Who doesn’t love a stroll down memory lane or at least a few hours of 80’s music to take your mind off of the daily grind. The Retro Futura Tour came to town Wednesday night and the performers provided a steady dose of classic pop/rock. The three-quarters full audience at Dallas’ Gas Monkey Live was out in full force on a work night without a care in the world because it’s not every day that you get to see a great collection of musicians all in the same spot.
Katrina Leskanich (formerly of Katrina and the Waves) started the night off in fine fashion – playing four songs with her backing band and getting the GML audience warmed up and ready to rock. Not looking a bit like she is 57 years old now (really?…. 57?), her personality and talent was evident on songs like “Rock-n-Roll Girl”, “Going Down to Liverpool” (which she said was covered by the Bangles and that launched their career) and of course “my new song from my new album” = “Walking on Sunshine”. She’s had a varied career since breaking up with “the Waves” back in 1999 – first as a DJ, an actress in a musical, talent show judge, a writer, an activist and, as always, a musician.
English crooner Paul Young has not released any new music since the late 90’s but that has not stopped him from touring the world and belting out his style of classic songs. Starting unevenly with “Some People”, it took Paul a minute or two to find his voice but once he did it was almost like the good old days. Always smiling while up on stage, Paul really hit his groove with his best known song “Every Time You Go Away” and the set closer “Come Back and Stay”.
Colshester, England’s Modern English could have been classified as a one-hit-wonder but if you were a big fan of theirs back in the 80’s you knew they were much more than that. With an on-again/off-again career that has been fluid since 1979, they have never really given up on their new wave beginnings four decades ago. The current reformed line-up of the band includes original members Robbie Grey on vocals, bassist Mick Conroy, Gary McDowell on guitars and keyboardist Stephen Walker, augmented by Roy Martin on drums. With all of the guys wearing all-white outfits, they began with “Ink and Paper” from their 1986 album Stop Start. Robbie’s energy was infectious on “Someone’s Calling” and Stephen stood out during the playing of a new song, “Moonbeam”, that was well-received by the audience. Flowing, driven guitars highlighted “Hands Across the Sea” while the audience went wild when the band launched into “I Melt With You”.
Only being together originally for about five years, The English Beat accomplished a lot in that short amount of time. Opening up for some of the biggest names in the music world (David Bowie, The Police, R.E.M. and The Clash) was huge for their early years and when the band broke up unexpectedly in 1983 – their fans were left wanting way more than they ever received. Their mixture of punk, ska, reggae and pop was very different than most of the other music coming out of England during those days. Lead vocalists Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger carried on for a few years after the breakup with General Public (from which we got to hear their 1984 hit “Tenderness”). Roger is gone now so Dave carries on with a new set of musicians and they all performed well. His voice still sounded the same as they blazed through “I Confess”, the afore-mentioned “Tenderness” and “Save it for Later”. The stage was pretty much one big party place as everyone took a turn in the spotlight (sax, keyboards, drums, and backup singers) as they jammed through “Ranking Full Stop” and finally “Mirror in the Bathroom”.
For some unknown reason, I always believed Men Without Hats to be from Australia or “down under” somewhere – not sure where I got that notion but the Canadian band put forth a great set last night. Lead singer Ivan Doroschuk is the only remaining original member but that didn’t stop them from playing fine versions of “Safety Dance” (twice), “Antartica”, “Head Above Water”, “Pop Goes the World” “Where Do The Boys Go?”. Ivan still has the energy and charisma to fill up the stage, while his backing band consisting of two keyboardists and a guitarist who all performed wonderfully. I thought it strange that he led off with his most popular song ever but then found it a bit stranger to end with that same song – “Safety Dance”. In his defense, they were slightly different version and both appealed to the masses quite well.
The night’s headliner, Howard Jones, has had the most illustrious career of this bill’s acts – including six top ten songs and one album, Human’s Lib, that went to number one. His infectious, positive outlook on life was always a real upside to his music and his relentless musical efforts never waned as he continues making new music as his recently released twelfth album, “Engage”, was just finished in 2015. Touring with his new band which features Emily Dolan Davies on electric percussion, Robin Boult on guitars, Robbie Bronnimann on keyboards and Jonathan Atkinson on drums, Howard was still as electrifying as he was back in the 80’s.
Walking out onto the stage hiding behind a backlit umbrella, that boyish grin was electrifying as soon as he tore into “Equality” quickly followed by “Like To Get To Know You Well”. His act is very polished & professional, the band smooth & tight and the audience was simply enthralled to watch. “The Prisoner” from 1989’s Cross That Line was a nice surprise but he mostly played the hits everybody knows. 1984’ One To One gave us “You Know I Love You, Don’t You” and “No One Is To Blame” while we also enjoyed “The Human Touch”, “Everlasting Love” and “Life in One Day”. Howard still gets around the stage quite well while he is singing and play his portable Korg keyboard. He is still equally adept at standing behind his massive keyboard stand and hitting all of the right, little notes. Finishing off his set with “What Is Love?” and a short version “New Song” – Howard had the still dancing audience screaming for more. A short break led into a one song encore and the still alive fans were treated to a very special “Things Can Only Get Better” just before I slipped out the door.
Reflecting back after the long night, I would say that Modern English had the best song of the whole show (“I Melt With You”, but all of the performers did a fine job of keeping the audience entertained and allowed us all to take a little trip down memory lane. The Gas Monkey Live venue continues to draw in some great concerts and great crowds and if you haven’t been there yet – check out their website for upcoming shows today.