The warm up to the concert, with a couple of Heart 104.9 DJs was concerning. As they rolled through a mix of 80’s tunes, I couldn’t help but think that they were playing stuff from a whole catalogue of bands I’d rather be seeing than those on the bill for the evening.
And when they excitedly described Alphaville and Spandau Ballet as “the two biggest bands of the 80’s”, I couldn’t help but think that they were lying.
What about a-ha and Duran Duran? Or Tears for Fears and the Pet Shop Boys?
Had they forgotten Depeche Mode and ABC and Culture Club and Wham! and OMD and the Human League and the Thompson Twins?
You get my point, I’m sure.
And then there was a delay and they ran out of 80s music to play. So maybe they had forgotten about all those other bands.
Anyway, belatedly, on came Alphaville.
The first thing that struck me was the irony that Alphaville’s biggest hit was Forever Young. Because, if the chorus line from that was some sort of plea:
Forever young, I want to be forever young
it hasn’t worked. Aged 55 and looking like a cross between Buster Bloodvessel and Till Lindemann’s dad, lead singer Marian Gold has put on a bit of weight since the 1980s. His partners in crime (and it did look like prison was actually involved at some point) were a keyboard player with an IQ apparently in single figures, a guitar player who didn’t really want to be there and a drummer who turned up sporting long blond hair and a tight white jumpsuit. As they came on to cheers – and indeed a fair amount of laughter – things were not looking promising.
But what an effort. What energy. The old favourites were obviously all there: Dance With Me, Jet Set Society, Sounds Like A Melody and of course, Big In Japan– many of them dragged from the synthpop of the 80s with a aggressive Deutsche Rock upgrade. But while it worked, you got the feeling that the fans would have preferred more keyboard and less guitar.
Summer in Berlin reminded us of the simplicity of 80s lyrics:
Summer in Berlin, it’s alright.
Summer in Berlin, it’s ok.
And yes, it was a bit rough around the edges – almost like they hadn’t moved on from what was acceptable in their heyday. Stuff you’d never get away with these days. But that was fine. That performance was what people had come to hear and the response from the audience was every bit as enthusiastic as the energy on stage.
I was thoroughly impressed and I am now more sure than ever that the return of Synthpop is long overdue.
And then Spandau Ballet. My goodness, they look much older. Which is entirely logical, since they are actually much older.
Theirs was an altogether tighter, better rehearsed and better managed show. They obligingly posed for cellphone photos, they took it in turns to chat about the old days while Tony Hadley, traditionally clad in charcoal grey suit and tie, blew kisses to the middle-aged women on the front row.
The performance was hugely professional – a far cry from Alphaville’s earlier “80s-club” style efforts. In fact, it was almost too good, too polished – it would have been good to see a human side during the songs as well as in between them. Hadley’s voice is still unique, still as powerful as ever, but the shift from the raw New Romantic foundation towards a more refined, soul sound left me a little cold.
Once again, the list of hits was impressive: Only When You Leave, Communication, Chant No.1, Fight For Ourselves and To Cut a Long Story Short (amongst many others) were all carefully, energetically and perfectly performed before the inevitable True and then, as a second encore, Gold.
A new, daring and beautiful acoustic version of With The Pride was sadly spoiled by idiots in the audience having loud conversations right through the course of it. (Why do SA audiences do this at concerts?)
And the band did look to be having a huge amount of fun on stage. If they were faking it, they were faking it well, with smiles and during the show and hugs after the final number. As Hadley remarked, their reforming was “the best decision we ever made”.
But it remains to be seen whether the “new” Spandau Ballet will have any commercial success aside from this tour, which clearly relies solely on their previous standing and music.
For me – and I suspect, many others – the magic of the band was the fact that they were one of the top New Romantic acts. Now that they’ve lost that, and despite the fact that they are obviously seasoned and professional performers, I’m not convinced that they have anything hugely significant to offer.
Although I’d love to be proved wrong.