The inaugural ‘80s Weekend arrived at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles this past Friday-Saturday with a dozen acts who achieved their greatest success during that decade.
Most musicians on the bill had 10-15 minute sets over a four-hour time period, so everyone basically played their biggest hits. Wisely utilizing a rotating stage, everything proceeded according to schedule.
Night 2 was hosted by bubbly former MTV veejay Downtown Julie Brown, an unusual choice since she used to host the dance music-oriented Club MTV program and several bands on tap in LA got their first radio exposure here via alternative rock station KROQ/106.7 FM (Night 1’s host was Richard Blade - a beloved former DJ on that station, now on Sirius XM, like Brown).
Headliner The Human League (pictured above) had their tour drummer and synth players do a longer-than-usual intro to pop chart topper “Human” (released exactly 30 years ago) and the crowd roared loudly. Then vocalists Phil Oakley, Jo Catherall and Susanne Sulley made a grand entrance. All the men sported black attire (Oakley had a leather trenchcoat); the women wore white (and matched the instruments until an encore change). “Mirror Man” was effusive as ever. Oakley said it was good to be back in LA after such a long absence and mentioned the hot sun beating down on his shaved head during an excursion to Griffith Park.
The strong, nearly 40-minute performance continued with a percolating “Heart Like a Wheel” (where Oakley went back and forth to sing with the gals) and infectious “Tell Me When.” He gave a shout out to producer Giorgio Moroder and did their UK top 5 single collaboration “Together in Electric Dreams” (from the 1984 “Electric Dreams” film soundtrack). Featuring high flying harmonies and the ladies dancing around, it was a standout. “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” showed the three were still in supple vocal form, while closer “Don’t You Want Me” went down a storm.
Tom Bailey of Thompson Twins last played LA two years ago as part of the Retro Futura package tour at the Greek Theatre, but previously hadn’t appeared here in decades. His half hour onstage, backed by three female musicians, was totally invigorating.
The British musician walked out while hitting drumsticks together and used them on an electronic pad during exciting opener “Lies.” He danced around a bit for “Love on Your Side” and played electric guitar during “Lay Your Hands on Me” and the eerie “Doctor! Doctor!” Fans engaged in a singalong and swayed together for final number “Hold Me Now,” the romantic top 5 single from 1984.
Another act on the bill who had a long hiatus between concert dates in Los Angeles was Marc Almond of Soft Cell. So it was a real treat to watch him perform five songs with a rockin’ band and two soulful female backing singers. Wearing a leather jacket, he started with “Tears Run Rings” from ’88, but veered out of the decade for the Bowie-esque glam rock stomp “The Idol” (off 1996’s “Fantastic Star”). It was a pleasant surprise and longtime guitarist Neal X (The Montecristos, Adam Ant, Sigue Sigue Sputnik) shined.
Almond was the total showman, making dramatic gestures and giving the ladies their due. He followed with Soft Cell’s “Bedsitter” (the original seedy music video played on the screens) and belted out “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” with abandon.
Finally, the Gloria Jones and Supremes-popularized medley “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?” really whipped the older-skewing crowd into a frenzy.
A Flock of Seagulls was moderately interesting at best. Singer/keyboardist Mike Score occasionally jiggled a bobblehead of himself placed near the instrument. That was the extent of his stage presence. Still, the crowd responded well to the New Wave sounds of “Space Age Love Song,” “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” and “I Ran (So Far Away).”
Berlin rocked hard on “No More Words” with singer Terri Nunn looking absolutely gorgeous. She gave a fierce delivery during a siren synth-laden “The Metro” and climbed on a security guy’s shoulders for a foray into the crowd during a seductive “Take My Breath Away.” She capped it off with an impressive sustained note.
Clive Farrington and Andrew Mann of When in Rome UK only performed “The Promise,” their No. 1 dance chart single from 1988, and it seemed to last forever. Even the guys themselves looked bored. The monotony reminded me of the 12” remix singles we’d used to feverishly buy and then say, “what’s the point?” They should’ve stuck to the original edit and then left.
Dale Bozzio’s Missing Persons was equally dreadful, though to her backing musicians’ credit, they admirably tried to rock out. Problem is, Bozzio’s voice is shot (not that it was ever that great to begin with). Still, fans lapped up “Words,” “Destination Unknown” and “Walking in L.A.”
Modern English impressed with its brief set. Wearing a David Bowie shirt, Robbie Grey was gregarious as he played and sang acoustic guitar with the band on “Ink and Paper,” “Hands Across the Sea” (boasting some memorable harmonies) and signature song “I Melt with You” (which became a massive singalong).
Ivan Doroschuk of Men Without Hats was quite animated onstage, dancing and skipping around as the band played the sprightly “Pop Goes the World,” a racing “Where Do the Boys Go?” and an extended, invigorating “The Safety Dance.”
Nick Richards of Boys Don’t Cry dashed off a perfunctory “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” to a backing track.
Dramarama made the most of its short time allotment. John Easdale shook maracas while singing a solid “Haven’t Got a Clue.” Then the band vigorously tore through its best known tune – and classic alternative rock radio staple - “Anything Anything.”
Guitarist Mark Englert led the way with blistering leads as Tony Snow bashed away on the drums. The manic rock intensity continued on “Last Cigarette.” Easdale finished by jumping into the crowd to shake hands while famously clutching his soft drink of choice, Tab.
Kicking off the proceedings was Animotion, where vocalist Astrid Plane and guitarist/singer Bill Wadhams’ suggestive moves were on full display amid the propulsive “Let Him Go” and their top 10 single from 1984, “Obsession,” the latter including a snippet of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax.”
New events always have a few growing pains and these tips would help make a streamlined sequel…
* Get a sharper sound crew: A muddled mix plagued most of Saturday’s event.
* Plan an earlier start time with fewer acts.
* Ditch the LED robots and EDM-type music segment. If people want something like that, they go to Coachella. Same goes for the obnoxious DJ inexplicably playing several non-1980s tunes. It was a total waste of 15 minutes that could’ve been better served with longer sets.
* Forego ads for the same half dozen local businesses and promoters continually flashing on screens. It looked amateurish.
The next ‘80s Weekend will take place January 28, 2017 with Spandau Ballet, Thomas Dolby, ABC, Naked Eyes, Altered Images, Anabella of Bow Wow Wow and Nena. More details TBA.
All photos by George A. Paul