Tag Archives: New Wave

The Beginning and the Enz of an Era Part III, the End of the Enz

As we learned in part II of this 3 part series, Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). Tim’s younger brother Neil joined the band for their 1977 album Dizrythmia. While punk was raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was still recording decidedly-not-punk music, while making quiet preparations to draw the world into their loving circle.

Split Enz Vol_III Band Photo

Where we left off, this marvelous act had released a two-fer-of ear candy – True Colors (1981), and Waiata (1981). The two albums that came next will forever go down in the cannon of proggy-new-wave music as absolutely perfect records based every possible measure.

Split Enz Vol_III Time&TideCover_72dpiTime and Tide was recorded in 1981 and released in 1982; the third number 1 album Split Enz brought to ANZ. Tim’s opener to side 1, “Dirty Creatures” (also written by Neil and Nigel) and accompanying video were instant classics for new wavers of the 80’s. “Pioneer/Six Months in a Leaky Boat” grace side 2 and similarly nail every newly minted model in the new wave genre, while being a bit of a sea shanty at the same time! Said to be somewhat autobiographical, the Creatures/Six Months tracks were instant Tim Finn-led classics. In between, Tim’s “Never Ceases to Amaze Me,” and “Small World” cap a brilliant collection from this tenor wonderkind.

The pair of Finn brothers are credited with “Lost for Words,” quite possibly the greatest Enz song on record. Great lyric: “I can’t relate, to your vicious excuses, the damage has all been done, and talking is useless….” Now listen to the bass/drum beats of the verse/chorus and in particular the middle section, while Eddie plays a haunting set of chords that chill, leading back to the verse “I’m looking for words, I give it all I got, And I’m lost for words, you don’t even listen – its’ all been said before so I’ll just turn and walk away.”

Neil is not to be outdone on this classic Enz record. He checks in with “Hello Sandy Allen,” (the world’s tallest woman) and my favorite early Neil track, “Take a Walk.” The lilt of his upbeat guitar, the happy yet seriously dramatic sound of Eddie’s piano thrill as Neil sings:

I could take a walk again
Up a mountain to a stream
Standing on the open rock
Looking out over the sea
Funny when we move ahead
Never worry what we leave behind
Remember what a friend of mine said
You gotta be kind

Truer words…..

Now, before the band composition “Make Sense Of It” which closes the record, the brothers each pen a classic seemingly autobiographical two-fer – Tim’s “Haul Away” (“at 21 I was thirsting for experience and my brain was about to burst”) and Neil’s more haunting, dramatic reading, “Log Cabin Fever:”

It’s cold out hear the wind howl down the chimney
Wish I could just cry out to someone, help
But we live in isolation of the cruelest kind
Scared to show our colours to the world

Time to break away from my condition
Rejoin the human race, see what I’m missing
Try to face the day my private passion
Is eating me away

It’s well worth mentioning at this point that Noel Crombie (drums) and Nigel Griggs (bass) have honed their fine skills to the point that every song is anchored and embellished with their work. Many of the most effective parts they play are based on a kind of aboriginal tribal sound, a compelling combination of tones that will move even the most jaded listener. They teach a master class at the low end.

Split Enz Vol_III Live VHSThat any tour dates from the Time and Tide tour were caught on video is a miracle. It was getting more common by the early 80’s to capture bands on video, but we have many examples to share of groups that have paltry little to show in terms of live in concert documentation.

The live show is taken from an evening in Canada at Hamilton Place in 1982. While to date only available on VHS and YouTube, hopes remain that a proper restoration will come to light for those who never saw the band in their prime.



Split Enz Vol_III ConflictingCover_72dpiThe final recording to feature the classic 1980-1983 lineup of Split Enz follows Time and Tide. Marred by a lack of basic PR — hampered by mistakes made by Mushroom Records, they do only a short tour for this record upon its release in 1983. Instead, Tim releases his first solo album, a beautiful work titled Escapade, and the band, essentially, spontaneously dissolves. This time though, Tim’s outside work allow more focus on Neil, who pens 6 of the tracks on this final brothers-together album Conflicting Emotions. Importantly, Neil’s work includes the ode to his newborn son, Liam, called “Our Day.” Considered by this ardent fan as Neil’s greatest lyrical achievement (with unbelievable band backing) the singer /multi-instrumentalist /songwriter pens the greatest cautionary welcome to a child, still in the womb, ever attempted:

Let our love create another life
It’s growing even as we speak
He don’t know what’s waiting for him here
Suspended in his dream sleep
His mother’s all around him
His father’s just a sound to him, singing gently
We have promised him a future
So I’m hoping that tomorrow
Is, was, and will ever be

And we’re waiting now
Waiting for our child to come
The old age is near the end
The new one’s just begun

There’s a face that I will come to love
That I have never seen before
There’s a brain that’s absolutely free
From any kind of conscious thought
You are me, and you are she
It won’t be long ’til we meet
And I’ll be going on a journey
In a flimsy paper boat upon a stormy sea

And so we’re waiting now
Waiting for our child to come
The old age is near the end
The new one’s just begun

Yes we’re waiting now
For something burning far away
Tear the old age down for good
Welcome the young one

I’m shaking like a leaf
Wound up like a spring tonight
You say this ain’t no place for children
Oh God, I hope that what we’ve done is right
Am I vain to feel as if the world
Owes anything at all to me
Searching, burning, tossing and turning

And so we’re waiting now
Waiting for our child to come
Can’t imagine what the future holds
Just hoping there is one

Yes we’re waiting now
For something burning far away
Tear the old age down for good
Welcome the young one

Hear this my son, I promise you the best that we can do
We love, we love, we love, we love, we love, we love you…

© Neil Finn / Split Enz

(I hope sincerely that Neil does not mind the reprint here – I do not like to do this, but I talked to Liam about this song, and he shared that it was truly written for him, and it’s just one of the best lyrics written ever, ever, ever, period (peace Neil)).

Neil Finn just nails everything he does on Conflicting Emotions, including opener “Straight Old Line” (also objectively, the best video of the band) “Message To My Girl” (which sent hearts a flutter all over the world), and “No Mischief” followed by “The Devil You Know.” At this point it’s clear — and fortunate, Neil is ready to lead the band, and eventually form his own, Crowded House.

Tim contributes stellar tracks once again, “Working Up An Appetite,” “I Wake Up Every Night” ” (ode to dance lover – this time he do want to dance!), “Conflicting Emotions,” (their most spacey, proggy cut of the band’s catalog and an overt vocal display of vibrotechnics (my word)) and the absolutely gorgeous, heart rending finale “Bon Voyage.” Any listener who by this time does not understand why Tim is one of this earth’s greatest ever tenors, is frankly deaf.

Yes there is some controversy over this album, ignore it, the greatest art we have in this world is marred by controversy, and this is no exception. But, it does mark the point where Tim leaves the band he had started way back in the 70’s, just after Conflicting Emotions, the band’s finest hour.

Photos of the Conflicting Emotions Tour © 1983 Graeme Plenter:

Split Enz Vol_III See Ya RoundNeil bats “clean up” in 1984 with a collection of songs that were B-sides (“Kia Kaha (Ever Be Strong)”), or were destined for the first Crowded House release (“I Walk Away”). “This Is Massive” is credited to new drummer, and future CH skins maestro Paul Hester. Titled See Ya ‘Round the final album caused more than a few dry eyes to tear up, as it represented the Enz of an era (I can’t help myself). It’s a great album in it’s own right, and while Neil was reportedly uncomfortable going it alone as to Finn family members, it does not show in the results. Tim returned for an “Enz With A Bang” tour, an Australasian outing that once again missed the UK, Europe, and North America – Tim sings his first solo hit, “Fraction Too Much Friction” as part of the long set list and over and out it was. The live album taken from the tour is fantastic.

Split Enz Vol_III Big CanoeAs fair readers will know, to round out the period from 1977-1987, Tim released his second solo album, the masterwork Big Canoe in 1986 and Neil released the first Crowded House album also in 1986. It’s important to state here clearly that Tim’s Big Canoe is a critically overlooked work —  it’s at once accessible, complex, multi-layered music that has to be heard on a proper stereo, hopefully with a small bit of dance floor, waiting near by.


The rest is history, including reunions, Tim joining the House for Woodface (1991) and the Finn brothers very special first album together and alone, Finn (1995).

Split Enz Vol_III Band Photo 2

So many of my friends who were drunk on the elixir of “prog rock” did not “get” Split Enz, while I frankly and gladly left them in the dust listening as they did to 80s era Yes/Genesis. What a loss for them! How an album like Time and Tide could only make it to 58 on the U.S. Billboard charts and penultimate album Conflicting Emotions lagging at 137 shows just how clueless we were in the states as to this legendary band. I blame, in part, Mushroom records, and the unfair fate of so many of our greatest artists. Nonetheless these men went on to great success and all is well in our very very small world (it’s not a very big house for a large family!).

Fair readers, this is seriously awesome music you need to hear – again as fresh today as the day it was released. I was privileged to see the band, in the gym of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo – for the Waiata tour — an amazingly fun, artful show that sold me forever on this important, influential band. Check it out, along with Tim’s and Neil’s post 1984 work, along with the rest of the individual band members, who together and apart continued to labor in relative obscurity.


The Beginning and the Enz of an Era Part II, the Hard Act To Follow

Split Enz Vol_II Band2My next book will be about the era from 1977-1987 when music changed for the better and new heroes were born. The intro will expose the “glam” and “quirky rock” phase of the 1970’s, which ran from approximately 1972 – 1977. During that time as fair readers will know, we loved the Bowie, the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, T-Rex, and… wait for it…. Split Enz, the Beatles from “down under.”

As we learned in part I, Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn, in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). Tim’s younger brother Neil, joined the band, for their 1977 album Dizrythmia. While punk is raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was still recording decidedly-not-punk music, while making quiet preparations to draw the world into their loving circle.

The band, now a bit more honed, recorded and released their final album from the formative years, Frenzy (1979). By now, punk has splintered into a dozen branches of far more interesting music, goth, ska, Burundi/jungle/island themed rock, and…”the” new wave. Standout track “I See Red” leads to the Split Enz 1980’s work, refining and honing what it means to be an “art rock” band, sometimes almost “prog rock” yet be danceable, fun, and truly what we came to call the “new wave.”

Split Enz Vol_II True ColorsIndeed 1980’s True Colors was a complete revelation. Less makeup, soon to be none little circus atmosphere, save stage craft and coordinated brightly colored suits (classy yeah!) just serious new wave music designed perfectly to make everyone love the Enz, and love them us smart ones did. Kicking off with their first big hit “I Got You” a Neil Finn composition and lead vocal, an ANZ #1, this was now music to be reckoned with. Add to that, follow up Tim Finn rocker “Shark Attack” and you are talking one fine album! Now take the standout ballad, “I Hope I Never”- if you can really, really listen to those lyrics, and Tim’s yearning, soulful voice singing,…

“I hope I never, I hope I never have to seeeeeeee you again”


Split Enz Vol_II Tim Finn

…and not wrest a tear from your eye, you are, as I like to joke to non-criers frequently, “made of stone.” It’s one of the most beautiful songs of the 1980’s and it’s important to note, because by this point keys player Eddie Raynor who graces this one with synth strings and amazing grand piano, is really giving the 70’s proggers a run. Really. Tim kicks off “side 2” with “Nobody Takes Me Seriously” indeed. Neil “fights back” with “Missing Person” sung together with Tim, initially intended to be the first single (really?). Now, spin the next one, and to me the one that shows how ready this band is for stardom.  “Poor Boy” is another Tim Finn gem – take the bass/drum sync of Nigel and Malcolm, expertly pinning down the track on the bottom end, the spacy-synth – “she speaks to me with ultra-high frequency” and Neil’s tightly wound guitar licks…. Gonna listen till I grow old, for sure, yes, please – this music stands the test of time. Those of you who know these songs can follow this chain of thought, this unadulterated affection for the band. The rest of you hit the Spotify, Apple Music, or disks and study up!

Split Enz Vol_II WaiataIt’s tempting to categorize 1981’s Corroboree/Waiata as a sequel to True Colors. Not so. Here is the track list of the most important songs – can you even believe the first “side” of the LP is so perfectly arranged, and “side 2” does not, in any way let up? It may be their most perfect “non proggy” album, refining as it did the definition of new wave music, for the (much much) better.

All songs written by Tim Finn, except where noted. Side one:

  1. “Hard Act to Follow” – 3:17
  2. One Step Ahead” (Neil Finn) – 2:52
  3. I Don’t Wanna Dance” – 3:34
  4. “Iris” (N. Finn) – 2:50
  5. “Wail” (Eddie Rayner) – 2:49
  6. “Clumsy” – 3:29

Side two:

  1. History Never Repeats” (N. Finn) – 3:00
  2. “Walking Through the Ruins” – 4:15
  3. “Ships” (N. Finn) – 3:01
  4. “Ghost Girl” – 4:26
  5. “Albert of India” (Rayner) – 4:03

Just “Hard Act” “One Step” and “I Don’t Wanna Dance” would make a successful album. The third is the most new wave of the new wavers, so danceable, so much vibrato, so much tenor/falsetto – Neil’s guitar, Eddies synth patch, bass/drums all building the story of the boy who is too het to dance, without his sweetheart. On record, this is now one unbelievably great band. Follow up tracks “Iris” “Wail” (not my favorite) “Clumsy” complete side 1. Side two cracks open with “History” then “Walking” later “Ghost Girl” which is better than it has any possible right to be – are you kidding? “Don’t get too close boys to the ghost girl, she’s already haunting you” the clever lyrics seem so easy, so natural for them, both brothers always and to this day make it sound so easy – but just try to turn a simple phrase like that with just the right musical backdrop – art indeed.

So many of my progger friends just did not get this music, while I frankly and gladly left them in the dust listening to 80s era Yes/Genesis. What a loss for them.

Split Enz Vol_II Band

So fair readers, this is seriously awesome music you need to hear – again as fresh today as the day it was released. And, it was the first and only time I was privileged to see the band, in the gym of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo – an amazing fun, artful show that sold me forever on this important, influential band. I remember the band in good spirits, “talking the piss” out of each other, Tim doing push ups, Neil generally appearing a bit more dignified, and all of the musicianship being plainly stellar, with Eddie standing out even live with those amazing ivories. Check it out. Part III soon.


The Beginning and the Enz of an Era — The Early Years


My next book Rockin’ Fog City, will be about the era from 1977-1987 when music changed for the better, we danced a lot more, and new heroes were born. The intro will expose the “glam” and “quirky rock” phase of the 1970’s, which ran from approximately 1972 – 1977, leading directly to the decade that followed. During that time as fair readers will know, we loved the Bowie, the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, T-Rex, and… wait for it…. Split Enz, the Beatles from “down under.”

Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn, in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). They released a couple of albums with Tim and Paul at the helm, The band in costume, makeup and with Tim in front, the voice of an tenor angel, and moves a-quirky, all of which accented the music. Sometimes called “art rock” sometimes alternative, with elements of vaudeville, Split Enz of that early era was a strange brew of “music hall”, “performance art”, and just-plain-fun music, making them maybe the earliest progenitors of what became “new wave” music. As smart music lovers know, in 1977, Tim’s younger brother Neil, joined the band, and history was made.

SplitEnz_MentalNotes_72dpiSplit Enz released their first album Mental Notes in 1975, and Second Thoughts in 1976, Recorded in London, their second effort is the first really listenable Enz album in this writer’s humble opinion. The record included several reworked songs from their debut, and some new bits. Contained in the result is a lot of what made this band great and what also makes anything the Finn brothers have done since, exceptional. Check out “Sweet Dreams” from that album for evidence of their supremacy. Check out the cast members – Ti

SplitEnz_SecodThoughts_172dpim & Phil, joined by Jonathan Chunn (bass), Noel Crombie (percussion), Emlyn Crowther (drums), Robert Fillies (Sax/Trumpet), maestro Edward Rayner (keys) and assorted luminaries. Get this all, who engineered this album… Rhett Davies (Supertramp anyone?), and who produced it… none other than Roxy Music guitarist Phil
Manzanera! The Enz had opened for Roxy Music on their first Australian tour, and had decamped from New Zealand to Australia to build their fan base. Phil was intrigued, and arranged their travel to London to record this gem. Second Thoughts were thunk, and the group’s fortunes grew from there.

SplitEnz_Dispythia_72dpiEnter younger brother Neil Finn in 1977 for follow up Dizrythmia (1977). Anyone ever have “jet lag” will get the title’s reference and applicability to the band’s experience at the time. At first, Neil plays into the vaudeville, circus atmosphere. Phil & Mike are there but abut to be gone from the band, as Neil takes over on guitar, and new permanent member Nigel Griggs on bass. They have the first “bigger” hit, “My Mistake.” While punk is raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was making quiet preparations to draw us into their loving circle.

Check out Tim’s performance of Dizryhmia’s “Charlie” in London

Split Enz V_1 Tim Finn

Fast forward if you must to the 6 minute mark of this video, though who does not have 6 minutes to watch the whole thing? At 6 minutes, Eddie takes center stage musically, features his amazingly beautiful grand piano chops, as Tim sings, “Sunlight, halo, you look wonderful, darling Charlie…, pale and deathly still… for heaven’s sake wake up….Charlie”

Clearly the songwriting partnership of brothers Neil and Tim was kicking into gear, as you notice the touching lyrics, Tim’s delivery, and Neil’s blooming chops on guitar, soon to be co-writer-lead-vocalist as well.

SplitEnz_Frenzy_172dpiFinally, catch the follow up – forth album Frenzy, the first to really push Neil to the fore, with his growing skills on guitar, vocals, and songwriting. Tim wrote most songs, and there are some gems. “I See Red” indeed!



Split Enz V_1 Band Frenzy

But, it’s still a bit of a distance to what was to come next, a honed down version of the band, ready to record 4 absolutely exceptional albums, starting with 1980’s masterpiece True Colors and ending with 1983’s absolute masterwork, and unjustly ignored diamond Conflicting Emotions (1983).

If you are not aware of the pedigree and history of Split Enz, you should be, my friends. But… be warned, while the first four albums, covered here, ending with Frenzy, may excite your eyes (see the videos) it might not be candy for your ears. It’s a tad quirky to say the least, while Tim and the band were finding their way to stardom.

Split Enz V_II NeilFinn_Portrait_cAG_144dpi


The Return of Ant Music

adamant2017_drum_144dpiMention Adam Ant (born Stuart Goddard) or Adam and the Ants to someone today and they will likely have polarized reactions – whether friend or foe (couldn’t resist that). While Adam Ant’s music and flamboyant stage manner was decidedly not for everyone, most look back at his whimsical themes with great affection, recalling his powerful tribal music and riveting live stagecraft. More dedicated fans embraced Adam’s many personas, his passionate, sometimes fetishistic homages to pirates, highwaymen, Cowboys, American Indians, and other colorful macho characters. His popular work drove nearly a dozen singles to the top of the charts, sustaining a musical career that began in 1977 and peaked in 1985. We caught him February 3, 2017 in Seattle for what was an exciting return to form, as Adam and band tore through a set list that featured the entire Ants breakthrough record Kings of the Wild Frontier.


Adam Ant began his music career during the dawn of punk rock, casting about for a record deal until the formation of Adam and the Ants and debut release Dirk Wears White Sox (1979). After that freshman outing, Adam signed on with producer Malcolm McLaren, who promptly convinced the band to defect and form Bow Wow Wow with singer Annabella Lwin. McLaren had acquired a fascinating tape from Africa of native Burundi drummers; a powerful exuberant tribal sound that fuelled both Bow Wow Wow and Adam’s quickly reconstituted Ants. Marco Pirroni, an ex-member of Siouxsie and the Banshees joined the Ants, becoming Adam’s collaborator and guitarist for the remainder of his 80s heyday.


The new band released a second album, Kings of the Wild Frontier in 1980 which went to number one in the UK, establishing the basis of the ever-evolving sound that Adam popularized for the next five years. While retaining the raw verve of its punk rock adamant2017_kotwf_72dpipredecessor, Kings ventured into wild new territory with stunning results. Tribal sounds driven by a pair of drummers mixed with Ennio Morricone inspired tremolo guitars, chants and yodels abound. The lyric “I feel beneath the white there is a red skin suffering from centuries of taming” typify Adam’s themes, which most frequently alternate between tales of warrior heroes and ruminations on fame and the press. The album launched many of Adam’s enduring themes and his iconic look; leather clad punk below the waist, colonial pirate above.

adamant2017_ant1_144dpiEver the change artist, Adam morphed the Kings sound and fashion over the next several albums, as he released and toured for one more Ants record Prince Charming (1981) then solo albums Friend or Foe (1982), Strip (1983) and Viva Le Rock (1985). After this string of successes, he took a lower profile musically, appearing in public less frequently. There would be two more albums in the 90s, but recording gave way to a career in film and television. With Adam’s autobiography in 2006, the public learned of his lifelong struggles with bipolar disorder, something that had been clear from based on bits of press over the years. Adam revitalized his music career earlier this decade, performing one-offs and short tours since this rebirth, including one new album. We saw the first part of this comeback a few of years ago in San Francisco – on that particular night, a decidedly mixed affair that was unfortunately not on par with his original concerts. But this time, last week in Seattle, Adam looked his old self and was absolutely on top of his game in every way.


The set list focused on Kings, which was performed in sequence, To this Adam added a few B-sides, including fan favorites “Beat My Guest” and “Christian Dior,” a couple from his first album, the title track of Prince Charming along with “Stand and Deliver,” and several others including the hit “Goody Two Shoes,” and popular numbers “Desperate But Not Serious,” and “Vive Le Rock.” The final song, as has been true on several tours, was “Physical” a single that appeared on the U.S. version of Kings. While the two level staging and lighting was simple, the four-piece band (two drummers, bass, and guitar) was fantastic. The tragic passing of Tom Edwards, Adam’s bandleader and guitarist for this tour forced the postponement of a few shows just before our date in Seattle. Will adamant2017_will2_144dpiCrewsdon, who played in Adam’s band in in the past rejoined and was well rehearsed by this third night out. As good as they were, the focus was appropriately on Adam, who was back to his sexed-up dance moves, playful phrasing, and clear soaring vocals, which showed no signs of strain during the performance. Fans deliriously sang along to many of the songs, particularly when Adam beckoned them on for “Prince Charming.” My favorite, “Killer in the Home” was worth the admission, the wait and the dedication to this artist, once again at home on stage. Catch him if you can, noble human beings.


Midge Ure Returns

Oh the ravages of time… over the last several years, I’ve been picking up tickets to concerts by bands from the “New Wave” era as they do the rounds, whether they are out on the road again for the sheer joy of playing live, because they are out promoting new work, or just due to the fact that the rock industry has no retirement plan! Midge Ure, formerly of the British new wave band Ultravox, dropped by San Francisco to perform several times over the last 5 years. He returned to kick off 2017 with a two-piece band backup, delivering an assertively played set that highlighted a large number of popular ‘80s Ultravox songs along with a selection of solo work. It’s dubbed the Something From Everything Tour as the songs featured spanned Ure’s long career.


Many readers will be aware that there were two different frontmen who led Ultravox(!) during their life span. Early on the band was led by founder, singer Dennis Leigh (who took the stage name John Foxx). The early work by the band, while creative and oft compelling was not commercially successful and Foxx left before the dawn of the ‘80s to make a go as a solo artist. Midge Ure took the reigns on guitar and vocals, joining keyboard player Billy Currie with whom he worked in the band Visage. The band released Vienna in 1980, their fortunes grew, and they released four more albums before Ure called it a day and went on to begin his own solo career.


At last week’s San Francisco show, Ure was in good humor and fine voice, particularly considering how challenging his ‘80s vocal work is. A couple of years ago when I saw him solo at a small bar Ure confided to the audience that he wished he had written more of his popular songs in a lower key or register, so difficult it is to sing many of those high notes as the years go by. The truth of this revelation was obvious at many points during this year’s show, most notably during one of the most beautiful romantic ballads ever written, “Vienna” when Ure reeled back at least 3 feet from the microphone to call out the name of the titular city. Nonetheless, this quality artist puts everything he’s got into the performance, including being his own roadie (!) and the results are impressive. The audience was enthusiastic, dancing as much as older bones allow, laughing at Ure’s cracks and singing along to his melodic compositions.

midgeure_ultravoxhits_72dpiUltravox staples included the triple play “Hymn,” “The Voice,” and “Vienna” followed shortly by additional hits “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” and “Reap the Wild Wind.” Just about all of the Ultravox songs he played were on what was one of the greatest “best of” albums in the day Ultravox: The Collection. The set began with one that was not – the 1988 top 10 solo tome “Dear God” and it ended with a heartfelt encore that found us all singing along to David Bowie’s “Starman.” One highlight for clubbers of the day the inclusion of “Fade to Grey,” a song Ure co-wrote and produced for Visage in 1980. For anyone who wanted to rekindle the flame this artist lit in the day, or any who came to dance, the show did not disappoint!

p.s. thanks to Amy Lynn for the featured photo!

Don’t Stop Making Sense

Embed from Getty Images

One of the most surprising, exhilarating concerts I ever attended was way back on December 6, 1983, at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium at the height of the “new wave” music movement. On that night, my roommate Irene and I arrived to find that the stage area of the cavernous concert hall was nearly empty. The Civic was and still is a hollow concrete shell, built originally to hold 7,000 patrons as part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. On this night, there was a stage riser, but only plywood where normally there would be black flooring. A wooden ladder leaned against the dirty white wall stage right, along with a few racks seemingly bereft of gear. There were no lights, no curtains and no equipment save for a single microphone on its stand at center stage. We asked an usher what the hell was going on, and were told to just take our seats.

After some time waiting and wondering what was about to happen, the house lights dimmed, and the man of the evening, David Byrne came strolling onto the stage platform, a cassette tape player in one hand, acoustic guitar strung over his shoulders. He said “I gotta tape I want to play…” and clicked the Play button on the boom box. Then begins a pre-recorded backbeat to an acoustic version of the first Talking Heads hit “Psycho Killer.” As anyone can imagine, particularly if you’ve seen the outstanding Jonathan Demme film Stop Making Sense (1984), which was filmed over three nights in Los Angeles just a week after the San Francisco date, we were in for a one-of-a-kind art-rock performance.

Talking Heads In Concert
HOLLYWOOD, CA – CIRCA 1980s: (From L to R) Jerry Harrison, David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads perform at a concert circa the early-1980s in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

We expected the Talking Heads to be avant-garde, to present something unique and different, but accounts of their previous shows all the way back to their first, supporting The Ramones in 1975 at New York’s dank CBGB club suggested to us that the show’s staging would be minimal. What we did hear is that the band would be wound tight, that singer, guitarist and principal composer David Byrne was an eccentric, that he could dance TalkingHeads_CBGB_72dpiand sing while somehow keeping his head straight, or bobbing or moving in some other unnatural way to accentuate the Reagan-era angst of their rock ‘n’ funk songs. We had no idea how far he had developed these skills, that he could truly hold an audience enraptured with every move, and play so effectively off the other musicians, each of whom were accomplished in their own right, dancing together or apart, songs building into manic eruptions of jubilant, rhythmic new wave music.

TalkingHeads_SMSPoster_72dpiWhat we saw that night has remained seared in my memory forever, repeatable to an extent by viewing the film. After the opener, accomplished bassist Tina Weymouth joined Byrne for the song “Heaven.” As she took the stage, road crew members, clad in black, wheeled out a riser for her gear, plugged her into the sound system and exited quietly. During this track the team wheeled out another riser packed with drums, shortly to be occupied by the Heads’ rock-steady drummer, Tina’s husband Chris Frantz. Next up, the fourth member of the core band, Jerry Harrison (guitars, keys) joined in for “Found a Job,” one of the really infectious early Heads tracks. From this point on, additional musicians including guitarist (Alex Weir), keyboards player (Bernie Worrell, of Parliament/Funkadelic), percussionist (Steve Scales) and backup singers (Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt) joined in succession until the entire band was assembled for then hit “Burning Down The House,” from their album Speaking in Tongues (1983). Now assembled, this expanded band drove through a perfect set list that included “Life During Wartime” and “Once in a Lifetime” along with several from the new album, while the rest of the stage was completed with colored lights, video projection screens, and black matting for every exposed part of the stage. The movie does as good a job as possible of giving viewers an idea of what it was like to have a complete stage built out during such an event, but the necessity of focusing on the musicians precludes the ability to capture the nuanced impact of seeing all the rigging happen before our eyes – literally cabling, matting, lights, screens, everything it took to create a modern day concert was erected by the crew while we watched. It was an absolutely fascinating thing behold. It also ruined the band.

TalkingHeads_SITCover_72dpiAfter the experience of staging this massively creative show, the Talking Heads never toured again, despite the fact they went on to record three more albums before officially breaking up, the last including guest guitarist Johnny Marr from The Smiths. The daunting thought of topping the 1983 tour wasn’t the only issue. The band was growing apart, each member working on other projects. Chris and Tina continued on with the Tom Tom Club. David Byrne launched a long solo career. In fact, besides The Smiths’ Morrissey/Marr split, the demise of the Talking Heads was one of the most unfortunate “divorces” of the 1980s.

I was reminded of all this recently, when our art theater The Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco screened a print of Stop Making Sense on one of their Monday concert film nights. The effusive sellout crowd led to a second showing, after all these years. It was a potent reminder of the popularity of the Heads and this angular music in general, as we were, midway through the reign of the punk/goth/new wave 80s.

Stop Making Sense (1983) © Talking Heads Films 1984, 1.78:1, 84 minutes

PrintThis is justly considered one of the greatest concert films ever made. The spectacle of the stagecraft, along with leader David Byrne’s jubilant performance, is emotionally impactful, filling attentive viewers with the lust for life he and the band exhibit. After a theatrical release, the movie was originally made available on home video tape in an extended version that included three additional songs from the actual show that had not appeared in the theatrical release. These tracks “Cities,” “I Zimbra,” and “Big Business” are available as extras on the extended “special edition” DVD which also includes audio commentary, promotional trailer, and other features.

p.s. There is also film of the Talking Heads on the prior tour in Rome, December 18, 1980 taken under bright white lights, when the core band was joined by Adrian Belew (guitar), Busta Jones (bass), Steven Scales (percussion), Dollette MacDonald (vocals) and Bernie Worrell (keys). It’s reasonably good footage of the band at this key point in time, before they took three years off prior to their final tour. The show is also captured in B&W footage from the Capital Theater, New Jersey on November 4th, 1980. Both films will be of interest to fans and collectors, particularly as the lineup at the time included guitar wizard Belew, who added his trademark distorted guitar noise, and who also harmonized with Bryne perfectly given their very similar voices.



Getting Into The Cure

Robert Smith, The Cure

I saw The Cure  way back on October 10, 1985 in Santa Barbara, California supporting their smash album The Head On The Door, from that same year. While it was a powerful and emotional show in parts, I was ultimately disappointed with the stoic stage presence of the band. In particular, founder Robert Smith seemed to be napping through long stretches of the set list, only coming alive it seemed for the couple of hits at the end of the concert. In part my California roots drove my perceptions at the time; the gloomy mysteriousness of goth music, while connecting well in gritty San Francisco, was in part lost on the audience in sunny southern California. The band at the time was also right on the cusp of greater stardom, with just a few popular hits like “Let’s Go to Bed” and “In Between Days” overshadowed by darker dirges such as “A Forest.” A standout memory for me was their performance of “A Night Like This,” which bridged the two forms, it’s prolonged menacing prologue leading to a heartfelt reading of the chorus:

I’m coming to find you if it takes me all night
Can’t stand here like this anymore
For always and ever is always for you
I want it to be perfect
Like before
I want to change it all

Smith’s songs while sometimes quirky and playful are most often laden with sadness, relating stories of lost love, unbearable pain, or outright anger and hatred. While that might sound like torture to some, these songs have an ability to access deep-seated emotions in listeners, unlocking these feelings, even allowing for their release. The greatest melancholy music can do this. It can support a bit of wallowing, but a lot of healing as well. The Cure has always walked this line skillfully. That fact was gloriously on full display last Thursday May 26th at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, just south of San Francisco where so many of us first fell in love with the band. I took my daughter Elaina for her first Cure show, and my second, 30 years on. It was everything my first time wasn’t.


On this night, The Cure took the stage beginning with the bluesy dirge “Open” from Wish (1992). It was clear from the first minutes that Smith was in top form, fronting one of the tightest lineups of his oft-changing collective. Robert Smith has been the only consistent member of The Cure since it’s inception in 1976 and as principal composer and vocalist, its driving force. In addition to some of his punk/goth contemporaries, Smith pioneered a style of guitar playing that drives so many Cure songs, a type of short repeating chord cycle, which relentlessly drives the music forward, allowing the listener to get lost in the sound. Consider the aforementioned “A Forest,” one of the purest examples of the form.


Smith’s band is now composed of Simon Gallup (basses since 1979), Roger O’Donnell (keyboards on and off since 1987), Jason Cooper (drums since 1994), and relatively new guitarist Reeves Gabrels (since 2012). The rhythm section of Gallup and Cooper were a major part of what made the concert so exceptional. Cooper is able to execute the start-stop hiccups of so many Cure backbeats with precision and endurance. Gallup brings movement to the stage, pinning down deceptively complex bass leads that often drive the melodic force of these songs, ambling about, punk posturing, on fire.


After the second track “alt.end” from The Cure (2004) the band made this fan a happy man, as they dove into five consecutive tracks from Head On The Door, followed by “The Walk” from the 1983 EP of the same name (and from b-sides collection Japanese Whispers), one of the best tracks of the set. Incidentally this rare track, along with the unexpected rendition of “Kyoto” before it, were two of those songs that showed off drummer Cooper’s ability to execute complex polyrhythmic leads, while “Screw” showed off bassist Gallup’s chunk funky lines.


The Cure on this tour has been playing crowd-pleasing set lists that change each night, with a core of consistent selections from their most popular mid period work. The band played several tracks off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Disintegration (1989), which included career highlights “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You,” about which my daughter says “If you wanted to play one song to someone who did not know The Cure’s music, this would be it – so sad but beautiful.” Truer words. The other featured album was Wish (1992) from which the band pulled off a most unexpected pleasure, set closer “End.” This raw, psychedelic funeral march was absolutely overwhelming live, a perfect ending that summed up everything I came to love about The Cure. After verses like “I think I’ve reached that point where every wish has come true, and tired disguised oblivion is everything I do,” follows its poignant, desperately sad refrain:

Please stop loving me
Please stop loving me
I am none of these things

Cure_Smith2_140dpiI watched the crowd, many of whom had clearly never heard this coda to Wish, slowly come around as the band cranked up its intensity, realizing they were witness to an immensely powerful moment, joining in the refrain, despite its despairing message. Smith’s uncanny way of putting words to music, making the sum of the two something more than its parts, awakening dread, a cry for help, and ultimately survival, even transcendence is unparalleled. And, fortunately for us, he is a survivor and, as seen last week in concert, he continues to thrive, in apparently good health and surprisingly strong voice. Long may this artist persevere. In the meantime, catch this tour if you can. You might just find a bit of healing yourself, a salve for the ills of this world, a new reason to love this enduring band.

oh, and my daughter Elaina on that night….