Here’s the problem with being an ‘80s band on a shared bill – you might have time for 10 or 12 songs in your hour-long set, but the crowd only wants to hear two of them, the ones whose videos spun endlessly on MTV and are still played on weekly radio “flashback” shows around the country (unless you have SiriusXM – then they’re played daily).
At Buckhead Theatre Saturday night, a dose of nostalgia arrived at the venue in the form of Gene Loves Jezebel, Naked Eyes and A Flock of Seagulls. Though all of the bands regularly perform on the casino and festival circuit – sometimes on larger shows that have included other ‘80s faves John Waite, The Motels and Wang Chung – this lineup was handpicked by local promoter Johnny Esposito.
While all three bands performed with vigor, their sets ran the gamut on the enjoyability scale.
Gene Loves Jezebel opened the night and really, the band should now be called Michael Aston Loves Michael Aston.
While the band’s lead singer – who has been embroiled in various legal disputes with his twin brother, Jay, over the band’s name and performing rights – has maintained his look of shaggy hair and tight leather pants, as GLJ’s overlong set dragged on, he became more insufferable.
GLJ is known for its moody, sorta-Goth rock, and whether slithering through “Cow” or stomping through “Loving You is the Best Revenge,” the band sounded tight, particularly guitarist Chris Bell, who continuously tossed out spicy licks (the Canadian also apologized for Winnipeg taking our hockey team).
But between Aston’s aging rock star gyrations and endless yapping and cursing – about the Falcons, the Oakland Raiders, the crowd’s inability to catch on to sing the chorus to “Gorgeous” – you know, a song that went to No. 68 in the U.K. in 1987, so of course everyone should know it – and anything else that could keep him onstage longer, his presence became an annoyance.
That said, “Desire (Come and Get It)” sounded great with its insinuating chorus. The band did not, however, play its best-known U.S. song, “Jealous,” which Aston muttered was “a piece of s***” when a fan yelled to request it. What he really meant was, the song was from his brother’s version of the band, so sorry fans, no “Jealous” for you.
The arrival of sweetly low-key Pete Byrne and Naked Eyes was even more welcome after Aston’s bluster.
As fans know, Byrne’s Naked Eyes partner, keyboardist Rob Fisher, died in 1999. He was responsible for much of the band’s signature sound, but Byrne manages incredibly well holding up their catalog.
“Voices in My Head” and “When the Lights Go Out” opened Naked Eyes’ portion of the show – though Byrne joked to some latecomers, “For those of you who just turned up, we’ve already played ‘Always Something There to Remind Me’ and ‘Promises, Promises.’”
Those two hallmarks were of course saved for late in the set, but in between, Byrne unveiled the new song, “Piccadilly,” the title track to an album due next year. It’s lovely and melodic and the type of song that, if it had an ‘80s video, would feature a handsome guy in an overcoat walking the London streets with an air of pensiveness.
Byrne ditched his guitar to scamper across the stage for “Promises, Promises,” with its endearing jangly guitar line and his own impressively smooth vocals, then launched into his disco version of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” (and, actually, he did have some moves like Jagger).
When the time for “Always Something” arrived, Byrne amusingly introduced it as “an old country song,” plucking out the song’s spine on his acoustic guitar before the rest of the quartet launched into the familiar layered version. All these years later, Byrne is still doing Burt Bacharach’s burst of wistful melody proud.
The headliners of the show, A Flock of Seagulls, entered the stage quietly, but took only seconds to unleash the synth-a-licious songs that pioneered a significant chunk of ‘80s sounds.
Frontman Mike Score, who turns 55 on Monday, took his usual spot behind a keyboard at the center of the stage. Though bassist Pando handled most of the crowd interaction (if you consider repeatedly asking “Are you with us?” interaction – what if the answer is no?), Score contributed his share of small talk and frequently strapped on a guitar, as he did for “Naked.”
“How do you like my hairstyle these days? It’s actually more trouble than the old one,” Score said, running a hand over his long-bald head, with no explanation needed about “the old one.”
During Flock’s hour-long set, “The More You Live, the More You Love” and the industrial stomp-and-clap “Man Made” kept the crowd of about 500 entertained. But the opening notes of “Space Age Love Song” prompted the first major reaction. With its singing guitar lines and mellifluous synths, it would be hard to argue that “Space Age” isn’t the band’s best song, despite the court of public opinion.
After the art-poppy “Telecommunication,” the band delved into “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You,” another sublime keyboard performance from their catalog, and segued into the song most people came to hear – the still-omnipresent “I Ran (So Far Away).”
Though Score hasn’t always publicly embraced A Flock of Seagulls’ video-centric mainstay, on this night he sang it with the fervor of a guy who hasn’t performed it 9,392 times, demonstrating that while there might be other songs a band would rather perform, there is no abandoning the ones that bring in the royalty checks.