bring things closer in line with those original notes, without ever coming across as distracting or too tonally different. In other words, Hough’s vocals work well enough to keep Big Country’s soul and spirit alive, as well as continuing towards the future …. and most importantly, without sounding like a cover version of themselves.
Original founders Bruce Watson (guitar/sitar/mandonlin) and Mark Brzezicki (drums), as well as newer members Jamie Watson (guitar) and Scott Whitely (bass), round out the quintet.
Here’s a couple of classics from the reborn and reinvigorated Big Country, the aforementioned “In a Big Country” and another early favorite “Fields of Fire.” Both live renditions feature Hough’s vocals and a more robust rock sound.
Big Country perform “In a Big Country” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
Big Country perform “Fields of Fire” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
The final artist from “80’s Weekend #9” is none other than rapper/hip hop artist MC Hammer. He was billed as a “special appearance,” but could just have easily been a co-headliner, performing for nearly an hour, complete with a full dance crew, to finish off the evening.
Curiously, only a few weeks earlier, I was helping out on Cheetos commercial for the Super Bowl that featured Hammer. The gag was centered around his hit single “U Can’t Touch This,” and the bright orange dust left over from eating Cheetos. There’s a few versions of the spot out there. But my favorite was the teaser. Either way, it’s a marketing match made in heaven.
So that’s what I had swirling around my brain when Hammer, who’s birth name is Stanley Kirk Burrell, took the stage at “80’s Weekend #9.”
Below is his performance for “U Can’t Touch This,” surrounded by his dance crew, and about a 100 audience members, seemingly preselected from a prior contest or promotion. By this point in the evening, I was pretty exhausted, so I didn’t have the energy to film more than this one song from Hammer. Although, in retrospect, I wish I captured some of his other numbers that did feature the full choreography, sans amateur audience dancers.
Here’s MC Hammer’s closing number to close out “80’s Weekend #9.”
MC Hammer performs “U Can’t Touch This” at “80’s Weekend #9” at the Microsoft Theater on 02.15.20.
And that’s a wrap for this lengthy write up on the ninth edition of “80’s Weekend.” I honestly didn’t think I’d write this much. But there’s a lot of acts, and they all trigger some sort of meander down memory lane, most of them from my youth, with a few from more recent months.
Eventually, I’ll get around to covering some of the other “80’s Weekends.” I have the second, third, and fifth event in my archives, each with their own set of unique artists – Howard Jones, OMD, The Psychedelic Furs, Human League, ABC, The English Beat, to name a few.
Although, for the time being, I expect all things blog-related to slow down a little, until I can fully acclimate to the schedule of my new work-from-home gig.
Until then, stay safe and enjoy these nostalgic treasures from “80’s Weekend #9.”
A selection of tracks from “80’s Night #9,” mirroring the concert content featured in this post.