Continuing my flashback trilogy of “80’s Weekend” shows, comes the second nostalgic entry, this time spotlighting the third edition of the now-recurring jam-packed event, featuring classic acts of new waves, synth-favs, and a bit of the ol’ new romanticism, plus a healthy helping of pop-cultured vibrancy, day-glow fashion, and all the neon colors in between.
After their sold-out debut weekend in August 2016, which in my world was “80’s Weekend #2,” it was pretty darn clear that there’d be more of these line-ups, all celebrating the sounds and sights of the seminal decade that continues to resonate so strongly today. Like many others who attend these shows, I grew up in the ’80s, so these artists and their hit songs are all firmly cemented in my otherwise faulty memory. To say this was simply nostalgia-based would be a bit of an understatement – more like a re-life of a past life – or as the title metaphorically states, a truly reliable form of musical comfort food.
What I often forget is that many of these acts are still active today, crafting new music, as well as commemorating the older, more revered tunes. Of course, some are more prevalent than others, and a lot of the “bigger” ones don’t always grace the stages of “80’s Weekend” – think Depeche Mode, New Order, or The Cure, all of whom command full capacity arenas of their own, and whose strongest material stretches far beyond the confines of one singular decade.
That said, “80’s Weekend” isn’t too shabby when it comes to it’s curated line-ups, assembling some of the era’s most influential, popular, and groundbreaking artists, many of whom you can only really experience in this type of setting. And even though these shows are solely focused on their ’80s material, it does provoke curiosity concerning what else these artists have been up to in all those decades in between. That’s not a bad thing at all.
Like numerous “80’s Weekend” shows, both past and present, this one was a Richard Blade hosted event. He’s best known for his numerous years as a DJ for the “world famous” KROQ, spinning all things alternative and new wave, dating all the way back to ’82. So he’s somewhat of an informal ’80s icon himself. He’s not featured in any of my clips. But he was essentially emceeing the whole event.
For “80’s Weekend #3,” the UK seems to once again carry the bulk of the talent, which seemed to be the way of things back in the day – a British Invasion of another sort, so to speak, focused on new alternatives, experimental instrumentation, and broader cultural waves, all rolled up into easy, digestible pop-tunes that enthralled and entertained in equal measure.
Six of the seven artists I’ve included here are all of English origin – Howard Jones, Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley, the English Beat, ABC, Naked Eyes, and Altered Images. Nena, who hasn’t performed in L.A. in nearly 30 years, is, of course, German, as is readily apparent to anyone who’s paid attention to her most famous hit “99 Luftballons.” I ignore the English version of that track, for obvious reasons.
Nationalities aside, not that it makes any difference in the grand scheme of time, these are just some of the relevant voices who’ve shaped and sculpted our perceptions of this celebrated decade. So without any further pontification, let’s get started on this second trip down ’80s memory lane with “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater on 01.28.17.
I’m going to wax a little (more) nostalgic … Although, who am I kidding? This whole “80’s Weekend” thing is all about tickling the nostalgia vibe.
Welsh singer/songwriter Howard Jones was a really big deal back in the mid-’80s. He was one of those “alternative” guys who effortlessly pierced the mainstream, introducing the oft-cynical masses to the wide-eyed world of soaring synths and electro rhythms. Keep in mind, he was old-school pre-electronica, so keyboards, synthesizers, and sequencers still had a ways to go before evolving into the primary tools so widely embraced today.
I remember seeing Jones back in ’85 in Oakland, CA, at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center (essentially a large basketball stadium) for the “Dream Into Action” tour. Like many of my high school peers, I was really into the Euro synth-pop of the underground times, and Jones seemed to approach his notes in an entirely transcendent way.
He possessed a near spiritual knack for positivity and optimism, instinctually channeling such sentiments into his hopeful lyrics and brightly keyed melodies. In retrospect, I’d almost say he was the new wave equivalent of what was pegged New Age back then – albeit less lotus position, and more danceable and funky.
Just listen to his characteristic ’85 single “Things Can Only Get Better,” and it all comes into focus. Not surprisingly, Jones started practicing Nichiren Buddhism soon thereafter.
Of course, I understand this all as hindsight thought. But in the moment,, meaning the actual “80s, I just connected with Jone’s musical frequency on an instinctual level. And like most youth, I embraced it without question, because it felt right and good.
As this was an “80’s Weekend” show, Jones focused on his most renown singles from his first two albums, the ’84 debut “Human’s Lib” and it’s ’85 follow-up “Dream Into Action.” Most of these recordings are only partial, for one inexplicable reason or another. But there’s enough here to “get”where Jones is coming from. And there’s even a moment during an equipment malfunction for “No One is to Blame,” where he just set aside his synths and performed an entirely acapella version, until the stage-techs got things sorted. That’s not a sight you witness all that often, particularly when it comes to electronically-based acts, new or old.
Although these five featured tracks represent the height of his ’80s popularity and prowess, I should note that Jones still continues to be a highly prolific artist, releasing a whopping eleven albums throughout the intervening years, his latest being the ’19 release “Transform,” featuring multiple collaborations with DJ/electronica musician BT. But I’ll leave that for another day.
Here’s Howard Jones celebrating his early days at “80’s Weekend #3.”
Howard Jones performs “New Song ” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
Howard Jones performs “Life in One Day ” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
Howard Jones performs “What is Love?” at “80”s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
Howard Jones performs an acappella version of “No One is to Blame” during an equipment malfunction at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
Howard Jones performs “No One is to Blame” proper at “80’sWeekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
Howard Jones performs “Things Can Only Better” proper at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
Admittedly, ABC is one of those alternative English pop bands I used to love as kid, but somewhere along the way, totally forgot about. Weird, how that happens. Leave it to “80’s Weekend” to jog my memory by placing them at the top of the bill, alongside Howard Jones.
ABC, if my recollections are clear, possessed a kitsch-y R&B sensibility, synth-based, campy, yet full of style and soul, boasting a gleam and polish only possible in the realm of the evocative ‘80s new wave.
Frontman, and now sole original member, Martin Fry lead the charge with his smooth-as-silk vocals and glittery sequined suit, almost like a Vegas lounge act gone dastardly rogue .. and with infinitely more talent. The classic line-up no longer exists – Mark White (keyboards/guitars), Stephen Singleton (saxophone), and David Palmer (drums) – now replaced by a five-piece of touring musicians, all of whom faithfully reproduce the classic ABC sound.
I must say, it’s always a little disappointing when the core founding members are mostly absent. But I get it. It’s a rare bird that can stick with the flock for near-four decades and still call it home.
That said, without Fry, ABC wouldn’t really be ABC either. It’s his voice, both physically and emotionally that drives the band. Plus, he’s the one constant who’s been there from the beginning, dating all the way back to ’80. And he sill carries the torch, releasing new material, at least up until ’16 with the “The Lexicon of Love II,” a spiritual sequel to their ’82 debut of the same name (minus the “II,” of course).
For “80’s Weekend #3,” ABC stuck with the early classics, highlighting tunes from their two most popular LPs, “The Lexicon of Love” and the glitzy ’85 release “How to Be a Zillionaire.” I’ve got two tracks featured, one from each, “Be Near Me” from the latter,” and “The Look of Love, Part 1” from the former.
ABC perform “Be Near Me” at ‘”80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
ABC perform “The Look of Love, Part 1” at ‘”80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
The English Beat:
I actually believe this might be the first time I’ve ever seen the English Beat perform live. I know with absolute certainty that I saw Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger’s spin-off act General Public play as far back as ’85, twice actually that same year at the same Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, one of those shows being a New Year’s Eve event, which was definitely something. But as far as the English Beat is concerned, I can’t recall catching them live.
And that’s strange, because one of my closest friends in high school absolutely loved the English Beat. He listened to their ska-based tunes all the time, which meant, consequently, so did I. With the music at full volume, we’d cruise the suburbs of Cupertino and Los Altos in his convertible MG, myself as passenger, totally blissed and blasted. That’s how I remember it, completely immersed and inebriated, soaking in ska’s colorful roots, from blues and soul to calypso and reggae, all while celebrating its punk-based attitude – quite literally, I might add.
There were two albums in particular that we had in seemingly endless rotation, their ’80 debut “I Just Can’t Stop It” and the ’82 third LP “Special Beat Service.” For some reason, their second ’81 release “Wha’ppen?” never fell as seriously in the playlist. The recordings I have here from “80’s Weekend #3” hail solely from the first one, the classics “I Confess” and “Save It for Later.” And I’ve got a third one, which is technically a cover, the classic General Public single “Tenderness” from their ’84 debut “All the Rage.”
As I side note, as well as an admission that I haven’t been paying complete attention, I had no idea that somewhere around the early ’00s, the English Beat fractured into two versions of the band, a U.S. edition lead by Wakeling (now a SoCal resident), and a U.K. model fronted by Roger, who unfortunately passed away in March of ’19. The U.K. act featured a number of original players, while the U.S. boasted an entirely new line-up, exempting Wakeling, of course.
For “80s Weekend #3,” it was all about Wakeling’s English Beat, which makes total sense, since it’s his voice that’s most associated with those early hits. Plus, the show’s in the city he now calls home.
In hindsight, other than regretting not seeing the original collective back in their heyday, I do wish I recorded “Mirror in the Bathroom,” which is the only one I missed. But since they’re on the bill for the “Cruel World” festival next year, which incidentally is also put on by the same folks responsible for “80’s Weekend,” I might get another opportunity.
Until then, here’s a trio of selections from Wakeling’s English Beat.
The English perform “I Confess” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
The English Beat perform “Save It for Later” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
The English Beat perform General Public’s “Tenderness” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley:
Admittedly, back in the ’80s, I was never a huge Spandau Ballet fan. And I’m still not. But throughout the years, their singles have certainly grown on me, particularly their classy smooth number “True.” And in recent times, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that if I ever had the opportunity to see them live, I’d definitely take it. After all, live performance is still my preferred venue to formulate and validate my musical tastes.
Sadly, I missed all the Spandau Ballet reunions that took place between ’09 thru ’17 … so that never came to pass. But thanks to “80’s Weekend #3,” the opportunity did exist to experience the next (and only) best thing, as original singer and co-founder Tony Hadley brought his robust solo band to the Microsoft Theatre to resurrect some of those ’80s Spandau classics.
True to form, Hadley, then in his late fifties (like many of these ’80s performers), still boasted his suave and powerful voice, a huge factor in Spandau Ballet’s initial success. Sure, all those smooth-jazz sexy saxophone solos and soulful lounge cabaret-style rhythms didn’t hurt, either. But I can’t really imagine these songs being sung by someone else – and I one point, I believe the remaining members did try, when Hadley formally departed, leaving a vocal vacancy. I never heard said attempt. But I can only imagine …
Not surprisingly, Spandau Ballet also helped usher in, and further define and refine, the new romantic musical style, which I’d always attributed more to the blatant likes of early Duran Duran and/or Roxy Music. And with an abundance of synth-pop, alternatives, and new wave offerings, it’s always nice to squeeze some of this old school new romanticism into the “80’s Weekend” mix.
Being a limited fan of Spandau Ballet, I only recorded “True,” the one song everyone knows. And it’s a great rendition, faithful to its ’80s roots, solid in its performance, and a sure sign that Hadley still has the utmost respect for this early material, even without his original bandmates to back him.
Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet performs “True” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
At the risk of further repeating myself, I have to confess that I only know one song from West German artist Nena, a.k.a. Gabriele Susanne Kerner, “99 Luftballons,” which, again, is the one everyone knows. And oddly, even after all this time, I never looked further into her now-extensive catalogue of compositions, of which there are many albums, both as soloist and with her band, all under the name Nena. A little confusing, sure, but that’s just the way it is/was.
It’s not like I wasn’t intrigued by Nena’s music, whatever incarnation it might’ve been. Also, it had nothing to do with the fact that most of her songs were sung in German. If anything, that made her music more provocative. I just never followed through. It happens.
So when she took the stage late night at “80’s Weekend #3,” being the last act on the bill, I had no idea what to expect, other than hearing the one song, which unfortunately, I was only able to partially record, due to battery and storage issues, which can happen after a long night of great tunes.
I’ll say this much. I didn’t know any of the songs, sans “99 Luftballons.” But Nena’s energy, both artist and band, were shockingly great – enough so that I wish I could’ve shared more of their unexpectedly rockin’ live performance. I’d certainly check out a Nena headline show, if they were to return, post-pandemic. They did have a tour planned for last year, but we all know how that turned out (for pretty every band in existence).
Here’s Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” or at least part of it.
Nena performs “99 Luftballons” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
It’s fascinating what what one learns with some proper targeted research – which in this case, regards U.K. ‘s new wave act Naked Eyes, whom I discovered had never toured in the ’80s, nor in its original incarnation of founding members Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher. Crazy, huh?
It had something to do with the duo’s difficultly of capturing their slick studio sound in a spontaneous live setting. That’s essentially what the internet bios tell us. And I’m sure there are other more detailed reasons and/or causes, all of which we’ll probably never know, unless Byrne opts to elaborate one day. Sadly, Byrne can’t chime in, having passed back in ’99 from the big C .
Well, the important thing is that Naked Eyes are finally performing live on stage, sans any sort of difficulty whatsoever, as evidenced by their upbeat appearance at “80’s Weekend #3.” Of course, this isn’t their first show since the actual ’80s. But it does represent how long and far they’ve travelled to get to this point.
Naked Eyes was most renown for two songs in particular, their superior cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David’60s single “Always Something There to Remind Me,” and their original breakout composition “Promises, Promises.” Both are from their ’83 debut LP “Burning Bridges,” which was reissued in the U.S. as the self-titled “Naked Eyes,” with a track listing modified for stateside ears (whatever that entails).
Byrne has since expanded Naked Eyes to a five-piece, and released a pretty decent new album earlier this year, titled “Disguise the Limit,” which wisely doesn’t attempt to recapture their ’80s pop sound, but instead expand upon it in more mature, relevant ways (and it’s got a clever pun to boot).
Obviously, “80’s Weekend #3” occurred well-before this new material was released, so Naked Eyes stuck to the popular stuff from their debut, as well the ’83 follow-up “Fuel for the Fire.” Predictably, I only captured their debut tunes, the aforementioned “Promises, Promises” and “Always Something There to Remind Me,” both of which are featured below.
Naked Eyes perform “Always Something There to Remind Me” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
Naked Eyes perform “Promises, Promises” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
I’m not sure if Scottish new wave act Altered Images is still around. They were active up until this performance, with vocalist Clare Grogan continuing to front the band. But the remaining original members have long since gone their separate ways,
Altered Images was probably one of the more obscure ’80s acts on the bill, at least here in the states. In the U.K., they were fairly celebrated at their peak. But if you were into the alternative scene, and all things new wave, then chances are you probably heard at least two of their quirky pop tunes, namely the bouncey “Happy Birthday” and the bouyant “I Could Be Happy,” respectively from their ’81 debut “Happy Birthday” and the ’82 follow-up “Pinky Blue.”
Happy seemed to be the core theme of Altered Images. And their “80’s Weekend #3” performance certainly conveyed that sentiment – at times, almost hyperactively so. And really, I’d expect nothing less. It’s been ages since I’ve given them a solid listen, but I always remember them for possessing this unabashedly cheery and lighthearted quality. I wouldn’t call them saccharin, but their might just be a bit of bubblegum in there.
Here’s both of those Altered Images tunes, perhaps the last time I’ll have the chance to capture them live.
Altered Images perform “I Could Be Happy” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
Altered Images perform “Happy Birthday” at “80’s Weekend #3” at the Microsoft Theater in DTLA on 01.28.17.
That wraps up this second chapter of “80’s Weekend” goodness. Surprisingly, at least to me, I only missed a couple of acts on the bill. But I do wish I captured a bit more of the artists that I do have featured. Win some., lose some, I guess. And there’s always going to be something, in hindsight.
That leaves me with one more post to author up, the final “80’s Weekend” I have remaining in my archives, better known as “#4.” I’m looking quite forward to revisiting this one, as it features a few of my longtime favs.
Give me a few days, and I should have that one whipped up and ready to publish. Until then …