We had tickets last night for the Long Island stop of the Lost 80's Tour, another multi-band nostalgia tour making its way around the country this summer.
Now lately, I know that my live show posts have been Russian novels. So I'm going to try to hold this one to a Russian novelette. I'm thinking, Tolstoy?
If you read my post about the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium last weekend, you might remember that before the show even started, my daughter had texted me about getting her upstate for her little sister's Sweet Sixteen birthday party. Well, that happened this weekend. We drove all night Thursday night to get her up there (and Denise cancelled going to see The Alarm at the Boulton Center and sitting in front row seats with her friend Tim in order to do this -- what a great Mom!).
Then we drove back home all day Friday (which involved a brief stop at a motel in Herkimer that was kind enough to allow us to check in at 11 in the morning, but neglected to mention that they'd be doing construction on the room two rooms away from ours. Bang! Bang! Saw! Saw!). We got home at midnight on Friday.
By 9AM Saturday, I had to be back out in Little Neck for a monthly staff meeting for my job. (I've been trying to talk our Executive Director into having the meetings at midnight every other month, so that once in awhile, we'd be having them during my kind of hours, but so far, no luck on that.) Then I shot back home to Patchogue to catch a few hours of sleep, before going back out to the Tilles Center for tonight's show. (Poor Denise was so wiped that she slept until 11 on Saturday, then laid back down for a nap with me at 2).
You'd have thought I'd be in no shape for this show. But actually, I did better than I expected. Some of my recent kvetching on here (about the Erasure show, and the Forest Hills show) has made me hyper-aware that for me to enjoy a show, I really have to be rested. So in spite of the torturous schedule this weekend, I made sure I had plenty of sleep on Friday night and during the day on Saturday. And the Tilles Center is actually one of the easier venues for me to get into -- there are no long walks involved, and no sitting outdoors in the heat -- so I was in better shape than I had any right to expect.
The Tilles Center is kind of a funny place for a show like this. It's one of the two major entertainment arenas on Long Island located on a college campus (at C.W. Post, in Greenlawn. The other is The Staller Center at SUNY Stony Brook). And while they'll have the occasional rock or popular music show like this one, there are also things there like Broadway-style musicals, operas, ballets, classical music concerts, etc. The last time I was there was a few years ago, when I took my son to see Evil Dead: The Musical. (We sat upfront in the "splatter" section, but my son was disappointed that we didn't really get any gore on us.) And the time before that was before our kids had even moved in with us, when Denise and I saw Celtic Woman there. Even their rock shows all involve older bands. Their upcoming scheduled includes people like Pat Benatar, Roy Orbison (he's still alive? Good for him!), Toto, and Dennis DeYoung of Styx. So it's kind of a staid venue. Don't expect any crowd surfing there.
Prior to the show, we met a couple of Denise's friends from her WLIR Facebook group, Tina and Cindy. Tina is a photography enthusiast, and I'm hoping to collaborate on some shows with her, maybe for Rich Branciforte at Good Times. Tina and Cindy had seats in the very first row, and the first row tonight involved sitting in a folding chair up so close to the stage that your knees touched the stage. This was definite neck-bending territory. Denise and I were also pretty close to the stage, about eight rows further back (in the third row of actual non-folding-chair seats).
The lineup for the Lost 80's tour has been fluctuating a little bit. A lot of Denise's friends saw the show in Coney Island on Friday night, and their lineup had included the six bands we were going to see, plus Annabella of Bow Wow Wow (who must have jumped ship from the Retro Futura Tour -- traitor!), and The Romantics (who I couldn't care less about, except that it would have been pretty cool to hear them sing "What I Like About You". But oh well.) Really, the main reason I wanted to be at this show was for A Flock of Seagulls. I always felt that they were a tragically undervalued '80s band. Those first two albums were as good as anything that came out during the decade, and the third one, The Story of a Young Heart, was pretty strong too. Then Paul Reynolds, their guitarist, left the band, and their fourth album was the most godawful piece of crap you've ever heard! But let's not talk about that.)
The first band up was Nu Shooz. They were a little bit of an odd choice for this tour, as all of the other bands on the bill were part of the new wave movement. Nu Shooz, on the other hand, was an R&B-tinged dance band that revolved around the husband-wife team of John Smith and Valerie Day. They're from Portland, OR, but they mentioned during their set how they hold New York mostly responsible for the fact that they had a music career -- their music was getting a little airplay in the Pacific Northwest, but it wasn't until they started getting some heavy play in the dance halls of Manhattan that they got a legitimate record deal. They started out with like 12 members back in the '80s, but now it's just Smith and Day.
A couple of things here. I actually liked these guys somewhat back in the '80s, and in fact, they were only band on this bill that I ever owned an album from other than Flock. (And truth-be-told, I found Valerie to be quite hot back in the day.) So I was kind of psyched to see them.
Their career is a little bit of a mixed bag now. On the one hand, it's just the two of them, and unlike the Retro Futura Tour, instead of having a common backing band for the opening acts, they played with just an acoustic guitar and a backing track. They were very loungy looking, wearing quite a few sequins between the two of them. They kind of reminded me of Harper Finkel's parents on The Wizards of Waverly Place show. In fact, their appearance led me to joke about intra-tour politics with Denise, wondering aloud if they and the other opening bands were allowed to talk to Flock of Seagulls. (Denise thought probably not). On the other hand, at least they still have a career in some capacity. And as I was about to find out, Day still has a hell of a voice.
Anyway, they started their 3-song set with "Point of No Return", one of their two biggest hits. I was a little shocked that Denise was unfamiliar with it (as she usually knows all of the songs at these shows), but then I realized that this was the one band on this bill that wasn't really a WLIR band, they were a dance band. I was never a dance kid, but I was an MTV kid, and they used to get a ton of airplay on MTV. They followed "Point" with "Should I Say Yes?", a song I wasn't familiar with, then closed with their big hit, "I Can't Wait". (Odds are you know this song. I'd try to bring it back to you, but the lyrics won't help -- it's all about the instrumental chorus, and my writing "ba ba ba BA ba bababa/ba ba ba BA baba" probably wouldn't help, would it?). The crowd gave them a pretty good reception, especially given that it was largely a WLIR crowd. And as I mentioned, especially on "I Can't Wait", Day really let loose with her voice and blew the crowd away. I was happy for them.
In between sets, I noticed that although the room was only half full, there were multiple celebrities in the audience. (Or their lookalikes, anyway). Slash from Guns N' Roses was there (complete with top hat), and I think I saw Bernie Sanders sort of half-snoozing in the corner of the row behind me.
Before the next band started, the emcee introduced former WLIR deejay Larry the Duck, and for those of us who loved WLIR/WDRE, this was almost as good as having another band there. Larry pretty much emceed the rest of the show.
The next act was billed as Farrington and Mann, although Larry introduced them by their "forbidden" name, When In Rome. When in Rome was essentially a one-hit wonder that consisted of vocalists Clive Farrington and Andrew Mann and keyboardist Michael Floreale, a trio of Brits. They broke up in 1990, when the other two fired Floreale. Then in 2006, Floreale formed his own version of When in Rome, and started touring. In 2009, Farrington and Mann got back together and sued him for the name. Hyjinx ensued. Nowadays, there are two working versions of the band, Farrington and Mann (who are also sometimes known as When in Rome UK), and When in Rome II (or sometimes, simply When in Rome) for the Floreale version of the band. Seems like a lot of trouble to go through for one hit, but it's one of those hits that's actually quite popular with new-wave fans.
Anyway, they came out as a 4-piece band, which included Farrington and Mann, plus a synthesist and an electronic percussionist. At the start of their set, some twit from backstage threw out a bunch of beach balls, which I always love, because it allows my pathetic PTSD ass to focus on not getting hit in the face with a beach ball instead of enjoying the music. Happily, by the end of their set, the ushers had impounded them all. Farrington and Mann only played two songs. First was "Heaven Knows", which was a minor hit on the U.S. dance charts in 1989. Then, they played the first few chords of their big hit, "The Promise", and the crowd leaped to its feet in joy, crying as one, "My lost youth! You're back!"
It was a little hard to hear Farrington. (Or was it Mann? The one with the lower voice, anyway), but the crowd didn't care, and I really didn't either. I knew this song, even though before we bought these tickets, I couldn't have told you whose song it was if you'd have put a gun to my head. (Whenever we get tickets for one of these kinds of shows, I'm always asking Denise, "OK, which song did these guys do, again?"). Anyway, good song, and off shuffled When Farrington and Mann Is In Rome, or whoever.
Next up, a tall, single fellow came out onto the stage and picked up his guitar, only to look around in vain for the rest of his band. This was Bill Wadham. He looked pretty cool, wearing a full-length peacoat. Then the rest of his 6-piece group joined him, and my first reaction was "Oh, dear!"
This was Animotion. The entire band was dressed in black, and some of them looked worse for the wear. The bass player resembled the little guy who used to be the sidekick in The Benny Hill Show. And the female co-lead vocalist had just had a horrible accident backstage involving electricity. She must have, given her hair. It was a gray sordid mess, half Grandmama Adams and half Phyllis Diller. Larry the Duck came out and muttered something about suffering a group hug backstage. (As I got to experience the somewhat bawdy personality of Astrid Plane, the aforementioned vocalist, I'm fairly certain he meant to say that he had just been molested.) Larry introduced them as a Los Angeles band, although Ms. Plane is clearly a British ex-pat.
Plane was quite a randy gal, teasing between songs that she'd had a lovely hot stone massage at her hotel today, but, "I had to take off all me clothes, though!"). I know that Tina and Cindy in the front row were standing for her entire set. They had to be. It was the only way to avoid looking right up Plane's dress.
Much to my surprise, given my initial shock at the band's appearance, they were really good, and very high-energy. And while I may have mocked Plane's appearance some, her voice is still killer. (Of course, I haven't aged a day since the '80s myself. My hair is still blonde, and if my children try to tell you it's gray, I denounce them for the liars they are. It's blonde. It only looks gray because of the way the light hits it. And I can rock out, too. As long as I get my nap first.)
Where was I? Oh, yes, Animotion. They blazed through a couple of their songs, "Let Him Go", and "I Engineer". Then they were told they had a little time to sneak in an extra song. (And believe me, I'm going to come back to this later when I discuss whoever was running the show backstage). So they improvised a fun little version of the Soft Cell's "Tainted Love". (Don't try to tell me that Soft Cell actually borrowed it from somebody else. We're at an '80s show, damn it! It's a Soft Cell song!) At this point, some woman in the next section started screaming, "Obsession"! "Obsession!" (as if this band was going to leave the stage without doing their single biggest hit.) And amazingly (to some people), the band closed with their biggest hit, "Obsession". This got the whole room up and moving again. (Except for me. I like to relax when I listen to my music. Oh, and also except for Bernie Sanders behind me. He did briefly wake up for this song, though.)
Band number four was another British band who Denise likes a lot, Naked Eyes. They were initially a duo, comprising Pete Byrne on vocals and Rob Fisher on keyboards. Unfortunately, Fisher died of cancer in 1999 at just 42 years old. So Naked Eyes is now Byrne singing and playing guitar, with a 3-piece backing band.
As they took the stage, Byrne turned out to be Billy-Idol-sized, with the requisite British sneer. He led his band through a very well received 4-song set, that finished with his two biggest hits, "Promises, Promises", and his synthed-up version of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song, "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me". He did a good job, although I commented to Denise afterwards that his songs were much less vocally challenging than the ones sung by Valerie Day or Astrid Plane -- if this were figure skating, I would have deducted a point for difficulty. But the crowd loved it, as did Denise, who danced non-stop through every set except for parts of Nu Shooz's set.
At this point, I had developed a whole mythology about the backstage politics of this tour. I figured that Nu Shooz and Farrington and Mann aren't allowed to talk to Mike Score of Flock of Seagulls, and Animotion isn't even allowed to stay at the same hotel, since Astrid Plane probably scares the crap out of him. Pete Byrne is allowed to speak briefly to him, as long as he averts his eyes, and brings Score his orange juice at breakfast in the morning. Only Wang Chung are big enough stars to actually hang with him. (I amuse myself with these little fantasies, anyway.)
In between sets, three more of Denise friends from the WLIR group, Lee Ann, Roberta and Natalie found us, and came over for a chat and a couple of group photos. (Denise is pretty easy to spot in a crowd these days, as she currently sports Bubblegum-Pink hair.) They had been at the show in Coney Island the night before, although traffic caused them to miss the first couple of bands. They said that Wang Chung had been great the night before, but that Score's vocals sounded pretty rough. We told them about Cindy Wilson's vocal problems at last week's Forest Hills show. I was really hoping that Score's problems had just been due to the heat and humidity at the outdoor venue, as of course, they were the band I came to see.
Next was Wang Chung. Wang Chung is one of those bands that I sort of always put in the same category as Culture Club. I liked a couple of their songs, but would never have come to see them on their own (although it was cool to see them in a multi-band setting like this). They came out as a 4-piece, although I couldn't really tell you how many of them are original band members. The one guy I could see clearly through the crowd was tallish, and looked kind of like a gray-haired Alan Rickman, in character as Severus Snape.
I have to say, they were in really good form for their 4-song set. They opened with "Let's Go", a song that Denise was familiar with, although I wasn't. They then went into one of the two Wang Chung I do know, the S&M-infused "Dance Hall Days". (I say S&M-infused because of the lyrics -- he's always grabbing his baby by various body parts and making her do stuff. What's up with that?"). They then did an unusual choice (that I was prepared for because I've been following their setlist on setlist.fm), a cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". At the end of the song, they morphed this into their single biggest hit, by intoning, "Girls just wanna have fun/Girls just wanna Wang Chung", and going directly into "Everybody Have Fun Tonight". (I'm pretty sure that "everybody Wang Chung" means the same thing as "Turning Japanese, I think I'm Turning Japanese" -- both pretty un-p.c. masturbation references, except that luckily for them, the p.c. police are too involved in other things to hunt down largely obscure-to-the-modern-popular-culture 80's bands.) In any event, I suspect if you polled the crowd, many would have named this as their high point of the night.
Next up was A Flock of Seagulls. I recently reviewed their new orchestral album, Ascension, which featured all four of the original members. For this tour, however, it's basically Mike Score and three other gulls. (He's like Jonathan Livingston Seagull -- he went on to train new young flocks). Now for most of the tour, Flock has been using a 6-song set, which added "Modern Love Is Automatic" to their five best-known songs. Unfortunately, on this night, the person who was running the show screwed up big time. The Tilles Center obviously had a hard 11PM end time, and partially because the tour manager had thrown Animotion an extra song, Flock had to cut their set down to four songs, leaving out "Automatic", plus (!!!) "Telecommunication"! Thanks a bunch, butthead!
Anyway, Flock came out, and while I wouldn't say Score's voice was amazing, it was nowhere near as bad as I had feared (and not even approaching Cindy Wilson territory). They opened with "The More You Live, the More You Love", a song I've always loved (from their Story of a Young Heart album), then moved on to my favorite Flock song of all, "Space Age Love Song". (I missed Paul Reynolds' guitar on this one, but the current guitarist, whose name, I think, is Gord Deppe, did an OK job on it.) They finished out with what are probably their two best-known songs, "I Ran (So Far Away)" and "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)". And while I missed "Telecommunication", if they had to cut one of their top five songs, they made the right choice -- these were the four I most wanted to hear.
The crowd filed out in a happy mood. If I had to guess, I'd say that the crowd favorite of the evening was probably Wang Chung, although Flock was certainly well received also. For myself, Flock was far-and-away my favorite, and actually, my second favorite was Nu Shooz. But everybody had a pretty good set tonight. In general, my only criticisms were: 1. The time screw-up that caused Flock to have to cut their set short. Luckily, I saw Flock of Seagulls back in the '80s at the Beacon Theater, or I'd have been really disappointed; and 2. While the sound in general was pretty good tonight, on several occasions, I thought the bass overwhelmed the mix too much and drowned out some of the synthesizers. But these were minor criticisms. I certainly enjoyed the show. I'd rank it ahead of this year's Retro Futura tour, although it wasn't quite as good as last year's Retro Futura show. (It's hard to compete with "Safety Dance").
According to the Duckmeister, Tilles Center has already booked next year's Lost 80's Tour, and pending the lineup, I'd definitely come back.
(OK, so this was still Russian-novel length. but at least this time, most of it was actually about the show.)