Thursday, July 20, 2017

Retro Futura 2017 (Howard Jones, English Beat, Modern English, etc.) concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

The Retro Futura tour arrived at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Wednesday night and proved that many artists who came to fame during the 1980s still sound strong today.

Case in point: Howard Jones, who headlined the Costa Mesa event (part of the Orange County Fair Summer Concert Series).

Backed by a three-piece band, the congenial Englishman frequently worked both sides of the stage and switched from keyboards to keytar.

The 50-minute set kicked off with “Like to Get to Know You Well.” It was followed by a frenetic “You Know I Love You…Don’t You” (a top 20 U.S. hit in 1986) – an early standout.

Before Jones performed “The Human Touch,” an ethereal, EDM-minded tune from 2015 concept album “Engage,” concertgoers were urged to take their phones out. Fans sang along loudly and swayed to “No One is to Blame,” Jones’ biggest Stateside single, also from ’86). Other highlights included the vibrant “Everlasting Love,” whose rhythm was modernized, an infectious “Life in One Day” and encore “Things Can Only Get Better.” That lyrical sentiment was a perfect summation of Jones’ positive outlook. 

As in other multi-act concerts elsewhere, the order and lopsided duration of sets at Retro Futura was often baffling.

Men Without Hats, featuring singer and lone original member Ivan Doroschuk, was probably the most New Wave act in the lineup. Sonically driven by three synths and an electric guitar, “Pop Goes the World,” “Where Do the Boys Go” and of course, “The Safety Dance” were all mindless fun. The front man, clad in a silver jacket and shades, spun around and did some jigs throughout.

Dave Wakeling’s English Beat, sporting an expanded eight-piece lineup, turned in one of evening’s best and well-received performances. While the band leader was all smiles and in decent voice during their 40-minutes onstage, ace sax man Matt Morrish and toaster King Schascha often stole the limelight.

Opening with “Mirror in the Bathroom,” they immediately instilled a party vibe through the venue.

It continued amid the jaunty Smokey Robinson & the Miracles cover “The Tears of a Clown” and final number, “Save it for Later.” Wakeling – readying a long-awaited studio album – had the most interesting between-song banter. He mentioned raising his kids in Dana Point before General Public’s “Tenderness” and said the latter band’s joyful hit cover of The Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” was used by two past U.S. presidents in their campaigns.

Modern English recently put out the impressive “Take Me to the Trees,” their first new studio album in six years. Still featuring four original members, the Brits were all clad in white attire and turned in a solid, way-too-short 20 minutes in O.C.

Fortunately, guitarist Gary McDowell was right up there with them (his emergency surgery last spring cause some tour dates to be cancelled). A darkly-hued “Someone’s Calling” was hypnotic, while the new “Moonbeam” – elevated by vocalist Robbie Grey’s expressive delivery – as quite enticing and got an enthusiastic response. Finally, Grey’s plea for audience participation was gleefully met during their best-known single “I Melt with You.”

In an extremely rare and way-too-short U.S. appearance, Paul Young gave it his best, despite vocal problems and a ticking clock. Still twirling the microphone stand like back in the old days, he did a serviceable rendition of “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.” Most concertgoers didn’t seem to recognize “Senza una donna” (not the best song choice), Young’s minor U.S. hit duet with male Italian singer Zucchero from 1987 and chatted away. 

At the start of his chart-topping cover of Daryl Hall & John Oates’ “Everytime You Go Away,” Young briefly sang directly to a woman in the front row on bended knee and the audience handled a bulk of the chorus. 

Interesting note: former Hall guitarist Paul Pesco was part of the band that backed Young and Katrina. 

Katrina Leskanich of Katrina and the Waves valiantly sped through three of that band’s best-known pop/rock tunes – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl,” “Going Down to Liverpool” (famously covered by The Bangles)” and “Walking on Sunshine” - and played electric guitar with verve. 

All photos by George A. Paul

Upcoming July dates:

7/21 Saratoga, CA
7/22 Las Vegas, NV
7/23 Salt Lake City, UT
7/24 Denver, CO
7/26 Dallas, TX
7/28 Atlanta, GA
7/29 Charlotte, NC
7/30 Baltimore, MD

The tour runs through August with Annabella of Bow Wow Wow replacing Young on select dates. For more info, go to

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