Friday, July 31, 2015

Spandau Ballet concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo by Drew A Kelley
The last time Spandau Ballet performed in Orange County was 1985 at Irvine Meadows.

On Wednesday night in Costa Mesa, singer Tony Hadley recalled feeling “so euphoric because we'd never done an open air amphitheater before.”

Many fans experienced a similar sense of delight as the popular British new wave band made its long awaited return at the Pacific Amphitheatre. Others were obviously curious about the well-tailored men whose only U.S. top 10 hit was 1983’s “True.”

Yet there was far more to Spandau Ballet than that romantic ballad. Back home, the London quintet notched over a dozen top 20 singles and several gold and platinum albums – enough to rival Duran Duran – before splitting at the decade’s end.

Since the ’09 reunion, acoustic and retrospective albums (“Once More,” “The Story”) and a documentary (“Soul Boys of the Western World,” now available on DVD/Blu-ray) have been released.

Spandau Ballet opened the 1 hour, 45-minute set with the sleek drama of “Soul Boy,” the first of four appealing new tracks performed from “The Story.” All could’ve easily fit on the “True” LP, but still sound modern. Hadley belted out the ending with operatic flair.

Steve Norman added a fresh sax run to the racing “Highly Strung” and Gary Kemp provided some razor sharp guitar work. Before the strong, snazzy new tune “This is the Love,” Hadley apologized for taking “so long to get back.”

The lush vocals and billowy keyboards on “Steal” featured a sustained note from the singer, who would continually dazzle with his robust pipes (and chuckle at fans’ antics) all evening. There was plenty of camaraderie between the musicians, who often leaned on each other and sang into the same microphone.

When the band kicked into the high energy funk of “Chant No. 1,” it got additional people up and dancing. A grooving electro-pop medley from ’81 debut “Journeys to Glory” saw Kemp switch to synthesizer and Norman to electric guitar. “The Freeze” and “To Cut a Long Story Short” were highlights.

photo by Drew A Kelley
Following drum and percussion solos (the latter by Norman, who was the busiest person onstage), Hadley appeared in the terrace section with Kemp on double neck guitar for the tender acoustic ballad “Empty Spaces” (from 1989’s “Heart Like a Sky”). They also did a quick flamenco-style “Gold” that was basically a crowd singalong.

The calm-to-soaring shift on “I'll Fly for You” was enrapturing, while the fun “Communication” and joyous “Lifeline” had everyone bopping right along (the musicians were helped on the high vocalizations by auxiliary keyboardist Toby Chapman).

By the end, “True” elevated the Costa Mesa crowd’s energy level and Norman played that famous sax solo – one of 1983’s most memorable alongside Duran Duran’s “Rio” – with plenty of verve.

Come encore time, Spandau Ballet delivered the epic grandeur of “Through the Barricades,” which Hadley described as “a real Romeo and Juliet love story.” He sang it with dramatic gestures and Kemp capped it off with an amazing weepy guitar solo. They finished with an ebullient electric reprise of the smash “Gold.”

Opening the show was SiriusXM 1st Wave/Jack FM deejay Richard Blade, who tested the audience’s knowledge of 1980s lyrics for concert tickets and seat upgrades. He also surprised people by bringing out When in Rome’s Clive Farrington to sing his 1988 dance chart topper “The Promise.”

A version of my review originally appeared at

No comments: