My weekend adventures included a concert in Palm Springs on Saturday night. Held at the now-familiar Agua Caliente Resort and Casino, the Lost80s concert was a lot of fun and featured artists such as TransX, Pretty Poison, The Flirts, Cutting Crew, Naked Eyes, Wang Chung, Berlin and Tony Hadley (Formerly of Spandau Ballet). It was a lot of fun, and I’m going to take a look at the entire show tomorrow. Today though, I am going to focus on Tony Hadley, and if you are wondering why I would spend an entire Daily Duranie blog on someone other than Duran Duran, keep reading.
In full disclosure, I am a Spandau fan. Like thousands of others, when Spandau Ballet toured here in 2015, I rejoiced and my dream of seeing them finally came true. The shows were packed with energy and the kinds of moments between band members and audience that seemed to indicate they’d be back again, and soon. My hopes were dashed earlier this summer when Tony Hadley announced that he would not be returning to the band. There were more than enough insinuations and bad energy passed between band members to indicate the decision to announce such news did not come easily. Hurt feelings seemed to be shared all around, and many fans chose sides. For my part, I just wanted to see what Tony would be like without Spandau Ballet.
With that in mind, I went into Saturday night’s show without a lot of expectation. I didn’t know what it would be like, but like many – Tony’s voice is what I associate with Spandau Ballet. How different could the performance really be? I see the same sorts of discussion take place with Duran Duran. So many people say that the band could continue on, replacing any member, with the exception of Simon. I’m not quite sure I’ve ever bought into that line of thinking myself, but I kept an open mind.
Tony Hadley was the headliner, and took the stage in much the same way he might when performing with Spandau. His backing band were excellent musicians, and Tony launched into “Only When You Leave”. The audience was about the same age range as a Spandau audience, and many didn’t stand right away. I was one of the few in my section standing (off to the far left in section 104, but my seats were still fantastic). The main difference I noticed right away was that the music was subdued rather than punchy, spirited and powerful the way it is with Spandau. The arrangement was such that Tony’s vocals took complete center stage. The music we are all familiar with was still there, but it wasn’t quite the same. Nowhere was this more obvious in his set than when the session guitarist – a hired “gun” in the same vein as Dom Brown for Duran Duran – played the sax solo in Gold. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t quite right. It all felt muted, and while Tony still has absolutely incredibly smooth vocals, the performance just fell a little, ever-so-slightly, flat.
He had a group of admirers off to the right side of the stage that were completely enthused, but to be honest, for being the headliner – most people stayed seated. The people in back of me were hardcore Spandau fans, and they commented on how flat his performance was. Yes, he is the voice, and he was singing the same songs and words, but the spark that made a Spandau performance unique just wasn’t there. Sometimes, it really is the sum of ALL the parts that is what makes something special. I still stood for him, because I could see he was struggling to make a connection with the audience, and because I still enjoy him, Spandau Ballet or not.
I loved seeing Tony sing. He is a powerful singer with the same sort of charisma as Sinatra or any of the greats. I wouldn’t dare take that away from him. That said, somehow, he’s even a little more sparkling and powerful when he’s up on stage with the band who wrote the songs he is singing. There’s something special there that happens, and no matter the excellence of the musicians in his band (and nobody is denying their talent or expertise), they can’t recreate Spandau Ballet. But, maybe that really the point.
For whatever the reason, Tony Hadley wants to go out on his own. He didn’t want to continue being 1/5 of a band, he wanted to be solo with a backing band. It would be unreasonable to go to a show and expect the music to be exactly the same. It may sound similar, in the same way that Duran Duran’s music might sound familiar without Simon singing. Not the same. Not even close. Our expectations as listeners, and as fans, must change. His show was still fantastic, Tony Hadley is still incredibly talented, and he has the right to go it alone. I need to change my expectations.
I am 100% sure that the debate and discussion over what element(s) of Duran Duran are irreplaceable will continue. People love to point out that the guitarist and even the bassist (and drummer, I might add) have been replaced more than once, while Simon and Nick (oops…never mind…) have never been, thus that somehow equates to his voice been the irreplaceable element that makes Duran Duran.
Well, in my opinion, none of them are replaceable. It isn’t just about the music. You can put a piece of sheet music in front of any professional musician and they can play it. But can they put heart and soul into it? That’s a very different problem. The emotion does not always come easily, and it isn’t always natural. What about the onstage chemistry and camaraderie? Does any of that matter? If you’ve seen Duran Duran live, you know that it does. The relationships on stage are easily as important as the music itself, and while I’ve seen several different lineups over the years, some just seem far more family-like and important than others. We all have our favorites, and while mine may not match yours, they all matter. It is difficult to recreate that atmosphere and love with just anyone. And that’s why I couldn’t ever choose what person, what element, is most important. They all are.