Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Concert review: Retro Futura Tour feat. Tom Bailey, Howard Jones, Midge Ure, others, Los Angeles, Calif.

by Peter Finnegan/courtesy Retro Futura, from a prior show
Normally, if you discover that a musician hasn’t toured or performed his old hits in more than a quarter century, you might attend the respective concert with somewhat lowered expectations.

Yet there was no such let down on Friday night during Tom Bailey’s (pictured left) excellent set at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

A de facto headliner for the Eighties-centric Retro Futura Tour, the former front man for highly successful UK synth pop group Thompson Twins (who scored a platinum and gold album and eight top 20 dance hits in America from ’82-’91; seven reached the pop top 40), Bailey put on a spirited, nearly hour-long performance.

It was like he’d never been away.

Backed by a top notch trio of female players - electronic drummer Emily Davies, synth players Angie Pollock and Amanda Kramer (the latter spent time with Information Society, World Party and currently, Psychedelic Furs) - Bailey arrived onstage shrouded in smoke to an instrumental version of the Twins’ “We Are Detective” and pointed a handheld spotlight into the crowd. The first of many striking images appeared on a backdrop.

Then they started with the highly percussive “In the Name of Love” as the 60-year-old singer bounced around, obviously having fun and the ladies all provided supple backing harmonies.

Before the upbeat Asian-tinged musical accents of “Lies,” he remarked, “we’ve got some catching up to do.” The alluring ballad “Sister of Mercy” (off 1984’s high water mark Into the Gap) found Bailey easily moving from keyboards to electric guitar.

After tossing a big blue ball into the crowd, Bailey did some lively harmonica work on the synth-folk romp “You Take Me Up.” A set highlight, it was followed by Sixteen Candles soundtrack cut “If You Were Here” (Bailey cited it as a favorite) and another strong one, “Love on Your Side.” This time, the lead singer spent more time pounding on a syn drum as he would from time to time.  

Many of the selections were extended versions, giving ecstatic fans plenty of time to dance right along.  Marked by eerie synths, “Doctor Doctor” closed the main set.  For the encore, a ballad-style revamp of the usually poppy “King for a Day” proved enthralling. A gothic piano line led into the big sublime hit “Hold Me Now.” The audience sang a verse and loudly accompanied the band right until the end when the music stopped and everyone continued. 

Here's hoping Bailey enjoys this jaunt so much that he eventually returns to play venues alone. 
Jones photo from Saratoga, CA/courtesy Retro Futura
Among five acts on the Retro Futura bill, Howard Jones is the one who has toured the U.S. - and especially SoCal – the most during the intervening decades.

He also reportedly convinced Bailey to sign on to join Retro Futura.

Over the course of a satisfactory, life-affirming 45-minute set, Jones spotlighted five of his nine U.S. top 40 singles and modernized his sound with interesting results.  

Clad in an orange suit with matching keytar (many fans in the general admission pit area and elsewhere in the venue wore the same color after a social media request), Jones opened with new EDM-minded song “Human Touch” and intriguing, shape shifting visuals. The singer got some call and response action going early on “Like to Get to Know You Well.”  

Though some of the music was pre-programmed, Jones was joined onstage by electronic drummer Jonathan Atkinson and longtime synth player Robbie Bronnimann. The synths were illuminated from within – a cool effect.

Despite a regal piano intro to “Everlasting Love,” the song was freshened up with a danceable thrust and a Spanish keyboard motif by Jones. A heartfelt “No One is to Blame” relied heavily on audience participation and got a rousing response.

When fans snapped away with their cell phone cameras amid “The Prisoner,” its lyric: “some people believe a photograph traps your mortal soul/your eyes are the camera and you’ve taken hold” gained heightened relevance.

Both “What is Love” and “Things Can Only Get Better” were ebullient; the latter featured an EDM-styled reprise. Frankly, that slot would’ve been better served by a different song. Finally, HoJo closed with the positive-minded “New Song,” done partially acoustic. His thin voice seemed to be a bit worn in LA, but didn’t pose many problems.

by Bronwyn Galloway from Saratoga, CA/courtesy Retro Futura
Midge Ure has a multi-faceted back catalog with several bands dating back to the ‘70s. So it must have been difficult to cherry pick songs for an all-too-brief 25-minute set.

Three of the five tunes came from his best known musical association: British synthpop band Ultravox.

Utilizing the same four-piece house band as fellow tour mates China Crisis and Katrina (of the Waves), Ure enraptured the crowd straight away with Ultravox’s sharply propulsive “Hymn.” Boasting strong vocals and his powerful electric guitar work, it was an early standout.

The same was true of the slow building drama in “Vienna” (a 1980 top 10 hit in nine European countries). Ure had no problem belting the chorus to the stately tune’s piano/synth tandem.

It went down a storm in LA, as did the chugging rocker “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” (famously performed by Ultravox on Live Aid). Some gay guys sitting behind me went absolutely ballistic when Ure delved into Visage’s 1980 hypnotic dance floor hit “Fade to Grey.”

China Crisis was the least known act on the bill and fared admirably at the less-than-filled Greek. Dapper, salty-tongued lead singer Gary Daly proudly flaunted a medal from the Queen and said the last time the Liverpool band had played the Griffith Park venue was 27 years ago with Santana.

Their idyllic sounds made for a perfect soundtrack to a late summer Friday amongst the tall trees. That is when you could hear his Daly’s smooth vocals; the sound mix for much of the evening was sorely lacking. A sax inflected “Arizona Sky” started things off; the more upbeat “African & White” found diehard enthusiasts clapping along. Band co-founder Eddie Lundon took over vocal reigns on the dreamy “Wishful Thinking.” 

But it was a pair of tunes from 1985’s Flaunt the Imperfection - their best known album produced by Steely Dan’s Walter Becker – that fared best here: a Style Council-ish “Black Man Ray” and the percolating “King in a Catholic Style.”
Katrina Leskanich - the onetime front woman for ‘80s pop/rock group Katrina and the Waves and only American in the lineup (though she’s lived in England for decades) – kicked off her 25-minute Greek set with the sprightly “Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl.” Playing electric guitar, she dedicated “Going Down to Liverpool” to  LA’s own The Bangles, who recorded it after The Waves did. 

The husky voiced musician gave a spirited delivery to “Do You Want Crying?” and the rocker “Every Step,” off the just released Blissland, her first new studio album in 10 years. The Waves’ calling card hit “Walking on Sunshine” was performed in a quick, almost punky style and still extended; early attendees more than willing to do some call and response.  
Remaining tour dates:

9/3 Tempe, AZ
9/4 San Diego, CA
9/5 Las Vegas, NV
9/6 Sandy, UT
9/8 Dallas, TX
9/10 Orlando, FL    

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