last night, ABC reclaimed its place as one of my favorite bands. Here is a group I never imagined I'd see live and they performed a dream concert at the House Of Blues. It was a greatest hits revue spiced with a few choice later-day ABC tunes. At some point in life, I have owned all but one of their albums. I hyperventilated for much of the set and was probably one of the two the rowdiest cats in the joint. Only the one guy next to me knew as many words to their songs.
Martin Fry looked smashing in a smart robin's egg blue linen suit. He wore a matching shirt and tie: white with blue, gold and silver stripes. His belt buckle and cufflinks were pure bling. The rest of the group looked pretty sharp, too, in variations of white and black. The exception was original drummer David Palmer who had on jeans with a blue and yellow striped shirt. Palmer, by the way, looks like he's still in his 20's. And considering Martin bout with a severe illness in mid-80's, he looked damn good, feathered blond bangs and all. If I could choose one pop star to go shopping with it would be him!
We got to the HOB early enough to get front and center, about 5 feet from the stage. Afterward, I managed to get Martin's set list (which will help in this recollection), so here we go.
The show began with the lushly orchestrated Overture from Lexicon of Love. The curtains opened to reveal ABC launching into a brand new song The Very First Time, which was so catchy that I was singing along with the chorus on it's second go round. A very bold move for a group that most people think stopped making records in 1987. From that point on it was the veritable ABC jukebox.
Show Me was followed by a false start and then a full-run through their massively popular Poison Arrow. Martin was very humorous when he missed a lyric or two. Considering how infrequently ABC tour, no one seemed to mind. Arrow was followed by How To Be A Millionaire. With it's opening line, "I've seen the future I can't afford it," I was reminded of what a wonderful lyricist Martin is. Pop songs usually don't have that much depth. Of their catalogue, Millionaire was certainly my favorite song I thought they wouldn't tackle. They played the hell out of it.
ABC's most rock-oriented number came next, That Was Then But This is Now. Datestamp from Lexicon Of Love proved to be a challenge for the band, but from there the band hit their stride. The Night You Murdered Love was smooth. And then came the heavyweight tandem of Be Near Me and When Smokey Sings. Martin expressed his gratitude for both of the songs, basically saying "they've been good to me." Which I think is fitting and humble. Each of the tunes represented comebacks of sorts for ABC upon release. And of course, the audience (esp. me) went berserk and sang along.
Their version of the new romantic/new wave sound has aged very well. Part of that is attributable to ABC's current, muscular line-up (two keyboardists, guitar and bass players) led by Palmer on the drums. This allowed them to recreate the most ornate musical elements of their songs. Their most amazing instrument on stage belongs to Martin Fry. His voice has hardly aged a day. It's all there: the deep growls, the falsetto coos. His cheery demeanor and sauve presence made everyone feel as cool as him. And dang, he is suave.
The band slowed for a moment with a cover of John Lennon's Love. It caught everyone off guard. Martin said the band saw a picture of Lennon in their dressing room and were moved to learn it on the spot. They would do well to keep the song in the set. Love was a great showcase for Martin's voice with minimal accompaniment. The group returned to tear into Rolling Sevens from 1997's Skyscraping (and you didn't even know they'd put out a record that recently!). This version of Sevens was hellacious with better energy than the original.
The proto-house number One Better World and pure new wave Tears Are Not Enough got us to the climax of the night. ABC's best ballad, All Of My Heart was a show-stopper. They topped that by playing their signature song. Fry said, "20 years on and people still ask me if I've found true love" kick-starting The Look Of Love. Had ABC been a one-hit wonder, The Look of Love would be the quintessential throw-away pop song. But Martin Fry's performance gets the group beyond camp and the yelping "Yippee-Yi-Ya's" at the end are truly uplifting, a joyful new romantic noise.
It was an interesting contrast seeing ABC, a seminal MTV band, performing the night of the VMAs. The VMAs are vexing. MTV owes everything to acts from the 80's like ABC, the Durans, Culture Club, etc who put so much energy and fun into their videos. Now most videos are an exercise in vanity and who got da most ho's for they show. Annoying.
ABC, thankfully did an encore. I can think of 3 or 4 more songs I would have like to have heard, but I can't be choosey. Their encore, I kid you not, began with a brand new song, (One Way) Traffic. Again, this group is primed to release a spectacular new LP if they can; much like the Durans did last year. The last song of the night, and Martin had promised they might play it "10 times tonight," was a reprise of Poison Arrow. And everyone was thrilled. You wait 25 years to see a group play. They wanna play their best known song 3 times. Fine by me. I'll probably never see ABC live again. But I can sleep easier knowing that I did once.
The opener for the show was Naked Eyes. A relatively lesser-known 80's new wave group. They churned out hits like When The Lights Go Out, Promises, Promises and their chart-topping update of (and superior to Dionne's original) Always Something There To Remind Me.
I'm so very pleased that ABC finally made it back to LA. This is such a stylish and entertaining group. They are an inspiration to me to strive even harder to be as successful as they have been. If they are coming to your town and you're looking for an inexpensive ($22 tickets), hit-filled show, it's time to brush up on your ABC.
Love, Power, Peace
p.s. Happy Birthday to the King of Pop.
p.p.s I'd like to take a moment and acknowledge my thanks to Blogger. I've been at this for a year now, and I've almost figured out what I'm doing with this blog.
Finally, Lord have mercy on New Orleans.