Tag Archives: New Wave

Tears for Fears Smiling Through

TFF_HurtingTears for Fears is one of those bands with a perfect debut recording – in their case 1983’s The Hurting.  Arriving near to Peter Gabriel’s 3rd album, it also echoes some of Kate Bush’s iconic The DreamingThe Hurting had an additional angle – it made fantastic new wave dance music typified by “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Change.”  The dynamics of that work were further demonstrated to all in videos sporting angular dance moves from Curt Smith (bass, vocals) and Roland Orzabal (guitars, vocals).  The debut was re-released recently in a crystal clear pressing, including all the b-sides, concert audio, and a DVD of the live show called In My Mind’s Eye recorded on the supporting tour from December 1983 at London’s Hammersmith Odeon theater

What made The Hurting special for me was its darkness – the use of synths to create the complexities described in the lyrics – the somber, moody “Ideas as Opiates” and the triumphant “Memories Fade”interspersed between the more radio friendly hits.  Childhood memories and primal scream therapy turned into sound via lots of the black keys.  B-sides with new songs such as “Broken” held for their sophomore release hinted at more of the same to come.

But as the group moved to record their second album they made a key decision about their future.  Their sound mellowed out – more guitars, less synth and a more accessible record overall in Songs From the Big Chair (1985) which was a massive success in both the US and UK.  Mega hits “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” seemed to be on every new wave and pop radio playlist.  The aforementioned “Broken” was turned into an abbreviated live version driven by Roland’s guitar and stripped of the synth and drum loops and interrupted by the happy song “Head Over Heels.”  Great album but a marked shift to light from the darker earlier sound.

By the third Tears for Fears record Seeds of Love (1989), there was even a more pop and jazz feel with the addition of Oleta Adams (Keys, vocals) on “Woman in Chains” and a Beatlesque “Sowing the Seeds of Love” to lead things off.  With “Advice for the Young at Heart” I felt the band had moved on to an excessively softer pop plane.  This album also brought the band additional success, but the marked shits in tone from record to record left fans like me behind and reduced their appeal over time.  After these initial works the band split, Roland took the helm to do two more albums and they re-teamed for two more, now reportedly working on their seventh album overall.

TFFNevertheless I’ve always had fond memories of this group as have so many, and it was with decent expectations that we queued up to see them play at the Fox Theater in Oakland California on September 24th 2014.  And, the show was indeed a decent pop concert.  Both Roland and particularly Curt were in fine voice – hitting all their high notes, along with one backup singer who sounded fabulous. The band worked it’s way through several tracks on each of their first three albums, along with a couple newer ones, and a cover of an Arcade Fire song.  On both this cover, and their earliest work from The Hurting, the band softened the more dramatic, desperate sounds to go along with their more pop friendly work. So yes, we got “Mad World” and even “Memories Fade” but we got them a bit stripped of their original darker dynamics.  So, for those expecting soft pop sounds with a smile, all was well, and the show would be considered a success.  For this viewer who hoped for a bit more dark to go with the light, I’ve got the new box set of The Hurting, so that those memories don’t fade too far away!

Gabriel Without Frontiers

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 6.20.56 PMIn his new new biography, Without Frontiers: The Life and Music of Peter Gabriel, author Daryl Easlea manages to craft a definitive look at the man and his art. Peter’s life, music, performances, videos, productions, and charitable endeavors are covered in depth from the late 1960’s when forming Genesis up to today. The book is very well researched, as Daryl takes care to include frequent direct quotes from Peter, his band members, management, and friends.  I found his inclusion of remarks by key collaborators including Peter Hammill, Richard MacPhail, and Daniel Lanois particularly interesting and revealing.  These observations contain insights into not just Peter’s work, but his life, such that the reader really gets a sense of him as a person. One interesting angle I’d not known was his lasting but friendly rivalry with Tony Banks and it’s impact on their early work together.  Daryl’s skilled narrative and storytelling manages to breathe new life into every chapter as he explores Peter’s influences, his focus on quality work, and continued ability to innovate and entertain.

Many fans of Genesis and Peter’s work who have read some of this information or seen documentaries in the past, will still find new revelations here.  His formative years fronting Genesis are key to his development as an artist, and their work to many represents the golden age of progressive rock music.  These times are treated with an attention to detail and the author takes care to incorporate parts of the story that add clarity to that short period of time, including matters both serious and entertaining.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter exhausting those years, Peter’s early solo career is examined in a way that sheds light on his search for direction as a solo artist.  Every key development from 1977’s Car (as Daryl refers to Peter Gabriel 1) through to 1982’s Security is illuminated.  I learned new facts about this era even though this is a time in particular when I was old enough to be a devotee of every album release, concert, and news item about the man.  The rest of his career from his breakthrough, more commercial release So, to the Scratch My Back and New Blood Orchestra work is also well covered, along with his frequent charitable work.  Often videos and filmed live performances are given short shift – not here – for instance it was a pleasure to see someone hail the 2013 Live in Athens DVD release as a spectacular document of Peter playing live near the end of the So tour in 1987.

This is a truly wonderful biography of one of the most amazing artists of our time.  Highly recommended.

Devo’s Choice

devoQuick note to say that Devo celebrated their 1980 release “Freedom of Choice” by playing it all to a packed house on November 7, 2009 at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. We attended this show rather than that of the prior evening when they played “Q: Are We Not Men A: We Are Devo“. We picked the second show given that “Freedom” was a more popular work, including hits “Whip It”, “Girl U Want” and the title track, all of which would be more familiar to my companions. The show was brief but very tight. The show began a bit oddly as three videos from the album were projected before the band took the stage. This did serve the purpose of reminding many of us about the original days of music video and MTV – I wondered how many of the younger members of the audience had spent any time seeking out videos by their favorite bands these days. After the final track, the band did a quick encore consisting of a few more tracks ending with “Beautiful World.” At this stage you can’t blame the band for losing a bit of it’s edge live in terms of the tight synchronized movements of the past, particularly since the music and vocals are still spot on. Given the number of folky-emo bands out these days, the chance to catch a classic act blasting through three minute power-pop was a welcome respite!  Recommended.

Echo in the Darkness

echorainWhen bands determine to tour complete works from their prime creative period, we are sometimes offered a rare chance to reacquaint ourselves with an original artistic vision, and a band in truly top form. Such was the case last Thursday night at the Fox Theater in Oakland as Echo & The Bunneymen returned to the bay area to deliver their seminal work, “Ocean Rain” complete with backing orchestra. The original studio recording of Ocean Rain in 1984 was a product of a band at the peak of their artistic brilliance. It included lush orchestral arrangements that perfectly fit the dark, jaunty jigs and gothic avant-garde excursions that alternate through the album. It’s an eclectic work that while not exactly a concept album, hangs together and is best appreciated from start to finish. Hits “The Killing Moon” and “Seven Seas” well represent the overall record and are the most recognizable tracks. At the time of its release, “Ocean Rain” certainly met a new standard for what was possible from the goth-rock movement that included such acts as “Siouxsie and the Banshees”, “Bauhaus”, and “The Cure” who by the mid ’80’s were pushing their artistry far beyond early punk roots.

echoianAs presented at the Fox with live orchestra, “Ocean Rain” was a revelation, from the first track, “Silver” to the last. The orchestra was integrated perfectly into the mix and was much more prevalent than on record.  The strings, horns, and percussionists propelled their sound forward, accenting the drama of every song. Singer Ian McCulloch’s voice was in great form and has aged like fine wine. Guitarist Will Sergent brought out his rare assortment of guitars and accented the music with his unusual, attentive and precise playing. We were treated to every track, including the decidedly non commercial, brooding wonders “The Yo Yo Man” and “Thorn of Crowns” which Ian introduced by asking “are you ready for this?”. The whole ensemble brought the house down with the final titular track “Ocean Rain” arguably one of their greatest works and a fan favorite in concert since it’s release over 25 years ago. Echo got this all perfectly right – it was brilliant to go about presenting this powerful album with strings, winds, and added percussion making this a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After an intermission, the band carried on without the backing orchestra, as a five piece, cranking through hits such as “Rescue”, “Bring on the Dancing Horses”, and a cover of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”, ending their encores with “Lips Like Sugar” at which point Ian was clearly exhausted! Also included were some tracks from the last few excellent recordings, including an equally great new song released this month. This second half of the show was as good as, and in parts better than, any of their prior tours during the last 20 years. The band favors minimal lighting, in deep blues and purples, as they labor away in the darkness delivering stellar performances that should remind one and all patrons that this is one of the most important bands in rock. And how can you argue with a lyric like this on a crisp October evening:

Flames on your skin of snow turn cold
Cold is the wind that blows through my headstone

The Duran Duran Dance Party

Duran Duran
Duran Duran

Still thinking about the Duran Duran gig we caught at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California, on July 8, 2009. I don’t know what I expected exactly.  This band were such a staple of the ’80s pop scene, that between airplay and MTV there was no missing their constant exposure. When listening to some tracks like the 1983 hit “Reflex” I-yi-yi-yi-yi wanted to run and hide, while at the same time there was a growing list of solid tracks I really loved.  I never saw the band perform live during the 80’s, being that I preferred groups like “Depeche Mode“, “Echo & The Bunnymen” and “Japan” (the latter was a darker more progressive version of Duran Duran) but was intrigued by the idea of going to this current tour.

Simon Le "Bond"
Simon Le "Bond"

So how were they?  Still relevant, still fit and fasionable, and still sounding really really great, this band put on one of the best shows I’ve been to in this millenium. Yes, seriously. The band took a remarkable approach to the show’s set list – instead of stopping between each song, they constructed several long sets of their best material, cross-fading or just transitioning between the tracks seemlessly as if a DJ was behind the scene. These were not medleys, which can be very frustrating – instead the whole tracks were played.  The show therefore ended up being one long dance party and the audience at the winery stood and danced through the entire 2 hour show – something I have not witnessed at this venue since “Simple Minds” conquered the site several years ago. Highlights included “Come Undone”, “Skin Trade”, and of course “Rio” (and, they did not play “Reflex” – whew). For the encore, singer Simon Le Bon donned a white tuxedo to perform their James Bond track, “A View to a Kill”.  A wonderful night to remember.