Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic … craving a lot more of the been-there-done-that familiarity I often tend to avoid. I’m sure that has much to do with these crazy surreal times we find ourselves in. You know, just wanting to secure some stable footing, a path I can surely navigate, a goal I’ve touched before, etc. That’s why I’ve titled this post “Comfort Food,” which if everything goes as planned, will play out in three fairly comprehensive parts.
Why three? I have a trio of these ’80s flashback themed concerts, more like mini-fests, that feature a genuine who’s who of ’80s pop/rock culture. For one reason or another, I never got around to publishing them. But I figure, while the world loses itself all over again, what better remedy than a return to simpler, easier, more comfortable times … at least, pop culturally speaking. And yes, I do realize those were also the Reagan years, the politics of which continue to plague us today. But for these posts, let’s just set that aside in the interests of positivity.
Whether one hit wonders or mainstays of the revolution, these artists of the ’80s literally were the soundtrack of the era, setting the trends, fashions, and styles that defined a generation, many of whom continue to exert influence in modern times. I’m guessing some of these names, you might’ve forgotten. But I’m pretty sure you’ll know the songs, recognize the melodies, or realize that you know this bit of chorus, or that piece of lyric.
These three music-packed shows, all dubbed “80’s Weekend,” feature nothing but the most popular of the bunch – stuff that, like I said, you know and love, even if you don’t know that you know and love it just yet.
To get things rolling, we’re going to jump back a few years to August 13, 2016 for the debut weekend of “80’s Weekend” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA. It’s not quite the three-plus decades needed to get to the source. But it’s enough for contemporary audiences to actually experience what many of us were lucky enough to grow up with.
The “80’s Weekend” kickoff was split across two nights, the second of which is featured here, and appropriately titled “80’s Weekend #2.” The lineups for both nights were similar. But night “#1” had Tommy Tutone (“867-5309 Jenny”) and Eddie Money (may he rest in peace), while night “#2 “had Tom Bailey of the enigmatic (and just plain cool) Thompson Twins and Marc Almond of the seminal (and often subversive) Soft Cell.
When I was young, I was a huge Thompson Twins fan, so my choice in the matter was predetermined – no offense to Tommy and Eddie, both of whom I enjoyed in their heyday, and the latter of which I can honestly say was one of my first concerts I ever attended. It was either that one, which also had Y&T on the bill, or Berlin with Wang Chung. It’s so long ago that I just can’t remember which came first. But other than Y&T, those other two ’80s classics have both appeared at “80’s Weekend,” Wang Chung at “#9” (which I covered here), and Berlin at this one and “#4,,” which I’ll get to in a few days time, as it wraps up this flashback trilogy.
Anyhow, let’s get started with this blast from the past, better known as “80’s Weekend #2” …
The Human League:
From a purely nostalgic standpoint, the Human League was one of the two reasons I really wanted to attend the inaugural “80’s Weekend” – the other, as I mentioned, being Tom Bailey. I’ve only had the privilege of seeing the influential British trio once, way back in ’87, at the Berkeley Community Theatre. The details are vague. But I remember the show possessing a sort of pop innocence – a simpler, cleaner, less overwhelming sensibility that allowed their synth-pop doo-wop to shine through. Among many high points, it was a clear peak in my musical youth.
As far as I was concerned, the Human League were pretty much the gold standard for synth-based pop music back in the day, or at least amongst the top three or four.
I’m sure you could make arguments for other equal and/or more prominent acts, many of which eventually performed at subsequent “80’s Weekends.”
But I always felt the Human League’s deceptively simple melodies just made you feel good, maybe not quite full-on flower-power positivity, but certainly buoyant and dare-I-say bouncy. Like many others, they were pioneering the synth sound, figuring out what to do with all that (then) new tech.
And sure, there were a few far more serious affairs, like the haunts of “The Lebanon” or “Seconds,” both of which I absolutely love. But for the most part, my recollections of the Human League remain in the purely pop spectrum.
The Human League were also one of the most consistent of the bunch, producing radio-friendly regulars, what they called “hits” at the time, long before the internet and Spotify redefined our listening paradigms. Their carefree, near bubbly, brand of streamlined pop rhythms manifested in such classics as “Don’t You Want Me” from the revered ’81 LP “Dare,” and “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” and “Mirror Man” from the follow-up ’83 EP “Fascination!”
Fronted by vocalist/keyboardist Philip Oakey, the Human League’s core trio has remained the same since ’80, with dueling female vocalists Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley rounding out the lineup. Live, the group features various session players on percussion, guitar and bass.
For their headline billing, the Human League served up a streamlined selection of their biggest and brightest hits, six of which I’ve included here. Also, I should note that “Together in Electric Dreams” is actually an Oakey solo track from ’84 that’s a collaboration with the great Giorgio Moroder (who literally invented the Italian disco sound). It often gets folded under the Human League banner. And there’s also a cheat, with “Tell Me When,” which actually comes from the ’95 album “Octopus,” despite sounding as if it could’ve come from a prior decade.
Incidentally, the stage set-up is exactly how I remember it, even after nearly 30 years.
The Human League perform “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
The Human League perform “Don’t You Want Me” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
The Human League perform “Mirror Man” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
The Human League perform “Tell Me When” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
The Human League perform the Philip Oakey/Giorgio Moroder collaboration “Together in Electric Dreams” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
The Human League perform “Human” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey:
So like I said, Tom Bailey was the other reason I chose to return to the past with “80’s Weekend #2.” He was, or course, the lead singer and songwriter of the Thompson Twins, who’d I’d last seen live in ’85 at the Oakland Coliseum, and who I also had the opportunity to interview back in my late ’80s music journalist days. Sadly, I no longer have those interview transcripts … or at the very least, I’ve misplaced them. But I do recall Bailey being a genuinely nice guy, full of enthusiasm for the musical arts, and something about an anarchist circus, which I no longer have context for.
I also have fond memories of the Thompson Twins’ lavish and stylized arena-sized live performance, which featured a robot on percussion for that last show I attended.
The Thompson Twins have been around since ’77, but really took off in ’83, with the album “Quick Step & Side Kick.” Back then, boisterous synth-styled tracks like “Lies” and “Love on Your Side” brought an electro sway and percussive swagger that helped usher in the New Wave. It was at once familiar, yet totally unique, exotic, and unheard.
Most, though, will probably remember the Thompson Twins for their biggest single “Hold Me Now” from their breakthrough ’84 LP “Into the Gap.” It was the very definition of a romantic ballad crafted for slow dancing at ’80s high school proms. And it probably would’ve made the cut for a John Hughes movie, had their earlier romantic slow burner “If You Were Here” not get their first. That was for “Sixteen Candles,” which coincidentally came out the same year.
These days, meaning since ’14, Bailey is essentially a solo artist, under the official name Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey. The original band separated in ’93. His main collaborators Alannah Currie (vocals/percussion) and Joe Leeway (vocals/keyboards/percussion) have long since retired, now replaced with a trio of younger musicians to recreate their classic sound.
Bailey still plays keyboards and guitar. And most importantly, his voice is in tip-top condition, faithfully channeling the New Wave spirit of old. So it all still feels and sounds like the Thompson Twins, even if it’s really just Bailey and a pretty decent hand-picked cover band, minus the elaborate stage production, and the addition of some new tech to fill in for the congas and marimbas. It’s the best we’ll get in this day and age, and that does just fine.
I have four classic Thompson Twins’ tracks from Bailey’s stripped-down yet spirited performance, including the aforementioned “Hold Me Now” and “Lies,” as well as spot-on renditions of the popular tracks “Lay Your Hands on Me” and “Doctor Doctor.”
Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey performs “Hold Me Now” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey performs “Lies” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey performs “Lay Your Hands on Me” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey performs “Doctor Doctor” at “80’s Weekend #2 “at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
Marc Almond of Soft Cell:
Memory’s a funny thing. Admittedly, I’m a little hazy on my recollections of Englishman Marc Almond as solo artist. As far as his involvement in Soft Cell, I pretty much know where I stand. I loved that early synth-based stuff, full of off-kilter quirks, slightly seedy, weirdly underground in tone, yet breakthrough influential in scope.
But as soloist, it appears that I’ve forgotten quite a bit, most notably that I interviewed him in my early days as a music journalist, probably around ’89, and I saw him perform at the Pantages in Hollywood, probably around the same time. A lot was probably going on in my life back then. I’m pretty sure I was a hot mess, overwhelmed, overstimulated, and definitely on something, So things have been a bit unclear … up to this point.
Of course, while reviving my materials for “80’s Weekend #2,” I’ve made a conscious effort to do my due diligence, and have hence learned that this would’ve all occurred around the release of his fourth solo album, “The Stars We Are,” which was his most successful in the states, and spawned the notable single “Tears Run Rings.”
He performed that one at “80’s Weekend #2,” and I’m fairly certain he did so back in ’89. But if my memory of late remains hazy, I’m sure it was just as forgetful back in ’16 at the Microsoft Theater. So for his appearance, my focus was on the Soft Cell material he’d bring to the stage, minus, of course, collaborative partner David Bell, who’d long since gone off to do his own thing. On a side note, the two have recently announced a brand new Soft Cell album together, their first in 20 years, for release in the Spring of next year.
With that in mind, Almond performed one of the two Soft Cell songs I wanted to hear from their ’81 debut “Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.” And in hindsight, it’s obvious why he didn’t offer up the perversely deviant “Sex Dwarf,” as it might’ve been a bit much for this nostalgia-seeking crowd. But he did play a brilliant version of Soft Cell’s cover of Gloria Jones’ ’65 northern soul track “Tainted Love.”
And that’s the track I’ve included here. Weirdly, Almond looks exactly like he did in his youth, albeit a bit older. And his voice, like Bailey’s, remains in excellent condition. With Soft Cell’s return, I’m ever so curious to see what he’ll come up.
Marc Almond performs Soft Cell’s ‘ Tainted Love” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
Men Without Hats:
Not to sound like a broken record, but Canadian New Wave outfit Men Without Hats is another band I forgot I interviewed, sometime back in ’87 with the release of their third softly-psychedelic synth-prominent album “Pop Goes the World.” And yes, I’ve really got to bring myself up to date with my past experiences.
I’m sure everyone knows their one super-popular smash single, “The Safety Dance,” as well as that crazy arm twisting staccato twirl from frontman/founder Ivan Doroschuk, on full display in its accompanying Renaissance-themed music video. That track dates all the way back to ’83 from their debut album “Rhythm of Youth.” But it’s so strangely iconic that it’s transcended time, seeming near-impossible to forget – unlike other aforementioned aspects that have clearly eluded me.
But I do recall having a soft spot for “Pop Goes the World,” both the bright and bubbly ’87 single and its similarly whimsical LP of the same name. It didn’t quite have the immediately in-grained immediacy of “The Safety Dance,” but it worked on it’s own colorful terms.
Honestly, up until this performance, I didn’t realize Men Without Hats were still around. I guess you could say that about a lot of ’80s acts, including many featured in this “80’s Weekend” performance.
But to be fair, Men Without Hats’ original line-up disbanded in ’93, remaining largely silent for the interim, until Doroschuk, as sole founding member, opted to reform the band in ’10 with a whole new roster, and a desire to return to their classic ’80s synthesizer sound. That resulted in the album “Love in the Age of War,” released in ’12 with the unexpected aid of Skinny Puppy’s Dave Ogilvie as producer. An odd combination, to be sure, but not entirely out of bounds.
For “80’s Weekend #2,” Men Without Hats boasted it’s newly minted line-up, yet focused on its celebrated past, performing expected classics like “Pop Goes the World” and “The Safety Dance,” (including the funny dance moves), amongst a few others. Both are featured below.
Men Without Hats perform “The Safety Dance” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
Men Without Hats perform “Pop Goes the World” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
Modern English will forever be known for the ’82 upbeat smash “I Melt with You.” They know it and acknowledge it. But what many forget is that they were also an essential part of the seminal label 4AD Records, back when that actually meant something.
In fact, before I saw them at “80’s Weekend #2,” I had the opportunity to catch them perform their 4AD ’81 debut LP “Mesh and Lace” in it’s entirety at the Echoplex a few months prior. Perhaps, at a later date, I’ll feature that show, which has my one and only recording of “I Melt With You,” which incidentally, I deliberately chose not record at “80’s Weekend #2.”
Amazingly, Modern English still features four of its five original members since their inception in ’79 – vocalist Robbie Grey, guitarist Gary McDowell, bassist Michael Conroy, and keyboardist Stephen Walker. “Newcomer” Roy Martin, who joined in ’10, replaces original drummer Richard Brown.
I only captured one Modern English track at “80’s Weekend #2,” titled “Hands Across the Sea,” which arguably might be their only other mainstream hit. It’s also one of my favorites … and they didn’t perform it at the “Mesh and Lace” Echoplex show.
Modern English perform “Hands Across the Sea” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
When in Rome:
U.K. synth-pop act When in Rome have come to be a bit of a staple with these “80’s Weekend” shows, appearing in at least four of them. This particular performance would be their second time in the line-up.
It’s funny, because this is one of those acts that actually is a celebrated one-hit wonder, namely for their charismatic ’88 single “The Promise.” It’s also the only song they ever perform at these events, albeit a sometimes extended and/or remixed version.
When in Rome was primarily a trio, comprised of dueling vocalists Clive Farrington and Andrew Mann, and original keyboardist Michael Floreale. They disbanded in ’93. And after a number of years remaining dormant, two versions of the band resurfaced, When in Rome II, founded by Floreale, and When in Rome UK, lead by Farrington and Mann. The latter is who appeared at “80’s Weekend #2,” with Rob Juarez on drums and two additional musicians on keyboards/percussion.
Until I started researching this, I truly had no idea such behind-the-scenes drama occurred, especially given that it’s really all over one song and the band name to go with it. Royalties are a bitch, I guess.
That said, “The Promise” is a great archetypical ’80s single, about as pleasant and innocuous as they come, full of soaring melody, catchy lyrics, and an all-around euphoric quality that feels both of the era and a bit of the timeless.
I guess if you’re going to embrace the one-hit wonder status, Farrington and Mann’s When in Rome UK seem to be doing it in the right venue with the right song.
Here’s “The Promise.”
When in Rome perform “The Promise” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
As I’ve mentioned (way back in my introduction to this long-winded write-up), SoCal act Berlin was one of my earliest concert-going experiences. They were also part of the American new wave, which back then, I don’t believe I entirely understood or realized – at least, not consciously. I just liked their synth-rock-based sound. Also, like many other younglings, I probably had a high school crush on lead singer Terri Nunn.
Berlin’s been around since ’78, but really gained attention in the early to mid ’80s, starting with the exotic underground singles “The Metro” and the controversial “Sex (I’m a …),” which many a radio station refused to play, being the prudish Americans that we were … and still are.
Most will probably remember them at their peak, with a little ballad titled “Take My Breath Away” from a little Tom Cruise film known as “Top Gun.” Incidentally, aside from that tune being their biggest hit, it’s also a collaboration with the aforementioned synth legend Giorgio Moroder.
For me, I sort of fell in the middle, discovering their ’82 debut LP “Pleasure Victim” at the cusp of their second ’84 release “Love Life,” which featured the energetic pop number “No More Words.” I still remember the Bonnie and Clyde themed music video, which aired on MTV and USA Night Flight regularly.
Berlin’s line-up is a curious journey, with Nunn being the main constant. At their peak, they were a six-piece, with John Crawford (vocals/bass), David Diamond (keyboard), Ric Olsen (guitar), Matt Reid (keyboard) and Rod Learned (drums) rounding out the line-up. Apparently, the success of “Take My Breath Away” created some disagreements over future directions, and the band eventually dissolved in ’87.
Ten years later, and following some legal wranglings, Nunn opted to revive Berlin, this time as a slimmed-down four-piece with a new line-up of musicians – eventually solidified with the trio of Carlton Bost (guitar), Dave Schulz (keyboard) and Paloma Estevez (drums). I’m pretty sure that’s the Berlin that appeared at “80’s Weekend #2.”
But I’ve also read that Nunn had been working again with Crawford and Diamond, as early as August ’16, developing new material. And according to the band’s website, the two original members had joined the current roster, returning the band to a six-piece – which is not what appeared here, nor on “80’s Weekend #4” (which I’ll eventually get to, in the coming days). So for this one, you’re guess is as good as mine. Or we can all wait until the Cruel World festival next year, and see what incarnation of Berlin appears then.
Either way, Berlin’s “80’s Weekend #2” appearance was another welcomed return for another revered ’80s act I never thought I’d see again. I actually had a few recordings from this performance, but in hindsight, they weren’t that great. So for this round, I stuck with “No More Words,” the track that fit best with my introduction to Berlin, as well as being the best of the recordings I had. I’ve got a few others that I’ll include when we get to “80’s Weekend #4.” But that’s another post for another day.
Berlin perform “No More Words” at “80’s Weekend #2” at the Microsoft Theatre in DTLA on 08.13.16.
That wraps up part one of this exhaustive musical flashback to the ’80s. Shockingly, it’s not everyone that appeared on the bill. But it’s a solid selection nonetheless. And it’s what I had at my disposal, no offence to any and all I failed to include. And a Flock of Seagulls did make the cut for “80’s Weekend #9,” so there’s that.
Next up is “80’s Weekend #3,” which I’ll hopefully get assembled in the next few days. Until then …