We love the ’80s!
Last weekend, iHeartRadio threw one of the best ’80s parties on the planet, with six special guest stars that combined to make everyone in attendance (including me) feel like we were back in that decade of decadence.
It was a concert for the ages, held at the LA Forum in Inglewood, California, on Saturday, February 20, and featuring a lineup that included the following ’80s throwback artists: Rick Springfield, Loverboy, Billy Idol, Missing Persons, Tears for Fears and Culture Club.
Yes, that would be the fully intact Culture Club, complete with original members Roy Hay, Mikey Craig, Jon Moss and the ever flamboyant Boy George.
What follows is djrobblog’s coverage of the big event, with a section devoted to each act who performed.
Where (and how) It Happened
The Forum, recently renovated with its 18,000-seat capacity, was up to the task of creating the best sonic experience for the sold-out crowd of mostly 45-plus-year-old fans in attendance, many of whom were likely looking for any excuse to party, based on the levels of enthusiasm and alcohol consumption I saw. From the minute the lights dimmed as people were scurrying for their seats, to the end of the show, the music was loud, the people were itching to dance, and the vibe was crazy.
Once inside, there were plenty of ’80s reminders to get folks pumped for the concert. Several video montages ran throughout the night on the large video screens flanking the stage, including the opening video-mix featuring snippets of several ’80s classics.
Ironically, the pre-show videoclips that received the most love from this crowd of 40- and 50-something-year-old rock music fans were the rap tunes. Old-school jams like Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky,” Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It.” Okay, maybe those tunes aren’t exactly hardcore rap, but 30 years ago even those vanilla tunes (by today’s standards) couldn’t top the pop charts as hip-hop’s mainstream acceptance was still years away.
But this crowd likely didn’t remember that historical nuance or didn’t care, or both. Those songs and more were all part of the Big ’80s experience we were all there to relive – and relive it we did!
To get the show started, we were treated to another ’80s icon, former dance-pop princess Paula Abdul, introducing the night’s first act – Tears For Fears. Abdul received a warm enough reception (unlike another of the night’s MCs I’ll get to later). The only problem – and it was one shared by all the other MCs who took turns introducing the night’s performers – was that their microphones were all muted to the point where we could hardly hear them speak.
This seemed like an ominous sign of technical difficulties to come, which could have affected the oncoming musical performers, but thankfully that problem was limited to just the MCs, whose monologues were the most disposable element of the night anyway.
First Act – Tears for Fears
Tears For Fears, the off-again/on-again duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, were the first performers out of the chute. They took the stage and opened with their big #1 single “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” As soon as its familiar opening keyboard riff was played, we knew we were gonna be in for a treat. The crowd rose to its feet, dancing in its own alcohol-infused, rhythmically challenged way, but dancing nonetheless, as nearly everyone in attendance sang or mouthed the words to that melodic classic. Curt Smith’s slightly aged lead vocals were still on point, especially with the chorus of thousands of gleeful fans accompanying him.
The boys from Bath, Somerset, England quickly followed that opener with their Beatle-esque ode to psychedelia, the #2 1989 single, “Sowing the Seeds of Love.” Not quite the crowd pleaser that “Rule the World” was, the revelers still loved it, as did I. That nearly six-minute epic got the full treatment, with multi-colored kaleidoscopic video images playing in the background to complement its 1960s vibe.
Tears for Fears performed five songs in all, including the underrated Curt Smith-led “Mad World,” Orzabal’s “Head Over Heels” and, of course, “Shout” – their second #1 tune from 1985.
In fact, T4F would be the only one of the six acts that night who could plausibly open and close with #1 tunes as they were the only one who had at least two such hits.
It was great seeing them perform those memorable hits, all of which served as reminders of why we loved them so much in the first place. And the years have been kind to the duo who, along with other ’80s bands, were a big part of the second British Invasion of America’s pop music scene. It was all enough to make some in attendance wonder out loud where they’d been all these years.
Next Up – Loverboy
After the T4F set, and with very little delay, the stage rotated to reveal the next act, the band Loverboy. They were introduced by another couple of ’80s staples, Martha Quinn (former original MTV vee-jay) and Mario Lopez (originally of Saved By The Bell fame).
Lopez told a couple of bad bandana jokes inspired by Loverboy leader Mike Reno’s trademark headpiece, with the jokes falling about as flat as Lopez’ (and Quinn’s) microphones sounded.
And then came Loverboy.
Now, if the years have been kind to many of the night’s other performers, the same could not be said for Loverboy leader Mike Reno, who had certainly packed on a few noticeable pounds since his band’s heyday. But, then again, who among us who were around then hasn’t?
In the end, Reno’s weight and appearance didn’t matter, the Loverboy frontman had the chops to carry all those rockin’ tunes from the ’80s, including the opener, “The Kid is Hot Tonite,” followed by “Loving Every Minute Of It” and “Hot Girls in Love.”
By the time the band got to song number four, the one with that iconic keyboard and guitar intro, the crowd was amped! “Turn Me Loose” may very well have one of the best openings of any rock songs from that decade (I may have to create a blog on this topic someday).
Loverboy played that intro to perfection, even extending it a bit to increase the crowd’s anticipation for the song to be unleashed in its fullest fury. It made me wonder why I (and others) didn’t appreciate “Turn Me Loose” more in 1981 when it was a moderate hit.
Loverboy’s set closed with the group performing their best-known song (as did most of the acts). In this case it was another 1981 classic, “Working for the Weekend.” The band’s performance took me – and likely most in attendance – back to almost every Friday night during the ’80s when just about every pop and rock station would start the 5:00 hour with that anthem.
A true classic indeed and a great performance by the band that rocked it boss style!
Billy Idol – A Face Without ‘Eyes’
But the party was just getting started. Up next was the British rocker and resident bad boy whose trademark snarl could in equal parts incite a barroom brawl and seduce the pants off any woman in his presence: Billy Idol.
With spiked hair and snarl intact, Idol kept the party going with highly charged performances of big ’80s hits like “Dancing With Myself,” “White Wedding,” “Flesh for Fantasy” and “Rebel Yell.”
As entertaining as it was to see Idol jumping around on the stage, it was almost as refreshing to see his legendary lead guitarist, Steve Stevens (yes, he of the big dark hair who famously played on Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”), powering Idol’s tunes.
This was easily the most crowd-pleasing performance of the night. Idol kept the jubilant crowd on its feet the entire time as he rocked and rolled through some of his most memorable tunes.
The only disappointment – and it was a big one – was the shortness of his set list. He played just those four tunes I mentioned above…no “Mony, Mony” (his #1 hit remake of the Tommy James classic), no “Cradle of Love” (yes, I know it was a year too late for the ’80s, but hey!), and no “Eyes Without a Face.”
That’s right, no “Eyes Without a Face.”
That omission was glaring and nearly unforgivable, as was the fact that the night’s most energetic performer settled for only four songs while everyone else performed five or six. Several of us openly gawked when he and his band packed up after “Rebel Yell.” I wondered whether it was even possible to be so satisfied and so disappointed all at once.
It was a stellar 30-minute performance nonetheless, and one that had many women in the crowd screaming his name, especially when he tore off his dark jacket to reveal a still-ripped set of abs that no sixty-year-old rocker should have (see Mike Reno above). Of the many tweets that scrolled across the big screens from fans in attendance, the funniest included: “This just in, Billy Idol is still ripped!” or “Billy Idol is hotter now than he was in the ’80s.”
Idol was the consummate showman, likely soaking up all of this positive energy to further fuel his stage act – one that he could surely carry as a headliner on his own, and one that would prove to be a tough act to follow.
But the next performer certainly gave it a valiant effort.
Rick Springfield – ‘Lighting Up’ The Party
Rick Springfield, who brought the largest repertoire of hits with him, was introduced by married actors Harry Hamlin (Clash of the Titans, L.A. Law) and Lisa Rinna (Days of Our Lives, Melrose Place).
Of Springfield’s 34 singles, seventeen made the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts – more than any of the other five acts – and five of those reached the top ten.
And those five top tens were the ’80s hits that he performed, but not before opening his set with a shameless plug of his newest single, “Light This Party Up,” from the 2016 album, Rocket Science – due this month.
Springfield could normally be forgiven for exposing thousands of eager fans to his new material at an ’80s concert, except for the fact that people were there for one thing: the ’80s tunes.
“Light This Party Up” didn’t resonate much with fans whose biggest connection to Springfield was “Jessie’s Girl.” That older tune was perhaps the night’s biggest and best example of an artist’s signature song, with concert-goers tweeting their anticipation of the #1 hit long before the ’80s heart-throb took the stage.
In fact, even Springfield’s other top ten hits: “I’ve Done Everything For You,” “Affair of the Heart,” “Love Somebody” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers” (my favorite by him, btw) didn’t stoke the audience like the multiple songs by the night’s other performers did.
It’s quite possible that the man who had the most hits of the night had the fewest that have aged well. But by the time he got to “Jessie’s Girl,” the crowd was ready for it, and they roared in appreciation. For their sake, Springfield’s anchor-song performance lived up to its promise.
Missing Persons – Found Their ‘Destination’…At Home
The act with the most chart hits was followed the band with the fewest: Missing Persons, fronted by female lead singer Dale Bozzio.
Bozzio was dressed in long hair and lots of makeup – looking like a cross between Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister and Donatella Versace – and an ultra long dress, all of which made Missing Persons seem a little out-of-place, both stylishly and musically. Their songs were new wave, which itself wasn’t a problem, but they were darker and edgier and lacked the familiarity of the other performers’ more pop and mainstream rock-leaning fare.
But Missing Persons, an L.A. band, were homers to this mostly local crowd, and the post-punk rock act’s appearance on this bill was likely because of that fact. This notion seemed reinforced by three things: 1) Dale Bozzio’s nearly five-minute monologue about how appreciative she was to be performing on that stage, 2) the fact that she was the only lead singer who took the time to introduce her band mates – several of whom were also locals and 3) the many concert-goers using this as an opportunity to make beer and bathroom runs.
Yet even though Missing Persons didn’t pack the hit-making punch of all the night’s other performers (they fell short of having any top-40 hits as 1982’s “Words” and “Destination Unknown” both reached #42 that year), they were an MTV staple back in the day and they helped pushed the envelope with Bozzio’s extravagant makeup and the group’s flirtation with sexual innuendo, which allowed the medium to become more provocative as the ’80s wore on.
That alone likely justified their appearance at this show.
But I and others in attendance knew their biggest hits “Words” and “Destination Unknown,” both of which Missing Persons performed, as well as the band’s fitting set closer “Walking in L.A.” – a song from the same 1982 album as the two biggies. The group also played another song (“Noticeable One”) from that album, and although few in attendance reacted to it, the tune wasn’t half bad.
The only song they performed that wasn’t from their big 1982 album was their first single, “Mental Hopscotch,” a tune that never reached the Hot 100 but has been a fan favorite during the group’s concerts.
All in all, Missing Persons put on a decent show and they at least showed why they’ve been L.A. favorites all these decades.
And they were the perfect setup for the night’s most anticipated and final act.
Culture Club – and Karma Kardashian
That act would be Boy George and Culture Club.
Now if you remember the mid-1980s like I do, then you recall that, by 1985, when Tears for Fears were “ruling the world,” it wasn’t exactly cool to like Culture Club (anymore), despite the fact that the two bands were practically bookends to the same two-year-long British Invasion. So the irony of the two of them bookending an ’80s concert some 30 years later was not lost on me.
It was an irony that went unacknowledged by Kardashian mom, Kris Jenner, though. The reality matriarch had the enviable task of introducing Culture Club, which she spent describing how much she was influenced by their flamboyant lead singer’s makeup and whatnot.
Unfortunately, Jenner is also in the dubious position of being a part of the reality TV family that people love to hate. Fans booed her mercilessly, from the moment she was introduced to just seconds before she finished her minute-long monologue about how much Boy George had influenced her.
The boos were continuous and loud, but Jenner courageously soldiered on, seemingly unfazed by the crowd’s rudeness. She gets props for that at least.
Note to concert producers: never stage a Kardashian to MC anything involving people who’ve had three hours to drink themselves into oblivion.
But I digress.
Culture Club took the stage (unwittingly rescuing Jenner in the process) and gave us what we wanted: the British foursome performing their biggest hits from over 30 years ago.
Beginning with the Motown-esque hit “Church of the Poison Mind,” a very dapper (and decidedly less flamboyant) Boy George – decked with a large white top hat – led his band mates through a series of big top-ten singles, including “Miss Me Blind,” “Time (Clock of the Heart),” “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and their biggest hit, the #1 1984 smash “Karma Chameleon.”
Culture Club fans seemed pleased with the band’s performance overall. The same people who might have been ashamed to know all the group’s lyrics 30 years ago were certainly singing along with them now.
If there were any disappointments at all, one might be that their early career backup singer Helen Terry, the powerhouse singer who contributed prominently to most of their big ’80s hits, was absent. That was however mitigated by the admirable performances of the three female singers who sang Terry’s parts.
Another disappointment – to me at least – was the omission of Culture Club faves like “It’s A Miracle” and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya.”
But when a group is constrained to a 30-minute set list in a show featuring five other acts, we knew there would be some song casualties, as there had been the whole night.
As the last band of the night, however, Culture Club was able to give an encore performance: a tribute to the late David Bowie, who died January 10. They performed “Starman,” a big hit for Bowie in England but a moderate one here in the early ’70s. It was the only non-’80s song of the night (out of 31 total), aside from that shameless 2016 plug I mentioned earlier by Rick Springfield.
But Culture Club’s ’80s departure was certainly appropriate given half of the night’s performances were by British acts likely influenced by their countryman Bowie, whose earlier envelope-pushing in the ’70s made it possible for wider acceptance of androgynous stars like Boy George a decade later.
And then, just like that – after “Starman” – it was all over.
For a party that was as much about iHeartRadio as it was about the stars who performed in concert, it didn’t disappoint.
As a late subscriber to iHeartRadio myself, I didn’t realize the true impact of the online music service until that very night. Before the show, as we had approached the inside of the arena, there were iHeartRadio promotions aplenty, with booths featuring its disc jockeys doing live simulcasts, people selling t-shirts and other mementos, and various impersonators of ’80s icons like Michael Jackson beckoning people to take selfies with them…which the patrons gladly did.
As we left, there was more of the same. But we left very satisfied having witnessed an impressive ’80s lineup of stars and wondering just when and where the next iHeartRadio concert would be.
If it’s in Chicago, I’m there.
P.s., if you’re a DirecTV subscriber, the concert will be aired on the AT&T Audience Network on March 18 at 6pm ET.