Last night I joined about 8,000 of my newest friends to see Spandau Ballet in concert at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa, California. I don’t want to brag (actually I do), but Spandau says that it was one of the best if not the best amphitheater show they’ve done.
First of all, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to this venue, and they’ve completely improved the gates leading from inside the fair. What once felt like a back alley was open and inviting, which is nice. The amphitheater has it’s own set of unique problems though, some of which are that it’s attached to a fairground, not permitted to run year-round, and there’s some nasty rules about noise, curfews and horrific fines if a band should happen to go past their time-limit. Even so, I love it when bands play here…especially when those bands are named Spandau Ballet, Tears for Fears, or Duran Duran.
I recently saw Spandau (by recently I mean earlier this year and you can find my review here), for a show at the Wiltern Theatre in LA and it was fantastic, far exceeding any expectations I may have had. I was a fan who had never seen them live, and I still can’t quite believe my luck at having them play twice in a single year. From what I could gather between the LA show and last night – they have an amazing, fun-loving, and supportive fan base, and it’s a shame it had gone thirty years (according to Tony Hadley, whom I’m assuming knows these things) since their last show in the OC, otherwise known as my backyard. So, I was curious to see how their shows might differ, especially after long months of touring. Would fatigue get the best of them? Would their music feel a bit tired, or polished?
Once again, Spandau blew me away. In retrospect, the show in LA felt almost a bit stiff compared to the warm, friendly and loving nature of the show last night. While the band certainly interacted in LA, it couldn’t even compare to having Tony Hadley and Gary Kemp decide to literally go play Empty Spaces in the audience….only to follow that up with a brief sing-a-long a cappella version of Gold before going back up to the main stage. We were treated to Steve Norman getting right down to nearly eye-level as he played sax with those in the front rows, quite possibly giving Krista Blade (Richard Blade’s – the KROQ radio DJ and 80’s music guru wife) the show of her life. Martin and Gary Kemp traded sides of the stage several times throughout the show as well. But it wasn’t just those moments that made the show feel special or intimate. Tony Hadley commented not just once, but several times as to how great the audience was; and I have to say – in all of my years of attending shows, I have NEVER heard an audience sing in quite the same way as we did last night. We sang along to Gold and of course True…and no matter where Tony would hand off the singing of a line to the crowd, it was picked up and beautifully finished with enthusiasm. I think in a lot of ways, True is sort of Spandau’s Hungry Like the Wolf, and rather than the song being tired or boring, which let’s face it – by this time is absolutely a possibility; the band has worked to give it new life and make it something that the fans can sing together with the band as sort of a sentimental moment. It worked beautifully.
The crowd was willing, open, warm…and even had a few self-named superfans present. One such person was in the front row. I noticed him throughout the show because he knew every word to every song, which made me smile. He danced and sang right along with the band, and reminded me of the time someone announced to Amanda and I that they’d never seen more enthusiastic fans at a show. (I don’t really want to know what we must have looked like that night….) In any case, the band went offstage from their main set at precisely 10:01 by my watch, and came back out to do “Through the Barricades”, which has got to be the most romantic song ever written (and I adore Steve Norman’s sax on this one). It was about this time that I glanced down to the front row and noticed that the guy I’d seen earlier was wearing some sort of, well…hat and feather get-up. It was canary yellow…which I’m assuming he wore because he was insistently hoping that the band finished with “Gold”. They did…but not before Tony Hadley had to turn away from said superfan because he was laughing and couldn’t sing. I have to give the guy credit, he wore that little number (and I’m sorry I don’t have pictures – I was too busy enjoying the song!!) for the entire song, and then the band literally pulled him onstage during their goodbyes as Steve Norman carried him…yes CARRIED him in his arms.
Spandau Ballet loves their fans. A LOT…and they’re definitely not too cool to show it.
Steve Norman can carry a full-sized man. So my hope of someday having him show up and carry me away is still on!!! 😉
I don’t suppose my showing up in a wolf-suit to a Duran Duran concert is really going to help anything…so no one need worry.
I wish I’d bought tickets to see them in San Diego tonight.
It’s not REALLY cheating on Duran Duran. It’s training for the next tour…I swear!!
One last thing: prior to the show, Richard Blade did a DJ set with his buddy (and Duran Duran fan), Steven Wayne. Steven actually played the songs, and Richard always likes to do the trivia and contests. The coolest part of his set before the show was when he dramatically said a line from When In Rome’s song “The Promise” (the point was to guess what song the line was from), and Clive Farrington, the lead singer of When in Rome, was planted in the audience with a microphone. He came down on the stage and actually SANG the song. Gotta tell ya, When in Rome was another favorite band of mine from way back when, and I nearly fell out of my chair when literally he rose up from his chair to go sing RIGHT DOWN THE AISLE from me. He still sings with stunning beauty, and I can cross one more thing off of my lengthy bucket list. I felt bad for him because people continually stopped him throughout the show for pictures, but I didn’t need any….the memory of having him sing is going to stick with me for a long, long time. Loved it.
I went to see Spandau Ballet at the Wiltern Theatre in LA last night. Yes, I realize this is the Daily Duranie and maybe one of the last things many of you want to read is a review on another band’s live performance. You should probably look away….but not you, Duran Duran. No, you four…FIVE (!)…should probably read on. (I am never giving in on Dom being a member, by the way. Suck it up.)
The reason I’m writing a show review about Spandau Ballet, is because for many DD fans, the supposed rivalry between SB and DD never existed. I hadn’t heard of it until I saw a YouTube video of Spandau vs. Duran on Pop Quiz. (Check them out if you haven’t seen them – they’re funny!!) I just loved both bands for very different reasons. My love for Spandau Ballet did not; however, begin with “True” – as it did for many other American fans. I had heard their music well before that – for me, the very essence of Spandau Ballet is “To Cut a Long Story Short”, or “Instinction” or better yet, “Confused”. When I listen to those songs even today – the bridge between Spandau and Duran feels solid and I can see why I love both bands. So to me, writing about other bands that were very much a part of that time period feels natural…and damn it, if Duran Duran isn’t gonna give me anything to write about, someone else will!
When I got to the Wiltern last night just after 7pm, I was dismayed to see that the line stretched all the way around the building and down the block. This wasn’t a GA show, it was completely seated, and the only reason for the line was a lack in security people to check bags. Ridiculous, but thankfully the line moved fairly quickly. Once in the venue though, we made our way up to our loge seats. I chose loge rather than floor because while I’m sure it would have been great to be up front, I really wanted to hear the full mix of the show. I will openly admit that for me, the experience of seeing Duran Duran live has everything to do with the rush of being near the front…but for Spandau Ballet, and knowing that I probably would not have the opportunity to see them live again (hey, it’s been 30 years since they’ve toured here), I wanted to HEAR the music without my brain playing tricks on me because I was in front of Martin Kemp or seeing Steve Norman play sax in front of me. Just saying. (Still love you, Duran Duran, but seriously – it’s been a long time!)
Our seats were fantastic with a great view of the full stage, and bonus: the Wiltern takes drink orders from your seat! We settled in, watched Richard Blade give away tickets to see Rio and a couple of other far less interesting events (yes, I really mean that – unless you’re into Morrissey, which I am not.), and waited for the show.
The band opened with Soul Boy – a new song off of their The Story, and from the opening notes it was really clear that this was not going to be an ordinary concert for me. I won’t lie or pretend I never notice backing tracks with other artists. I am very clear that for many bands today – they must have them because they record with so many tracks for each instrument, it’s impossible to replicate live. That said, I have to give Spandau credit: they are the real deal. They PLAY…and any backing used is incredibly minimal compared to many other bands. Tony Hadley has a better voice live than nearly any vocalist I’ve ever heard, and I’m sure the Jack he used for toasting the audience does nothing to hurt him, either. I can’t really say enough about Tony’s vocal talent OR the rest of the band. Steve Norman is a sax GOD, not to mention a world-class percussionist, of course Gary and Martin Kemp are the backbone of the band along with John Keeble on drums. After sorting through a lot of misinformation, I’m editing this blog to update that the keyboardist’s name on this tour is Toby Chapman, and he did a fantastic job last night as well. While in my opinion Spandau comes on stage with a lot less “flash” than say…Duran Duran…they more than make up for it with incredibly solid performance, and I still can’t get over Tony Hadley’s voice. He is amazing.
My moment of the night was hearing “To Cut a Long Story Short” – which is my favorite Spandau song. I marveled at how I was standing there, at a Spandau Ballet concert – something I just never, EVER thought I would do. I had many of the same feelings surging through my veins as I did when I saw Duran Duran – The “Original” Fab Five – at the OC Fair back in 2003. I couldn’t quite make my eyes believe what my ears were hearing. I am kicking myself this morning for not taking video, but in a lot of ways I’m glad I didn’t. I took the moment for myself and soaked it in, feeling that concert rush course through my system. I’d forgotten what it was like.
This review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t make some commentary on the Spandau Ballet fans – many of which had been waiting thirty years to see this band. I loved being up in the balcony because I was able to see the reaction from fans – diehard Spandau Ballet fans – as they heard songs that they probably never thought they’d see done live. There was something really heartwarming as I watched fans scream with glee as Tony broke into Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) or the way the entire audience sang “True” with the band. There were so many special moments about the show I can’t even begin to name them all…and that’s just during the show. As we waited in line outside that night, I halfway listened as the people in back of us talked about the trek they were making to follow the band on their tour across the country, and how they talked about members of the band as though they were old friends. It reminded me so much of the “relationship” Duran fans have with the band. As much as we might be different – Spandau fans and Duran fans – we’re really the same. (and quite honestly, there were quite a few Spandau fans that I recognized from Duran shows over the years!)
As I sit here, trying to formulate sentences to describe my experience, the one feeling I really want to convey is just how much the Spandau Ballet show reminded me of what I love most about going to concerts. I think I’d forgotten that concert rush – that concert high, a high I caught even while sitting in loge seats rather than in the first few rows down front. I had forgotten just how much I love seeing bands live and fully immersing myself into the music. Hearing every single note from a sax solo. Feeling the bass drum beat, clapping my hands in rhythm and singing as loud as my voice can manage. Squealing in joy as the band plays another song through to perfection, and yes – even watching the band acknowledge fans who have loved them for thirty years. How can I honestly say I would be OK to never feel any of that again?
We are continuing on with our weekly book club, in which we discuss each and every chapter of the book, Mad World, one by one. This is week 4 and this week we are discussing Spandau Ballet, The Human League and Heaven 17. We invite you to read those chapters and then come discuss with us!
Isn’t one of the rules of being a Duranie that you are supposed to hate Spandau? I learned early on that they were rivals, that they were fighting to be the top UK band. Heck, they even fought in battle on the TV show, Pop Quiz. Thus, I will wholeheartedly admit that I doubt I ever gave Spandau the chance that any band deserves. I looked forward to reading this chapter so it would give me a different look at this band, from a Duranie, but not only a Duranie perspective. Then, I read the introduction and learned how the name was a term Nazis used, but they didn’t know it at the time. I have to look past that and the rivalry.
I adored the story that Gary Kemp told about the club scene in 1978, in which kids would dress up and go to watch each other. There wasn’t a band that glued the scene together but they felt that there should be. They would be that band. As someone who has spent a bit of time in clubs with a similar feel, I related instantly. Then, I read that others at the club also had creative ambitions and I am once again reminded about how creative this time period was.
Another theme I keep running into over and over again is the idea that these songs, these important songs were not written to be singles as they did not fit hit singles formulas. We talked about how “Cars” by Gary Numan didn’t fit the single mold and neither did New Order’s “Blue Monday”. Now, Spandau’s song, “True,” could be added to the list with its Al Green and Motown influence, its length and its placement at the end of the album. Clearly, the formula for a hit song did not always matter.
One of the things mentioned in this chapter is how Spandau did not do as well in the States as they did in Europe. Gary Kemp blamed it on the record company there that, according to him, “made a lot of mistakes”. Tony Hadley, on the other hand, mentioned that the name was problematic with the Jewish community in the States. He also didn’t think that “True” was representative of their work. So, let me ask all of you this. Could they have been bigger in the States with a different record company and name? Based on the time period and their style, I have to say that I think they could have been.
One thing you’ll quickly learn about me in this post is that I don’t follow the rules very well. I loved Spandau Ballet, and have most of their albums. It never occurred to me until AFTER the DD reunion (from reading about the rivalry online) that I wasn’t supposed to like them, and by that time – I just didn’t care. The funny thing is that I never really put Duran Duran and Spandau in the same musical “camp”, so to speak, other than recognizing that both bands were from the UK. All I really knew was that I liked their sound, and they dressed nicely. (Funny words coming from someone who relishes her jeans and t-shirts!) Admittedly, I didn’t know that Spandau had other albums before True until later on…but I’m thankful that I bothered to look at all, and if you know the band solely from True, it’s really time to expose yourself to some of their other music, because I think you’ll be shocked!
Gary Kemp mentions their mystique, by saying that no record company had seen them, and that record companies weren’t even allowed into their gigs. They had a documentary that Janet Street-Porter had filmed, and that was what record companies could view and decide if they were interested in the band. He compares that to YouTube today, and how no band really has that same mystique because anyone can film you and put that video up on YouTube for all to see. It certainly does remove some of the curiosity factor, and I still say that media of all types today is meant for quick consumption. Get it, absorb it, and move on to the next greatest thing. It will be interesting to see just how much of today’s music, today’s media, will really have a lasting effect in the same way that our music did for us.
What drew me to Spandau Ballet is that their sound was really quite different from anything else of that period. The band embraces that, as Gary mentions, “Spandau has two things that make us sound like no other band: Tony’s unique and powerful voice and Steve Norman’s amazing saxophone that we always like to include. It’s the sound of our soul, if you like.” I completely agree with him – just as you can’t find anyone else that can harmonize like Simon; I don’t think you can copy Tony Hadley, or find anyone that plays like Steve. The uniqueness of the bands during this period are what still keep them alive today. There was never a real “formula” that any of these bands followed – and I think that is what kept it all feeling fresh and new for me. It’s also where I cultivated my strong dislike of what I call the “Top 10 Hit Formula” that certain producers seem to really hang their hat on these days. I’m sure it existed back then as well, I just didn’t pay it (Top 40 radio) much attention.
Having now read Mad World completely through twice, one of the saddest things to read in nearly every single chapter (for me) is the “That Was Then, This is Now” section. There seems to always be a tinge of wistfulness, perhaps sadness, and sometimes even a bit of lingering anger depending upon the band in question, and for me – Miss 80s Music Fan – it’s heartbreaking. Maybe it’s just the idea of looking back on the full experience that sparks emotion for me, I’m not sure. Tony Hadley says something that I still find myself thinking about and considering as I sit to write this book discussion, “But we’re still old friends, which is great. We can all go and have a pint and a meal, and we’d all laugh and joke and tell stories. But it’s not the same, and it never will be.”
When I think about that, I can’t really argue with Tony Hadley. Life experience changes your perspective, and things must have certainly changed since the 80s. When you reunite, I would imagine you come back to that proverbial table with all of that baggage, along with anything else you’re still dragging along for the ride. It can’t ever be exactly the same, but is it enough to build upon? That would be my question.
The Human League:
Right away, we learn that this chapter is going to be different. Phil Oakey, the singer, refused to meet with the authors. I so wonder why. Perhaps, he will think differently now that the book has been published.
I like how Lori Majewski, one of the authors, points out that nowadays it is obvious what songs are about, but then, songs made the listeners work for it. I agree and I loved working for it. I still do. I love trying to figure out what a song is about, which is probably one of the reasons I love Duran songs so much. They aren’t obvious, even when they appear to be so. It seems that Phil Oakey, himself, was like this, too, according to Martyn Ware who described him as “otherworldly” while being the “best chum” and “aloof” at the same time. Now, I’m even more fascinated by him and his decision not to talk to the authors.
Likewise, I found their approach to lyrics so interesting. The fact that they banned words like love, which led to topics like philosophy and science fiction. It sure seemed like a way to push them past the usual.
I really don’t understand why a musician wouldn’t want their story to be included in this book, unless they just didn’t understand what was being done. Sometimes I think that these musicians…INCLUDING my ever-favorite Duran Duran, just don’t get it, which is at least partially why this blog even exists. They don’t understand, and maybe sometimes they don’t/can’t care, that their music has resonated with fans so much that for many of us – their songs are as much a part of who we’ve become as people as say, our hometown, our high school, and the friendships we’ve made along the way. No matter…I wish Phil Oakey had participated, because his music and his voice made a difference in my youth.
That said, I love that Jonathan and Lori chose to include “Being Boiled”, because it is a great song – it’s dark and obscure, brooding and hypnotic. The more I hear early New Wave, the more I know that is where my musical soul lives and breathes. Just as Lori said – I adore that unless you really sit down and pay attention, you’re likely to have no idea what the song is about. I appreciate that the song lyrics weren’t so watered down and obvious back then. I think that nowadays (not to sound so “Get off my lawn, kids!”, but seriously…) everything is so dumbed down, so EASY, the public gets so bored. They’re not even given a chance to prove they’ve got brainpower in there somewhere.
Martyn Ware explains the real gist of Human League, and I find it to be the case for many (if not all) of the bands I adore from this period. “Right from the start, we wanted people who listened to us to regard it as entering into our world, where we could, over a period of time, flesh it out with our artistic content. So it’s not just about music. It’s about lyrical content, it’s about the kind of films you watch, it’s about the kind of novels you read, it’s about the kind of visual art you like. It all fed back into a worldview.” I don’t think that it’s necessarily a surprise to find that when I’m with fellow fans – Duran fans for instance, there are more than a few of us that like the same sort of books, or the same sort of art. So many of these bands intertwined their visual presence with their musical presence. I always say the music of this period is three dimensional in a way that you just will not ever find again, and it’s precisely due to the reasons that Martyn Ware states.
The story about how the manager of Human League worked to kick Martyn Ware out of the band was pretty shocking and sad. I wonder what the manager, Bob Mast, would say about it. Did he really think that Phil could be a solo singer? Did he think he would be better off without Martyn? This story makes me sad since Martyn and Phil were such close friends. Yet, obviously, he didn’t let stop him as he got a new singer within just a couple of days. That’s impressive. I wonder how many people could bounce back from being kicked out of their band and losing their best friend at the same time.
One thing that Heaven 17’s story highlights for me is the use of sides back in the era of albums. The one side, Pavement, had songs written still as Human League and were more electronic and the other side, Penthouse, wasn’t. I miss the album. I do. Even if I put a whole album on, unless it is vinyl, it isn’t the same as have an A side and a B side where bands could do exactly what Heaven 17 did here.
One thing about Heaven 17 that I was surprised by was that they didn’t tour and instead focused their money on videos. I do love that they ended up touring with Human League in 2008. That seems fitting.
I definitely prefer vinyl to digital. It’s not even a contest…vinyl has a warmth to it that just cannot be translated to digital, never mind the more obvious fact that I miss having two sides to an album. Maybe I’m just stuck in the 80s, in which case, that’s fine too.
I am one of those people in the world that lets friend loyalty dictate certain things. I would never, for instance, even remotely entertain the idea of ditching a friend so that I could move up the business ladder. That’s probably why I’m going to stay a blogger forevermore, so that I don’t HAVE to deal with office politics, and that’s just fine by me. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be kicked out of a band by a best friend…but yet this sort of backstabbing seemed to happen a lot back then. It’s all about success and what you’re willing to do to get there. (My question remains whether any of these bands really know when they’ve gotten that success and whether they really ever enjoyed it once they were there – it all seems to be something people only see in hindsight!)
I liked Heaven 17 fine, and “Temptation” is probably their most recognizable song, but they weren’t on my short list. For me, the big story here is how they were freed from the self-defined shackles of Human League in order to explore other influences. I liked that they weren’t into the “fame” side of things: they viewed themselves as “valued artists and musicians”. The fact that they had a hard time breaking America because they wouldn’t tour with Coors is interesting. I wonder how many American bands would have sold their souls to be on that tour? That’s one thing I find fascinating with many of the UK bands of this period: they stuck to their ideals.
They toured again with Human League in 2008, and Ware says something that I believe is a common thread among nearly every band of this period, “We’re mates now, but I wouldn’t say there’s been closure.” I swear I’ve read similar tales from every band in Mad World. Maybe it is partially the British culture – maybe it’s easier just to sweep it all under the rug?
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Join us next week as we discuss Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Bow Wow Wow and The Waitresses!
An outspoken examination and celebration of fandom!