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A Tale of Two Cities

Two reviewers take on ABC
on two successive nights -
in two different cities!

That was then, but this is now

ABC / The Good Luck Joes
House of Blues
Chicago, IL
June 11, 2006
The Good Luck Joes
The Good Luck Joes

Story and Photos By Andy Argyrakis

In the "blast from the past" category, one band that hasn't been heard from in ages is ABC. The Martin Fry led organization ruled the club charts throughout most of the 1980s thanks to its neo-romantic leanings with new wave undertones, but failed to prosper beyond the decade of decadence to the degree of like minded poppers the Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode and Erasure. The Good Luck JoesThough there was a blip on the radar screen resurgence in 1997 with the U.K. only release Skyscraping and its subsequent live CD The Lexicon of Live, ABC has basically been chained to retro radio and VH1 Classic ever since.

But Fry and his new backers have sought yet another comeback, since after all, the danceable 80s are backed in full force, leading a slew of broken up bands to hit the concert circuit again. And from a strictly nostalgic point of view, the guys succeeded, recalling its pulsating catalogue with live instruments rather than strictly synthesizers and drum machines. Attention was placed on the prominent early on in the tightly packed 75-minute show with one of ABC's most memorable singles "Poison Arrow" taking third in order. Its singer has aged gracefully, sporting his usual debonair glow and sleek suit, conjuring up visual (as well as vocal) references to Roxy MusicABC fashion plate Bryan Ferry. From there it was a gleeful trip down memory lane with the tongue and cheek "How To Be a Millionaire," the dramatic "The Night You Murdered Love," the jazz hinted "Be Near Me" and the obligatory encore "The Look of Love."

While it was delightful to hear such selections performed cohesively, others lacked the staying power and came across dreadfully dry. The unity based "One Better World" was loaded with cheesy keyboard parts that sounded like a cheap Vegas lounge band and ditched the other tracks' class, while its follow-up "Tears Are Not Enough" also suffered from dated stains. Though the group made a valiant effort to introduce a handful of new tracks, none seemed appropriate in current times, either amping up with unnecessary aggression or lacking the immediacy of ABC's catalogue. During one of these guitar driven tunes ("Ride"), Fry was comparing a relationship to a car's ignition and implied what it would be like to drive it all night long, surely an appropriate statement twenty years ago when he was a youngster, but not so fitting as a middle aged crooner. In that sense, the group isn't likely to reclaim its heyday, though can probably coast a few more years as a finely tuned jukebox worthy of some sing-a-longs and smiles.

Tour mates The Good Luck Joes turned in a 40-minute, ten track warm up, scoring quite an enthusiastic crowd giving its Milwaukee roots and forthcoming CD release What Do You Think Of That Noise? (hitting stores July 11). However, whoever booked these two groups together must have been going for a complete contrast because they weren't even remotely similar to the ABC sound. Instead the group turned in an alternative pop/rock set that straddled the lines between the pedestrian basicness of Better Than Ezra, Sister Hazel and Tonic, with the more moving and melodic piano dynamics of Coldplay and Keane. In the first category, cuts like "No You Don't" and "48 Hours" were as average as average could be, never moving beyond the sanitary even in the midst of audience approval. However, when the keyboards truly settled in on the closer "Middle of Me," the guys demonstrated a much more fleshed out feel that strayed away from the ordinary towards a truly vibrant platform. If The Good Luck Joes continue going in that direction, they'll be golden, though as it stands right now, they need to shed the college rock commonplace.

Revenge of the Cheesesticks

Waukesha County Taste of Summer
Waukesha, WI
June 10, 2006

Story bt Brad Walseth
Photo By Otis P. Lumina

I first knew we were in trouble when they told us the main stage was way out yonder next to the swine barn, but when I saw that the crowd in the big tent waiting to see ABC could be counted in Mr. Ed hoofbeats - and that many of these were tired fairgoers who had drifted over from the professional wrestling exhibition and children's clown shows to rest their weary feet, I began to get truly worried. Plagued by poor promotion, a chilly afternoon, a Jimmy Buffett concert down the road, and a less than primetime afternoon timeslot, turnout was embarrassingly small for a band currently riding a wave of renewed interest and playing to sold out gigs throughout their current world tour. ABCOnce in my younger days an overzealous promoter in my town booked too many shows into a week and I caught the Allman Brothers playing to a small crowd in a large arena. They came out and rocked as hard as they could, and won my admiration forever. But that was still 1,500 people or so, not 50; how would Martin and the guys respond to this beyond-ridiculous situation?

Out in the middle of a cow pasture with a backdrop of a carnival midway and the smell of deep fried cheese and cotton candy hanging everywhere - it did seem like an aptly surreal setting for a band whose frolic across a fairground on their "The Look of Love" video was an 80's staple, but this was Wisconsin and the abundance of cowboy hats wandering the grounds made it plain that country acts "Chasin' Mason" and "Lonestar" were perhaps a more appropriate draw for the regional crowd.

Compounding the craziness, festival management apparently pushed the concert time back an extra hour and a quarter on a whim. Solid local cover act "Juliet76" - featuring fiery Stratocaster licks and a powerful female singer, provided an enjoyable set of Guns and Roses, Joan Jett and AC/DC tunes, highlighted by their drummer breaking a snare drum with his pounding and their bassist (a Vin Diesel clone) jumping off the stage and unable to get back up.

When ABC finally took to the stage, I couldn't believe my eyes, as the usually dapper band had appeared in jeans and casual togs! (Either a ploy to fit in with the working class slobs or perhaps the schedule change didn't allow time to change clothes.) Mostly overlooking the scantiness of the audience, Martin and his crack cohorts carried on with aplomb and admirable good spirits.

What would you pay to sit in the front row as one of your favorite bands blazed through a set of great songs? Priceless, I say. Despite being angry at festival management for their lack of promotion, etc... and feeling sorry for the band for such a poor turnout, I couldn't believe my good luck, as the lack of crowd and casual atmosphere made it seem like the band was playing just for me and the other ABC nuts in the front rows.

Great sound (in a tent!) And what playing! Excellent musicians who truly seemed to be having fun playing together and making the music we were enjoying so much. From the opener "The Very First Time" through "The Look of Love," the musicians played with sensitivity and power and with big grins on their faces despite (or perhaps) due to the absurdity of it all. All of the songs were presented in wonderful fashion and with a groove so addictive that I couldn't stop my body parts from flinging themselves in all directions in as close as notoriously 2-left-footed me can simulate to dancing. Some fans danced and many sang along to every song and it was a generally great time for the lucky few.

Since all of the songs were done so well it is hard to single out any as highlights, but I was especially impressed with the powerhouse "That Was Then, This is Now," the charging, pulsating new "Ride," and the romantic-to-the-hilt "All of My Heart." "When Smokey Sings" turned up the heat like a prairie on fire, but I think I caught some of the locals looking around for the bear.

And what can be said about the incredible Martin Fry. Making the best of a very strange afternoon, he poured his soul into his efforts and sang with grace and emotive intensity. Still able to give you chills and send the heart fluttering with his swoops and swoons, the man exuded class and sheer vocal brilliance while truly attempting to make a real connection with his fans. Afterwards, several persistent fans evaded the storm trooper security goons - maintaining order as though a soccer riot was about to break out - to meet the gracious singer himself. Unfortunately, my son and I slipped away for a few minutes for a snack and I missed the chance to meet the man I had interviewed a few days earlier. Damn those fried cheese sticks to hell!!!

SET LIST - Waukesha County Taste of Summer - June 10, 2006:

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