Saturday, June 27, 2009

ABC offers up music and memories of the glorious '80s

I think about the 1980s and see milestones and adventures.

I see graduations from high school and two colleges. Marriage and a Mets championship. A real world job and an apartment.

My life probably changed more in that decade than it will in any other. So the soundtrack for that transition from teen to adult will always be special.

Some people might hear Human League and Flock of Seagulls and the Cars and think bad hair and bubbling synthesizers.

But I’m instantly transported back to first dates, dorm parties and road trips. I’ve blocked out anything bad that might have happened.

So I was pretty geeked to discover that The Regneration Tour was coming to Grand Rapids. ABC would headline, with Tommy Tutone, Cutting Crew and Wang Chung filling the bill.

It was a full-scale ‘80s-a-palooza.

A roadie let me have Martin Fry's set list after the show.

Ticket prices started at $24, but by the week of the show they were two for $20. My 17-year-old son quickly announced he was working at the pool the night of the show, and my wife said she couldn’t stay out that late on a work night.

That left my 12-year-old, who, lacking the excuse of a job or a reason to get up early, became my reluctant companion.

“They’re from the ‘80s and still alive?” she asked. I took this as a bad sign. “What if they die on stage?”

About a thousand people were in attendance, many, I noticed were about my age, and my daughter wasn’t the only child dragged along to relive a parent’s memory.

Tommy Tutone was first, with a fun, short set of what he called “soul twang.” Of course, the crowd erupted at the opening notes of “Jenny (867-5309),” which Tommy Heath and his two sidemen turned into an extended jam with a call-and-response.

Heath, here in 2007, wore the same outfit at Thursday's show.

My mind flashed back to the Vignette’s end-of-year celebration, asking the disc jockey to play the song for a girl named Jennifer I was trying to impress.

Next was Cutting Crew, the act that surprised me the most. I owned “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” of course. Everybody did. But I was struggling to remember a second song, and didn’t even have a song-specific memory.

But frontman Nick Van Eede absolutely charmed the crowd, darn near stealing the whole show. The new but unfamiliar songs were really good, and I’d forgotten about the balled “I’ve Been in Love Before.”

You got the impression that he’s content with whatever he’s doing these years, and if he can hop on stage once in a while and have some laughs, it’s all good.

Wang Chung followed, and were a little more somber, dedicating the show to Michael Jackson. But Jack Hues and Nick Feldman, who reunited recently, rocked harder than I expected.

Considering the band is named after a Chinese philosopher, its lyrics aren’t especially deep. But it sure was easy for the crowd to sing “Let’s go, baby. Let’s go, baby. Come on!” And people screamed the refrain to “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” which leads to our fun ‘80s memory.

I was in a University of Missouri Journalism School graphics lab, working with that first wave of Apples Macintoshes with the black and white screens. We were allowed to play the radio while working, and it wasn’t unusual for people to quietly sing along to themselves.

One day “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” came on, and spontaneously a chunk of the room sang the second line of the chorus -- “Everybody Wang Chung tonight” together, then broke out laughing.

Finally it was time for ABC. It seemed like I was the only ABC fan in college. I’d run laps in the Brewer Fieldhouse with my bulky Walkman playing my “Lexicon of Love” and “How to be a Zillionaire” tapes, imagining what the group would sound like live.

Best I knew, the group didn’t play live. Partly because it was really just Martin Fry and side musicians, and also because the lush sound with strings, horns, complicated arrangements didn’t seem easy to replicate on stage.

Fry, in a stylish shiny black suit and skinny tie, was certainly a little older than the dashing figure on the LP covers, but was sure strong in voice.

He was backed by a six-piece band, including one guy who bounced between keyboards and a huge saxophone and a percussionist with an array of bongos and larger drums.

They band tore through Fry’s hits like “Be Near Me” and “Poison Arrow,” deeper tracks like “Date Stamp” and “Tears are Not Enough” and two songs from a recently released CD that I just ordered from Amazon as an import. It was wonderful.

Fry and friends peforming "The Look of Love" in 2006.

I didn’t think too many people are into ABC. But a several people I chatted with asked which of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing. And when replied, they all said, “Me too.” So the concert was kind of like a gathering of people into a semi-obscure 80s band. Very cool.

I left with ears ringing, voice hoarse and memories revisited. My daughter had a t-shirt and candy from a radio station promotion.

And I now realize why some people took offense to a post last year where I bemoaned that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was filled with one-hit wonders from the 1950s.

Where I heard echoy recordings of do-wop singers, they heard their memories.


RDOwens said...

Wow! Wow!

I am your age and have no memory of ABC. Those other bands were despised in my youth. Yuck!

You mentioned A Flock of Seagulls. I actually saw them live. They were just as horrible as all the other bands of the 80s, but were on the bill of a concert I attended. The line-up was:
Robert Hazard & the Heroes, A Flock of Seagulls, Blondie, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Genesis

I suspect, given your liking of the show you attended, you would camp out for Wham! tickets if they were to reunite. :)

I'm glad you had a good time. Your 12-year old will never be the same. :)

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

You saw a Flock of Seaguls? I'm insanely jealous! That entire bill looks pretty sweet.

Anonymous said...

I'm just shocked Dave didn't Rickroll us on this post -- an Aughties type of tribute to the crap music of the Eighties that we (but not Bob) loved so much.