Wednesday, June 19, 2013

ABC concert review: San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

Martin Fry stood on the Coach House stage Sunday night completely in awe of the signed artist photos that adorn the venue's walls.

"Earlier, I saw one from T'Pau," noted the ABC singer about that fellow U.K. group, best known stateside for lone 1987 hit "Heart and Soul."

"I can't believe we've never played here." Better late than never.

The sold out San Juan Capistrano show was ABC's first Orange County appearance in at least a decade, maybe more. It served as part of a quick, two-date U.S. blitz that also included the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills last Saturday. (A September return to California is planned.)

During the early '80s, ABC emerged alongside influential Sheffield electronic bands like Heaven 17 and the Human League but was more closely associated with New Romantic acts such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, thanks to a similar visual aesthetic and pop sensibility.

The group's sophisticated, orchestration-driven debut, The Lexicon of Love, arrived in 1982 and went gold in America on the back of Top 40 hits "Poison Arrow" and "The Look of Love." Both were classics of the era, and accompanying campy videos in heavy rotation on then-nascent MTV definitely helped ABC's profile. Produced by Trevor Horn, Fry once called the collection "a polished, neurotic affair of hysteria behind a red curtain." Even bigger singles-chart success would come later in the decade.

Back home, ABC reached a higher level of stardom. Despite an ever-shifting lineup (Fry being the only constant), the band continued to release solid studio albums with less frequency to diminishing attention spans. Engaging 2008 effort Traffic came out in Europe following an 11-year recording absence, and the frontman has reportedly been working on new material.

Still looking dapper than ever in a blue suit and in supple voice throughout Sunday's 70-minute set, Fry and his six musicians launched their Capo show with a sleekly soulful version of "The Very First Time," among a trio of selections from Traffic. Bolstered by full-bodied backing vocals, the erudite Fry sang: "I'm not arrogant enough to suffer for my art."

The bulk of this rare gig, however, concentrated on high-water mark Lexicon. Local fans were ecstatic and danced in the aisles to the rousing "Poison Arrow," the sweeping drama of "Show Me," "4Ever 2Gether" and more. From the rocking, slide-guitar-infused "That Was Then, This Is Now" to the stomping R&B-tinged "When Smokey Sings" (Fry recalled how it was performed on Soul Train), saxophonist Rob Hughes had plenty of shining moments, punctuating songs with snazzy runs.

Equally impressive was female percussionist Lily Gonzalez, who vocally sparred with Fry amid "Date Stamp" and the tasteful "King Without a Crown" and proved her mettle on bongos for the new-ish billowy ballad "Love is Strong." Steve Kelly's harmonica work on the slinky "Ride" was a nice change of pace as well.

Before the blissfully romantic "All of My Heart," Fry pointed out that "I'm going to croon for all the young lovers out there," then proceeded to nail the forceful "I hope and I pray" lines. He got concertgoers to wave their hands and quipped, "I don't care if you got indigestion."

Toward the end of the evening, ABC finished its main set with an idyllic "Be Near Me" and returned for an energized encore with "The Look of Love." Suddenly, everything was over in what seemed like a flash.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great gig, good to see Martin and band back in action. The 80's dominate music like no other decade. Go see ABC, very cool