We still love the Big ‘80s!
Yep, the days of Valley Girls, Care Bears, The Cosby Show and MTV (the version that actually played what the M initially stood for) may be long gone, but the remnants of bands that rocked us through the decade of decadence still live on in our quest for all things nostalgic.
In that spirit, during a five-day span this past week, djrobblog covered two concerts in retro-festival style featuring sixteen recording acts from the 1980s – two non-stop, old-school rocked-out parties with artists ranging in popularity from little known one-hit wonders to regular chart mainstays during their era.
Quiet as it’s kept, there’s still a big following for the synth-pop, big-haired, mega-produced bands that fueled the 20th Century’s penultimate decade.
That’s why groups like Trans-X, Wang Chung, Animotion, Nu Shooz, Naked Eyes and Gene Loves Jezebel still get to share the stage with A Flock Of Seagulls on a ticket billed as “Lost 80’s Live” in 2018… more than 30 years past all of their primes.
Or why the British band ABC (mainly the very dapper lead singer Martin Fry) and a still-young looking Belinda Carlisle (of the Go-Go’s) were co-headliners on August 3 at the “Retro Futura” concert that also featured former members of the Outfield (Tony Lewis), Bow Wow Wow (Annabella) and Modern English.
There were pleasant surprises galore. Like how good Belinda Carlisle sounded given some unflattering video clips of recent shows circulating the internet. Or how well The Outfield’s Tony Lewis’ upper vocal register has held up in the 33 years since we first heard it scale unimaginable heights on the timeless single, “Your Love.” (He reached most of those heights during the Aug 3 show, while leaving the toughest notes to those in the audience who dared try.)
The band ABC’s lead singer Martin Fry was as suave and charismatic as he ever was, with his purple paisley dinner jacket evoking images of the band’s cool-as-Ms. Pac-Man heyday. At the August 3 show, songs like “(How To Be A) Millionaire” came off even funkier than when they were originally hits.
However, there were disappointments, too.
Like when the dance duo of Nu Shooz, featuring the husband-and-wife team of John Smith and Valerie Day, performed their three songs – two of which (“I Can’t Wait” and “Point Of No Return”) were big crossover dance/pop hits in America – with the backing of the original studio recordings instead of a live band. Credit Valerie for saving their performance with her charm, her dancing and her still good-as-new live vocals, but hubby John’s amped up guitar awkwardly stole the spotlight when it started overpowering the music track playing underneath it.
The artists who performed at each venue were (in order, with key song titles for lesser known acts in parentheses):
Lost 80’s Love at Ravinia (Highland Park, July 29, 2018):
- Trans-X (of “Living on Video” fame)
- Christopher Anton former lead singer of Information Society (“What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)”)
- Gene Loves Jezebel
- Nu Shooz
- When In Rome (“The Promise”)
- Animotion (“Obsession”)
- Wang Chung
- Naked Eyes
- A Flock Of Seagulls
Retro Futura Tour (Hard Rock Rocksino, Northfield, August 3, 2018):
- Annabella (of Bow Wow Wow, “I Want Candy”)
- Limahl (formerly of Kajagoogoo)
- Tony Lewis (formerly of The Outfield)
- Modern English
- Belinda Carlisle (formerly of the Go-Go’s)
To commemorate the sixteen bands who played Ravinia and Rocksino this past week, djrobblog is shamelessly dishing out a few superlatives for the two events. So grab your photon packs, get a grip and check out these totally radical “awards” for some rather noteworthy aspects of the two concerts…
The Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow Award:
Winner: Mike Score of A Flock Of Seagulls. Score had one of the most memorable hairdos of the ‘80s – the awesomely bogus (in retrospect) smooshed-down-in-the middle, pointed-bang, raised cowlicks blonde ‘do that somehow seemed rad at the time. The now-bald lead singer embraced his crazily coiffed past at Ravinia with a miniature doll replica of his former ‘80s self perched on the keyboard stand in front of him, bringing a smile to many in the audience as the doll got camera time on the big screens.
Runner-up: Limahl. Who knew the guy behind such understated, yet glorious hits as “Too Shy” (by his band Kajagoogoo) and “Never Ending Story” could be so self-deprecating and entertaining when he revealed an ‘80s-era photo of himself, while commenting that – at his age – he’s just lucky to still have hair.
The Hair Today, Still Hair Today Award:
Winner: Astrid Plane of Animotion
Runner-up: Modern English’s Robbie Grey
The Surprisingly ‘Soul Train’ Worthy Funk Award:
Winner: ABC’s Martin Fry. Whether belting out cool tunes like the funky “(How To Be A) Millionaire” or the very Chic-like “The Night You Murdered Love,” Fry and his band had far more soul than any other act that graced either of the two venues. From the start to the band’s ninth and final song, the 1982 post-disco smash “The Look Of Love,” Fry was pouring out his British soul all the way to the song’s dramatic “yippee-yi-yay-yeah” vocal climax.
Runner-up: Nu Shooz. By all Billboard soul chart rights, Nu Shooz should’ve been the runaway winner of this award. After all, the three songs they performed at Ravinia all reached the top-40 of the soul chart, with their biggest, “I Can’t Wait,” going all the way to No. 2 (one spot better than it’s No. 3 pop peak). However, the decision to forego a live band and sing along to the original records gave their show a karaoke feel lacking of any true soul.
The Most Creative ‘80s Mashup Award:
Winner: Wang Chung. The band’s medley of Cindy Lauper’s No. 2 smash “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and their own No. 2 hit “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” was a combo we all should’ve seen coming as soon as the band’s male drummer began belting out the opening lines to Lauper’s hit. Alas, it was a clever way to introduce one of the most memorable tunes from the ‘80s as the crowd was definitely amped by the time Wang Chung segued from “Girls” to “Everybody.”
Runner-up: Naked Eyes. They tried to countrify their biggest hit, “Always Something There To Remind Me,” during the intro. Now if you can imagine a British new wave band from the 1980s trying to muster up enough twang to pull this off, then you can guess the end result. Lead singer Pete Byrne does get honorable mention, however, for channeling the late Roy Orbison with dark glasses and (strikingly) black hair covering his noggin.
The “Just Play The Classics” Exception Award:
Winner: The Outfield’s Tony Lewis. Lewis & Co. squeezed a newer song, “Into The Light,” between their two most well-known American hits, “All The Love In The World” and “Your Love.” Usually fans just require the classics and want nothing else at shows like these; however, they dug the London band’s new song, which unsurprisingly harkened back to their classic ‘80s rock sound.
Runner-up: Animotion. The band previewed their biggest hit “Obsession” with “Last Time,” a new song from their recent album. It was the best new song of the night at Ravinia, but it wasn’t enough to top Lewis’ new number at Retro Futura five days later.
The “Yeah, Ma, I Can Still Sing That High” Award:
Winner: Tony Lewis (Outfield). It would have been totally understandable – given the heights his vocal range scaled in the mid 1980s – if the 59-year-old Lewis had adjusted the key to suit a lower vocal register in 2018. He did nothing of the sort during any of the songs, including the biggy “Your Love.”
Runners-up: tie-Belinda Carlisle (Go-Go’s) and Valerie Day (of Nu Shooz). Carlisle surprisingly shined on her nine songs while Day salvaged her show with dead-on vocals to go with the songs’ studio instrumental mixes.
The Night’s Most Righteous Drumming Award:
Winner: Dramarama’s Tony Snow. Snow furiously kept the beat through songs like “Scenario,” “Haven’t Got A Clue” “Last Cigarette” and “Anything, Anything.”
Runners-Up: tied-Animotion’s Kevin Rankin and Modern English’s Roy Martin (particularly on “Someone’s Calling”).
The Totally Awesome Crowd Pleaser Award:
Winner: Wang Chung doing “Let’s Go” at Lost ‘80s Live. A seemingly lifeless crowd suddenly came alive when the funky little top-10 ditty erupted into its effervescent chorus!
Runner-up: Modern English performing “I Melt With You” at Retro Futura.
The Most Bodacious Songs Award:
Winner: Belinda Carlisle. All nine of the songs she performed were top-20 Billboard pop hits in America, either with the Go-Go’s or solo. It was good to hear her quavering vibrato in its top shape again. And she banged the hell out of that tambourine, too!
Runners-up: Tied-A Flock Of Seagulls and ABC. There was a reason A Flock Of Seagulls were chosen to be the headliners at Lost ‘80s Live, but Wang Chung stole that show (it would have been nice to hear “To Live And Die In L.A.,” though). As for ABC, their mix of five top-40 hits with four lesser known (but still good) gems was satisfying.
The Wickedly Efficient Use Of Resources Award:
Winners: Annabella, Limahl and Tony Lewis. All three acts employed the same backing musicians, which included keyboardist Ado Coker (she also provided harmony vocals on Limahl’s songs), guitarist James Nesbit, drummer Kevin Dooley and multi-instrumentalist Sean Koos.
And finally, the “Really Glad To Be Here” Award goes to:
Dramarama – particularly lead singer John Easdale, who made it a point to shake hands with everyone in the front row at Ravinia when his band’s set was done. He really went retro with his drink of choice, a six-pack of Tab cola, placed behind him on stage.
And that’s djrobblog’s tongue-in-cheek take on a pair of concerts that proved to be a fun time for all.
But don’t let these gnarly awards spoil your desire to catch the soundtrack of a generation live. If you’re an ‘80s geek like yours truly and haven’t seen either one of these shows (and they’re coming to a city near you), what are you waiting for?
Don’t be a hoser. Go check them out at a venue near you. Like, totally!