Monday, September 23, 2013

Flashback Jack concert review, with Blondie, Rick Springfield, The Fixx, Psych Furs, others in Anaheim, Calif.

On Saturday, Flashback Jack – the latest edition of the annual concert put on by 93.1 FM/Los Angeles –was a more memorable, enjoyable experience than usual thanks to some minor changes.

For starters, the JACK FM event was moved from its past home at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine to the comfier confines of Honda Center in Anaheim (my backside didn’t ache for a change afterward).

A majority of the acts enjoyed their biggest success during the early-to-mid 1980s and were far more compatible stylistically. Token rap act Sugarhill Gang was the exception.

DJ Richard Blade served as the emcee. The longtime fixture on sister station KROQ currently does the Flashback Lunch on JACK as well as First Wave Rewind on Sirius XM satellite radio.

Before Dramarama launched the afternoon pre-show festivities on the outdoor stage, Blade informed everyone that singer John Easdale (pictured above) had just celebrated a birthday and had the crowd serenade him.

The SoCal band’s powerful, well-rounded 45-minute set featured ‘80s and ‘90s modern rock radio hits “Last Cigarette,” “Haven’t Got a Clue” and signature song “Anything Anything (I’ll Give You)” as well as fan faves and deep album cuts like the haunting “Steve & Edie,” “Scenario,” “Some Crazy Dame,” “I’ve Got Spies,” plus a harrowing “Prayer.”

Mark “Mr. E Boy” Englert was a wild man on electric guitar while Easdale’s vocal delivery provided the right amount of alienation and paranoia.

Inside the arena, Berlin opened the proceedings with a sexually charged mix of synth pop and modern electronic dance sounds from the just released Animal album (its first full length in 11 years).

Exuberant vocalist Terri Nunn (pictured below) and the three-man group created quite a stir for early arrivals. Before “With the Lights On” – the first of four solid new songs played - she noted that Berlin’s first ever gig was right down the freeway at Cal State University Fullerton in 1979.

Some of Berlin’s best known tunes, like a pulsating “The Metro” and explicit “Sex (I’m A)” wisely utilized a backing panel to project the original music videos and flash key lyrics.

Other highlights included Eighties modern rock staples “Masquerade,” “No More Words” and a gorgeous Nunn vocal on pop chart topper “Take My Breath Away” from the film “Top Gun.”

Despite admitting that another upbeat new one - “Nice to Meet You” - was inspired by “a fear of people,” she ventured into the audience during it and later praised Grace Slick as a life changer before an aggressive, industrial dance cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.”

In 2012, English art rock band The Fixx put out Beautiful Friction, its first new studio album in nine years and easily among the best by a heritage act.

Like others on Saturday’s bill, The Fixx was no stranger to Jack FM shows (I caught them do a great turn in Irvine for the 2010 edition). Unlike fellow groups though, this group boasted the entire “classic” lineup.  

The Fixx took the title to one of the several “Friction” selections played (“Take a Risk”) to heart by frontloading the set with them.

Starting with a soaring “Anyone Else” (I could play it endlessly without getting tired), the quintet did the dreamy title track and hypnotic “Just Before Dawn,” while the needling “Risk” was a fine spotlight for guitarist Jamie West-Oram.

Concertgoers perked up when they finally delved into the hit singles and intense vocalist Cy Curnin (left) handled “Are We Ourselves,” “Red Skies at Night,” “One Thing Leads to Another” and “Stand or Fall” with finesse. 

Psychedelic Furs live can be a hit or miss affair depending on the state of Richard Butler’s raspy voice (“Heaven” can be excruciating when he’s having an off night).

Here, it heartening to see him in good form following spinal surgery late last year; he roamed all over the stage, did trademark circling and scarecrow moves alongside his bassist brother Tim.

Butler let the music do the talking as usual, but graciously thanked fans. Standouts during their set included the ebullient “Heartbreak Beat” and “Heartbeat” (both elevated by Mars Williams’ peppy sax work), a rousing “Mr. Jones” and the elegant new wave of “Love My Way” and “Pretty in Pink.”

A middling sound mix throughout the night affected Adam Ant’s set the most. Already loud, thanks to his dual drummers, it was often hard to make out the separation of instruments and vocals. Still, the British post-punk artist, clad in full pirate regalia, did an admirable job. Kudos go to his young electric guitarist too.

The set started with “Dog Eat Dog” and featured several early career numbers:  “Car Trouble,” “Kings of the Wild Frontier,” “Antmusic.”

He slipped in “Vince Taylor” (a memorable moment from Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunnar’s Daughter the first new effort in 18 years) and also included major hit “Goody Two Shoes.”

If you sing along to those, not to mention “Prince Charming” and “Stand and Deliver,” you get a new appreciation for the difficulty of seeing them done live - there's hardly any breaks.

One set that I was really looking forward to was Rick Springfield. He definitely rocked hard, but the set was uneven and marred by aforementioned sound problems.

Yet three songs culled from last year’s impressive Songs for the End of the World fared very well: “Wide Awake” was a pile driving kick starter; “Our Ship’s Sinking,” a winning dose of power pop (see it here: and “I Hate Myself” contained a fun gang chant. 

The latter didn't get much support when Springfield held out a microphone for people to repeat the title. It was odd to hear Springfield wish himself an early Happy Birthday before a snatch of The Beatles’ “When I’m 64” led into a stunning take on Wings’ “Jet."

Cool archival video clips played behind the jovial singer during a long medley that incorporated such minor hits as “Celebrate Youth,” “Rock ‘Til You Drop,” “State of the Heart,” “What Kind of Fool Am I” and “Love is Alright Tonight.”

Springfield ventured into the crowd, did plenty of his famous flower bouquet smashing and even brought a grade school age boy to help on electric guitar at one point.

The final stretch, comprising “Human Touch,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” “Love Somebody” and “Jessie’s Girl” had much of the crowd standing and singing along. Fortunately, there was very little lag time before the stages rotated for the different acts.

De-facto headliner Blondie appeared onstage sans introduction and began “One Way or Another.”

Despite a few songs’ tempos being slower than the originals, vocalist Deborah Harry acquitted herself well on new wave classics like “Hangin’ on the Telephone,” “Heart of Glass” and “Dreaming.”

Paying homage to fellow New Yorkers Beastie Boys, they tacked a bit of “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” onto “Heart of Glass.”

Ace drummer Clem Burke (also once the timekeeper for Dramarama) particularly excelled on “Atomic.”

I was fascinated by current lead guitarist Tommy Kessler, who joined the touring band in 2010 (his credits include Blue Man Group and Broadways’ “Rock of Ages”).

Even the handful of new songs previewed from the forthcoming 2014 album Ghosts of Download were enticing (I look forward to hearing the Beth Ditto duet “Sugar on the Side”).

Surprisingly, the group’s set didn’t extend much longer than the rest of the Flashback Jack lineup. I was hoping for a much longer performance.

All told, Flashback Jack was one of the best concerts the station has ever put on. Hope next year's event follows a similar vein.

Photos by Ida Miller


Ida said...

It was such a great roster ... thank goodness for Sugarhill Gang's set for the chance to grab some food. I had no idea that Rick Springfield rocked that hard! An overall enjoyable day / night, beginning with the Dramarama highlight on the parking lot's stage.

newwavegeo said...

Very true!

Robert Kinsler said...

Thanks for the great overview of the show! I'm sorry I missed it, especially with The Fixx and Psychedelic Furs performing on the fill.