Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tears for Fears concert review

A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register

Tears for Fears
Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa
July 17

It pays to arrive on time.

Concertgoers who actually read the unusual notation on their tickets: starts promptly at 8 p.m. were surely glad to be seated then.

But a few couples I saw casually stroll into the Pacific Amphitheatre late were probably kicking themselves after discovering that Tears for Fears opened the 90-minute gig with 1985 chart topper, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and two songs later did its next biggest hit, “Sowing the Seeds of Love.”

Early in the evening, Tears for Fears singer/guitarist and chief sonic architect Roland Orzabal said, “it’s good to be back in the O.C.,” before recalling a beautiful Costa Mesa gig two years ago that was “etched in my mind forever.” Then he mentioned the fair’s strict curfew as the audience booed loudly. “We will be rushing through the set. We even rehearsed some speed metal versions of our hits.” Only half the people seemed to get the joke.

The show’s parameters were puzzling since other acts performing at the Pac Amp last week started later and ended past 10. Why couldn’t Tears for Fears simply play for two hours? Regardless, “Rule the World” – a soaring, feel good song perfect for summertime listening – felt oddly subdued.

Initially, the British synth-pop duo crafted somber tunes based upon primal scream therapy for 1983 debut album The Hurting. By the time Songs From the Big Chair came along two years later and sold millions, Orzabal and singer/bassist Curt Smith’s worldview and stylistic scope had expanded considerably. Following a bitter split in the early ‘90s, Orzabal continued trading under the band name for half a decade.

The pair finally reunited for 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, a thoroughly enjoyable slice of Beatlesque chamber pop. Four of those tracks were featured among the 17-song set. The initial one, “Secret World,” saw Orzabal flashing a wide toothy grin as he sang a bit of Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Let ‘em In,” the other band members contributed high harmonies and keyboardist Doug Petty triggered the sweeping orchestral grandeur. Backing singer Michael Wainwright appeared during “Sowing,” another sluggish hit that seemed to have a slowed down tempo.

Smith prefaced “Mad World” with an anecdote about playing the venue 24 years ago. Without mentioning Gary Jules or “American Idol” runner-up Adam Lambert’s moody and wildly popular cover versions, he explained, “we haven’t done it the original way in quite awhile” (indeed, the band did it Jules style at KROQ Inland Invasion ’04). Suddenly those familiar clanging synth sounds and circuitous drum work led the way.

Diehard TFF enthusiasts were treated to a hushed, enthralling “Memories Fade” from The Hurting. Later, Smith used a Hofner bass during the breezy pop of “Floating Down the River” (a live favorite since 2006). Orzabal described it as making the least sense of all the songs he’d written (uh, I wouldn’t admit it). Alluding to the fair, he said, “it has a kernel of inescapable truth – hot dogs are better than pizza.”

The ambitious title track to “Happy Ending” and it’s “Sgt. Pepper”-styled vibe got a rousing crowd response. Then came a big surprise. Orzabal admitted having to read the words to a cover song they just started doing a few days before, “by someone who recently passed away.” Softly strumming an electric guitar, the group unobtrusively backed him on a mournful, breathtaking version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that could’ve easily been a Hurting outtake. Everyone went wild.

After the audience endured a six-song stretch minus old radio faves, their patience was rewarded on the back end with a strong “Pale Shelter,” stomping “Break it Down Again” and less bombastic than usual “Head Over Heels.” Wainwright assumed Oleta Adams’ duet singing role during a warm and inviting “Woman in Chains.” Finally, the musicians’ young children were paraded onstage for the extended chanting closer, “Shout.”

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