Concertgoers were sent back in time last night at Cleveland Performing Arts Center, where ‘80s pop stars Howard Jones and Tom Bailey dusted off some of their biggest hits as co-headliners of the Retro Futura Tour.
Sure, we all entered Masonic Auditorium knowing the calendar said 2014. But all the songs from Monday night’s spectacle were straight out of 1984 (or thereabouts), back when Michael Jackson and Madonna ruled airwaves (and MTV), and vinyl LPs and clunky cassette tapes were the media of choice.
The traveling throwback show—which also features fellow British New Wave icons China Crisis, Midge Ure (Ultravox), along with American Katrina (ex-Waves)—finds Bailey performing his Thompson Twins hits for the first time in nearly thirty years. Judging from his act yesterday, he hasn’t missed a beat.
Jones hasn’t played these parts since the mid-2000s, when the keyboard whiz went “unplugged” during a couple acoustic piano sets at The Winchester in Lakewood. Ho Jo plugged back in last night—big time—knocking out throbbing dance versions of his chart-toppers on a keyboard that lit up from the inside.
It’d be naïve to assert that the Eighties were better days for everyone, and that the selections on offer August 25th ushered everyone in the theatre back to grander times. I was a geeky adolescent back then (still am, really, minus the glasses and braces) and didn’t always have an easy time in high school, academically or socially. Music was—and remains—our go-to elixir when we felt down, and the concoctions mixed up by musical alchemists like Bailey and Jones were just what the “Doctor! Doctor!” ordered.
We’re guessing our “Square Pegs” experience wasn’t isolated, and that many of the hundreds in attendance still harbor close emotional ties with the tunes. Instead of being an awkward 12-year old, we’re parents to awkward 12-year olds.
Do rose-colored glasses have an aural analogue? Bailey, Jones and their cohorts used music to make everyone in attendance feel good about the here-and-now, whether their memories of those old days happened to be fond, foggy, or just plain forgettable.
Sadly, “everyone in attendance” at the cavernous Masonic (capacity 2,088) amounted to a meager few hundred people—by no means a good showing for a high-profile in the rock and roll capital of the world.
Fortunately, the Retro Futura acts were very professional about the whole thing, playing to the people who were there rather than dwelling on the empty seats in the balcony.
Originally scheduled for a 6:00pm start, the festivities didn’t actually commence until 8:00pm, when Katrina Leskanich took the stage with the rambunctious “Rock and Roll Girl.” Dressed in black with a glitter skull applique visible beneath her jacket, Katrina still looked great (she was only in her early 20’s when the Waves made a splash). She sounded good, too, belting out “Red Wine and Whisky” and the new “Every Step” to an enthusiastic response. Between tunes, Katrina praised the venue’s Italian catering and discussed her visit to the Rock Hall earlier that afternoon. Putting away her pink Telecaster guitar, she wielded a hand-held microphone for “Walking On Sunshine” and worked the crowd down front.
Still lead up by singer Gary Daly and guitarist Eddie Lundon, China Crisis followed suit, using the same backing band (which eliminated the need for a set change). Dressed more like a jet-setting tourist than rock front man in a sport coat and Stetson, Daly whistled and sang over the tribal grooves of “Arizona Sky” and “African and White” while sashaying across the stage.
“Don’t make me come down there!” he teased, daring fans to get up and dance again.
The audience responded by joining Daly for a shakedown in front of the stage, and the singer didn’t seem to mind all the ladies strong-arming him for quick photo ops. “You Did Cut Me” and “King in the Catholic Style” kept folks shuffling even after Daly rejoined Lundon and the band, and for a good twenty minutes the Masonic felt more like The Hacienda in Manchester, circa 1982.
Keeping with the smooth transition (and common backing band), a dressed-to-kill Midge Ure emerged from stage left and proceeded to rock into Ultrovox’s “Hymn” (from the 1982 album Quartet). Solo hit “If I Was” was spine-tingling, with Ure’s guitar chops surpassed only by his booming voice—which came to the fore on “Vienna” (which won a British Award for Song of the Year back in ’81). “Fade to Grey” provided a sample of Ure’s work with his pre-Ultravox band—Visage (courtesy their 1980 LP Steps).
A brief intermission gave fans a chance to get a drink, hit the lavatories, and mingle—and allowed technicians to strip the stage and set up for Ho Jo, who appeared from a side door and worked his way up the aisles for opener “The Human Touch.”
Jones occupied a keyboard at center stage, and was accompanied by another keyboardist and drummer (on an electric kit). All the equipment was somehow illuminated from within, and the auxiliary ‘board player’s rig featured a matrix screen whereon the musical beats and melodies were “visualized” in colorful bouncing pixels. It was like something straight out of the end of Close Encounters of The Third Kind; we kept checking over our shoulder for the mother ship.
All three players had Apple laptops nearby, and while the presence of such gear usually sends up red flags for this writer (about how much is live, and how much is “Memorex” prerecording), it was clear Jones was singing, and that he and his mates were constantly busy doing something.
Jones was dressed head-to-toe in orange (so were many of his fans) and sang via a microphone headset, freeing his hands for depressing chords, triggering samples, and twirling knobs. He got everyone to sing along with “Like to Get to Know You Well” (from his 12” album) and incorporated some “La Bamba” into 1989 hit “Everlasting Love” (from Cross That Line). He also came out from behind his main synth to prowl the lip of the stage with a mango orange key-tar, which he used for soloing and melodic fills. He crooned Dream Into Action uber-balled “No One Is to Blame,” introduced a bit of rock into the guitar-less mix with “The Prisoner,” and had fans singing along again to Human’s Lib hit “What Is Love?”
Jones said he wrote “Things Can Only Get Better” to remind people having bad days that the blues are only temporary. He brought the 1985 cut into the modern era by extending it into a dance workout (then tacked on a techo reprise for added measure). Jones swapped his orange key-tar for a black one on “New Song”—going back to the beginning of his career—and encouraged Clevelanders to bend their brains and throw off their mental chains before bidding adieu.
We never saw Thompson Twins live in their heyday, but we enjoyed (and sometimes scratched our head at) their music videos. Tom Bailey has salt-and-pepper hair now, but he still moves like he did back when he wore his hair long and red and jumped around alongside Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway. Accompanied on this night by three young females (two keyboardists and a drummer), the more conservatively-dressed (but still chic) Bailey utilized the entire width of the stage, dividing his time between percussion, keyboards, guitar, and tambourine. And he too, like his Retro Futura peers, sounded amazing.
Bailey didn’t have to strain himself to make a connection; fans were already waiting for him down front when he arrived and uncapped a bubbly “In the Name of Love.” A perky “Lies” and upbeat “Sisters of Mercy” came next, with the bespectacled Bailey oozing charisma into his wireless mic and engaging the mass of people now crammed into the pit with hand gestures and high-fives. He launched an oversized blue beach ball into the throng during “You Take Me Up” and kept one eye on the orb as fans volleyed it overhead ‘round the theatre floor. As with Jones’ set, Bailey’s songs were augmented with miscellany images (seascapes and skylines) projected on a massive video screen backdrop.
“If You Were Here” (from the movie Sixteen Candles) delighted. “Love On Your Side” and “Doctor! Doctor!” uplifted and reinvigorated (by this time it was past 11:00pm). Bailey remodeled “King for a Day” (from 1985’s Here’s to Future Days) as a low-key ballad whose romantic overtones were underscored by video candlelight. Mega-hit “Hold Me Now” (from 1984 LP Into the Gap) made for a fitting finale to the four-hour gala.