|photo: Bob Steshetz/Bob by Request|
Although the pioneering British synth-pop group doesn't exactly spring to mind when you think of a beach environment (at one point in the set, an inflated ball landed onstage and co-vocalist Susan Ann Sulley disgustedly tossed it aside), as headliner of the Like Totally ‘80s Festival in Huntington Beach, Calif., the trio delivered a sleek performance that sounded terrific.
Held in the same location as 2017, the daylong event boasted what was arguably its best lineup to date, with The Motels, Dramarama, The Alarm, Naked Eyes, Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel, The Untouchables, Tiffany, When in Rome’s Clive Farrington, Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats, Tim Worman of The Polecats and local ‘80s tribute act The Reflexx.
DJ Richard Blade, known for his longtime stint at the World Famous KROQ/106.7 FM and currently heard on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave and JACK FM/Los Angeles’ “Flashback Lunch,” emceed the proceedings.
Between sets, he played perfect tunes for the occasion and signed copies of his recent memoir, “World in My Eyes” (the book is an absorbing read and a must-buy for anyone that grew up in the Eighties and loves modern rock music from the era).
Speaking of musicians from that time, Blondie drummer Clem Burke (an ex-member of Dramarama) and onetime Wham! bassist Deon Estus were spotted backstage. Blade’s former colleague at KROQ, Jed “The Fish” Gould, was also in attendance with his dog.
Between the music, festivalgoers could peruse merchandise vendors, grab bites from food trucks and take part in a retro-themed costume contest.
The Human League sounded superb and used a black and white color scheme for everything. Backed by three young male musicians playing keyboards/synth/drums, they opened the 12-song, 60-minute set with the jubilant girl group-styled “Mirror Man.” Oakey frequently moved around the stage, either to sing a line with Sulley and Joanne Catherall or stand atop the riser.
Two of the auxiliary musicians played keytar and Oakey (pictured left with Sulley) sang with arms outstretched during the eerie electro strains of “The Sound of the Crowd,” the first of five songs from 1981’s “Dare” (the band’s biggest worldwide seller).
Donning a long, black leather coat, he sang solo on the stark “Seconds.” The gals returned for a percolating “The Lebanon” and some seamless harmonies. Their 1986 American pop chart topper “Human” drew a loud response from the audience.
“Open Your Heart” was a standout, while the metronomic beat of “Love Action” saw Oakey joke about when the song originated. That elicited a rare smile from the ladies, who otherwise were all business. Before a strong “(Keep Feeling) Fascination,” Oakey teased about telling a related anecdote, but didn’t because they “didn’t want to go over curfew.” The Human League closed with its signature hit “Don’t You Want Me?,” as everyone sang along, and encored with Oakey’s enchanting solo U.K. hit “Together in Electric Dreams.”
The Motels recently released “The Last Few Beautiful Days,” their first new album in 10 years. Fans at the fest got a nice sampling of the strong effort during the solid 40-minute set, which included the eerie new wave of “Tipping Point,” a dramatic “Punchline” and infectious first single “Lucky Stars,” which has hit written all over it. Check out the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F161UchHEdQ&feature=youtu.be
Playing electric guitar, Martha Davis and The Motels started with classic gems “So L.A.” and “Take the L.” Many women in the crowd heartily sang along. Clint Walsh’s lead guitar chops were on full display for the racing “Mission of Mercy” and rocking “Closets & Bullets” (off the 1979 self-titled debut).
Davis was completely enrapturing during “Suddenly Last Summer” and “Only the Lonely.” Marty Jourard -part of the ‘80s group lineup - shined with the memorable sax solo everyone knows on the latter. Finally, Davis capped the performance off by tossing her hat into the crowd.
Naked Eyes, led by original singer Pete Byrne, did a pleasant 35-minute set. Backed by three musicians, he started with the moody new wave of “Emotion in Motion” from 1983’s “Burning Bridges.” Byrne said the catchy new tune “Piccadilly” was inspired by “a walk through the streets of London on a foggy afternoon.” The lyrics about being “on the way to Leicester Square” recalled Ray Davies.
The dance-oriented “(What) In the Name of Love” saw him ditch an acoustic guitar and strongly urge the crowd to get out of their seats and boogie. He worked both sides of the stage on the group’s major singles “Promises Promises” and “Always Something There to Remind Me” (with slow acoustic intro and outro sections), but the chatty crowd only casually paid attention.
Anchored by the powerhouse drumming of Tony Snow, Dramarama arrived onstage, all engines firing. With an extra electric guitar added to the usual dual attack (thanks to guest Joe Normal of the Anytown’rs), the band kicked things off with the manic intensity of “Some Crazy Dame,” then followed with the hard-charging “Prayer” and sturdy crunch of “I’ve Got Spies.”
Frontman John Easdale (pictured left) pointed out that “Work for Food” is still relevant today when he quipped “It’s nice to know I wrote this song in the ‘90s and we’ve finally solved the homeless problem.”
Another modern rock radio hit, “Haven’t Got a Clue,” was a highlight (especially Mark Englert’s guitar solo). Easdale’s thought-provoking lyrics on the lively “Up to Here” were impressive. “Last Cigarette” - Richard Blade snuck onstage and held up a “No Smoking” sign - and “Anything Anything (I’ll Give You)” were hard-hitting as ever.
Right before the rousing call and response action of “The Stand,” Mike Peters of The Alarm recalled a popular nightclub that was located nearby in O.C. until 1986. “I remember the first time we came to the U.S. with U2 we played The Golden Bear in 1983,” he said. It was just one example of the Welsh singer/guitarist making the performance feel intimate.
Despite having just flown into Southern California after a marathon fan-centric “Gathering” gig in New York City the night before, the indefatigable Peters still threw all his energy into the half dozen songs performed.
Alongside James Stevenson on bass (following earlier electric guitar duties for Gene Loves Jezebel), Peters and company packed a mighty punch. From the strident starter “Marching On” right through the mighty missionary zeal of “Strength,” he played the life out of his acoustic instrument labeled "equalizer."
Between those were passionate takes on “’68 Guns,” the harmonica-laden “Where Were You Hiding (When the Storm Broke)” – complete with a recollection of playing it on Britain’s “Top of the Pops” in 1984 – and “Rescue Me.”
Forthcoming studio album “Equals” is due out June 29. It returns to tour here this summer.
The Reflexx did its own brief set, then backed bigger names: Clive Farrington of When in Rome sang two songs, including his hit “The Promise”; Tim “Polecat” Worman of The Polecats offered up his band’s “Make a Circuit with Me”; Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats continued the upbeat rockabilly theme. He played a cocktail drum kit and sang on “Rumble in Brighton,” “Rock This Town” and Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” with assistance from Worman.
Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel (pictured left) made its first U.S. live appearance in a decade (his estranged brother Michael, who used to be in the band, fronts his own version). Jay and some longtime members put out “Dance Underwater” last fall after a 14-year recording absence under the GLJ name.
In O.C., the band opened with the needling title track. Jay was in good form, making flippant comments and handling his trademark falsetto whoops and hollers well. Standouts included the machine gun riffage of “Twenty Killer Hurts,” “Jealous” (with the appropriate lyrics on a day when it rained in the morning: “I watch the sun cut through the cloudy skies”),” some call and response action in “Motion of Love” and the extended version of “Desire,” where Jay did gestures from the music video.
The Untouchables turned in a spirited early afternoon set. The audience responded to the upbeat ska tunes by dancing amid the folding chairs and beanbags in the VIP section. Led by Jerry Miller, the band did all its best-known songs like “I Spy for the F.B.I.,” “Twist and Shake” “Live and Let Dance” and “Free Yourself” – many with energetic horn work by the Moynahan Brothers. A little girl, who might have been Miller’s daughter, frolicked in between the chaos.
|photo: Bob Steshetz|
The barefoot singer debuted a couple songs from a forthcoming album (such as the driving rocker “Beautiful”) and Tommy James’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” was a fun closer.
All told, the proceedings ran smoothly and I look forward to seeing what the promoters cook up next year.
Photos by Bob Steshetz. See more of his work via social media, @BobByRequest, or