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
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. Though 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 Music 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
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. Once 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:
THE VERY FIRST TIME
HOW TO BE A MILLIONAIRE
THAT WAS THEN THIS IS NOW
THE NIGHT YOU MURDERED LOVE
BE NEAR ME
WHEN SMOKEY SINGS
ONE BETTER WORLD/ TEARS ARE NOTENOUGH
ALL OF MY HEART
THE LOOK OF LOVE
Here's Your Chance
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