Monday, July 16, 2018

Retro Futura 2018

Last summer, Denise and I attended the Retro Futura tour, or as I then labeled it "Six '80s Bands in Search of a Headliner" tour, on its Atlantic City stop. This year, the lineup was a little less interesting to me (I was really kind of psyched to see Men Without Hats last year), but the venue was one of my favorites, the NYCB Theater in Westbury (aka the Westbury Music Fair). The lineup included (in the order I expected them to go on in) Tony Lewis from The Outfield, Annabella Lwin from Bow Wow Wow, Limahl of Kajagoogoo, Modern English (the only holdovers from last year's tour), ABC, and Belinda Carlisle. Tony Lewis replaced Nick Heyward of Haircut 100, who was originally scheduled to be part of the tour. Also, I think in some locations, the band Expose is scheduled to perform (not sure who they're replacing, if anyone).

Denise and I thought it looked like an interesting lineup. We've seen Annabella with Bow Wow Wow (on a bill that included the Basals, or Iridesense, or possibly both), and we saw Modern English on last year's tour. We've seen Belinda a couple of times with The Go-Go's, but never as a solo artist. And we figured seeing ABC, Limahl, and Nick Heyward (who was still part of the lineup when we bought the tickets), could be cool. And especially because it was at the Westbury Music Fair, a venue we both like a lot, we figured we'd just go ahead and get some tickets.

Now we've had some problematic times in our house lately. Nothing terrible, but the kind of issues that a lot of families go through when their kids go through difficult stages. And one of the ways that Denise has been handling it is by occasionally reliving her club days to relieve her stress. She's connected with a group of friends who keep a WLIR fan page on Facebook. I've never really been with her at any of their dance club meetups because, 1. I wasn't a club kid. My dancing skills equal those of Frankenstein's monster, if he had a broomstick shoved up his butt, and 2. We usually trade off, so that when one of us goes out, the other guards the home front, thanks to some of these family issues I've been talking about. (I met a few of them before the OMD show in Manhattan, but that was very briefly, and in a room that was too loud and overcrowded to really talk much to anyone.) Naturally, a show like this attracts WLIR lovers like picnic baskets attract Yogi Bear and BooBoo. So Denise was excited that the group was having a pre-show meetup/tailgate party in the Westbury Music Fair parking lot. (Our son was staying with relatives upstate, so for once, we were both able to get out for a night).

Unfortunately, I had a phone call for work that I needed to take that kept us from leaving the house before 5PM. (The show was starting at 7PM). And, as usual, there was heavy Friday rush-hour traffic plus an accident on the LIE, so we caught maybe 15 minutes with her friends in the parking lot before it was time to head inside to the show.

The whole theater was opened up for this show, meaning that we'd be seeing the venue's famous rotating stage. (It's been awhile since I saw this. The last bunch of shows I saw there were in the half-round). As the show began, the venue was about half full. In front of me was a woman who enjoyed holding her phone over her head, so she could both tape the performances and block my view at the same time. She sat there for the first two of three sets, until the actual ticket holder for the seat showed up (more on him later), and the usher kicked her out. (Stun gun! Stun gun! Stun gun!)

The first three artists all shared the same backing band, which included a fairly young looking (for this crowd) female keyboard player, and a Chris Peters looking mf'er on bass (sans the white lab coat). As it turned out, the order of the performances was different than what we anticipated. Up first was Annabella. She came out wearing a hat I'm pretty sure she stole from Mr. Monopoly, a black sequined jacket, and some rather tight, and colorful pants. She performed an all-too-brief trio of songs, closing with Bow Wow Wow's big hit, "I Want Candy".

Next up, again to my surprise, was Limahl. He was wearing something yellowish, and is still a very skinny man, with stylish, (though more controlled than in his heyday) hair. He too sang a brief set, closing with Kajagoogoo's big hit, "Too Shy".

Up next was Tony Lewis, who received a pretty good reaction from the crowd, which had filled in considerably by this point. A word here about all three of the opening sets: Obviously, the sound man was a huge fan of the backup band. He must have been, because although people paid their money to see famous and popular '80s singers, he had the band turned up so loud in relation to the vocals that Annabella had to shriek in order to try to compete with them, and Limahl's vocals were washed away entirely -- you could only really hear him on one of his four songs. I don't know if the sound man works for the venue or is traveling with the tour, but boo sound man!

Luckily, Tony Lewis is a more traditional rock singer than the first two (although he looks like an older version of Mario, sans his Luigi), so his vocals at least gave the band a run for their money. He performed a very energetic 5-song set (which got both the crowd and the band really moving), closing with The Outfield's best-known hit, "Your Love". (You know it -- "I just wanna use your love toniiiiight/I don't wanna lose your love toniiiiiight!".)

At this point, the backing band left the stage (breaking the sound man's heart), and Modern English set up shop. Playing as a 6-piece, they all wore black, and mostly wore jackets, even though it was a pretty hot evening. They played a fine 5-song set, which included one number from their decent 2017 album, Take Me to the Trees. They closed with what is far-and-away their best known song, one of the seminal hits of the 1980s, "I Melt With You". (Does anyone here remember the Nicholas Cage film this was featured in, Valley Girl? That was the first thing I ever saw him in.) This was one of the highlights of the night.

Next up was Belinda Carlisle, who I would have guessed would have been the headliner. Now the last time I saw Belinda was at a Go-Go's show at this same Westbury venue. I'd seen them a few years earlier at Jones Beach, and they were great. Then, when I saw them at Westbury, the sound was mixed so that the band largely drowned Belinda out. I thought this was just bad sound at first, until I listened more closely, and discovered that her voice was all over the place, and the sound man was protecting her. I figured her voice was just burnt out like poor Ian Anderson's, but then I saw a DVD of a concert The Go-Go's gave in Central Park at a later date, and she sounded great. I was confused about this until I read her bio. Then I realized that the Westbury concert I saw was likely during her heavy drug days. Give me a "D"! Give me an "R". Anyway, I wasn't sure what to expect out of her tonight.

As it turned  out, it was somewhere in the middle. She's lost a little vocally. Mainly, she's lost that cute little growl she used to have in her voice back in her Go-Go's days. She still sounds decent, but her voice doesn't have the bite it used to.

By the time Belinda came on, the crowd was worked up, and the venue was pretty full, although there were some empty seats to be found. About four rows in front of me was a male gay couple who looked about fifteen younger than most of the rest of the crowd.  Seated directly in front me was a mountain wearing human clothing. He wasn't fat so much as he was broad, and he was quite tall. Man Mountain was pretty well behaved on his own. But the gay couple were obviously big Belinda fans, and every time they got up to shake their butts (which was pretty much for all of Belinda's best songs), they blocked Man Mountain's view, causing him to stand up too. This basically caused a full solar eclipse for me. The sun, the moon, and Belinda and her whole band were totally blotted out. I moved my head from side to side, trying vainly to see around him. But it was like trying to see around a 16-car freight train. Denise was up dancing also, but I've already told you about my dancing skills. So I sat and watched most of Belinda's set on the overhead monitors.

In any event, Belinda performed an extremely well received 9-song set. Her backing band consisted of the Chris Peters looking mf'er from the backing band from the first three sets (now on regular guitar), plus (I think) a trio of guys who later turned out to be part of ABC. (I guess they have to cut costs where they can on these multi-band tours). Belinda opened with one of her biggest solo hits, "Mad About You", then thrilled the crowd (myself included) by going into "Head Over Heels", one of my favorite Go-Go's songs. As it turned out, the set was almost evenly split between her solo hits (like "Heaven Is a Place on Earth", which she closed with, and "Circle in the Sand", which might have been her best vocal number of the night), and Go-Go's classics such as "Vacation", "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "We've Got the Beat", which she did all in a row. Overall, I'd say she was the most popular act of the night, and deservedly so.

ABC closed the show. You know how sometimes you go to a concert of a band you know somewhat, and every other song they play, you say, "Oh! I know that song," and "I know that one, too!"? Well, that didn't happen for me here.

Now in their favor, I'd tell you that although I really had a hard time getting into a lot of their set, for the most part, I was alone in that. The crowd was pretty enthusiastic about them, and Denise was certainly dancing up a storm right along with them. But on the other hand, I'd say that about a quarter, or at least a fifth, of the crowd actually left before ABC went on, so that's a mark against them.

Anyway, they were pretty tight as a band, but they're too funky for my taste. (They were also mostly dressed in ties and jackets, which just pisses me off for off some reason. It feels really old-fashioned to me, the kind of thing the bands of the sixties and seventies successfully broke away from). Of their 10-song set, I only really knew three of them, and one of those ("Poison Arrow") I don't really like. I do like "Be Near Me" and "The Look of Love", probably their two biggest hits, (and also the two songs they closed with). And I might have heard their opener, "When Smoky Sings", before, which was another one of their better numbers. Still, I was a little let down by their set, especially following after Belinda Carlisle's. Maybe my energy was just flagging.

After the show, we hooked up again with some of the stout hearts from Denise's WLIR group in the parking lot, and got some of the backstage info about the order of the show. I don't know how fluid it will be on future dates, but some of the things that affected the order of tonight's show included, 1. Annabella was up first because she had to jump on a flight to England to perform the next night at Let's Rock Shrewsbury with performers like UB40 and Midge Ure; and 2. Belinda went on early because she was still wiped out from performing with some (or all) of the other Go-Go's at a preview for the new Go-Go's Broadway musical, Head Over Heels.

In any event, Retro Futura 2018 was a pretty fun show, even though I wouldn't rate it as highly as last year's Retro Futura show (which was actually one of my favorite shows for all of last year). We got to enjoy some good music at a good venue, and I got to finally meet some of Denise's new WLIR friends. This one was definitely worth the price of the tickets.