The Beacon Theatre
May 2, 2015
Review and photos by David Chiu
It would have been unimaginable back in 2000 to see the members of Spandau Ballet perform on a stage again, let alone being in the same room together. At that time, the British band had broken up in 1990 and its members were later engaged in an unpleasant legal matter in the latter part of that decade. It wasn’t the type of storybook ending for a group that achieved so much success during the 1980s with songs like “True,” “Gold,” and “Only When You Leave,”not to mention sell-out gigs. in the minds of many, were a part of the Second British Invasion in America along with Duran Duran, Culture Club, and other memorable acts of the early MTV era across the pond.
But now that’s history. In one of the most unlikeliest comeback stories in pop music, Spandau Ballet reformed in 2009, having since performed gigs and recorded new music. Now the group—Tony Hadley (vocals), Gary Kemp (guitar), Martin Kemp (bass), Steve Norman (sax/guitar/percussion), and John Keeble (drums) – is also making up for lost time with a string of dates in the U.S. that began earlier in the year– their first performances here in over 30 years. Coinciding with the release of excellent documentary Soul Boys of the Western World, this busy activity marks an opportunity for Spandau Ballet to reintroduce themselves to America after the long absence.
And that was the case Saturday night at the Beacon Theatre where the band made a stop in the Big Apple as part of the Soul Boys of the Western World tour. And even though the Beacon Theatre is a smaller yet intimate venue compared to the massive Madison Square Garden, Spandau Ballet still brought a stadium vibe in its performances that recalled the old days during the nearly two-hour set.
Unless you are a die-hard fan of the group who know every obscure song from every album by heart, the band pretty much rolled out all the hits from the different aspects of its career—from synthpop of the Blitz Era, to the blue-eyed soul of True, and to the anthemic rock of Parade and Through the Barricades. There was still a freshness to the old songs that the band mined such as “Only When You Leave,” “Highly Strung,” “I’ll Fly For You,” and “Chant #1. One of the touching moments from the evening was when the members acknowledged the late Steve Strange, the figurehead of the New Romantic movement, by playing some of the driving electropop tunes from that period such as “Reformation,” “To Cut a Long Story Short” and “The Freeze.” Another poignant when Hadley and Gary Kemp stepped out front and duetted together acoustically on “Empty Spaces” and then later in the opening of “Through the Barricades.” Naturally, the band closed out the set with songs from the massively successful True album: the funk soul of “Communication” and “Lifeline,” the iconic title song, and the uplifting and sweeping “Gold.”
While the group performed the familiar numbers, they also threw in a few newer songs from the recent Rhino compilation The Story: The Very Best of Spandau Ballet — one of which, the dramatic “Soul Boy” surprisingly opened the show. That one, plus the soulful “Steal” and the elegant romantic pop of “This Is the Love,” fit alongside perfectly with the hits, hinting of perhaps more new songs in the future.
The band members were spot-on in their performances—Martin Kemp’s undulating bass that took a spotlight during “To Cut a Long Story Short”; John Keeble’s splashy yet steady drumming; and Steve Norman’s wallowing sax and joyous percussion playing. While it doesn’t often get talked about when assessing top guitarists list, Gary Kemp’s axe work was remarkable as he delivered some solid rhythm playing and piercing solos—a highlight was “I’ll Fly For You.” And of course the dapper Tony Hadley brought on the charismatic crooner persona behind the vocals, harkening back to a singer from New York who is also named Tony (as in Bennett).
Safe to say, the audience response during the show was enthusiastic. Most of the folks in the orchestra level in the seated venue stood up for the entire time, and a buzz was still lingered after the band took its final curtain call. If Spandau Ballet’s tour does become a one-off, then at least it brought things to sort of full circle. But in the minds of fans, hopefully the story doesn’t cut short there.
Partial set list (click here for more)
Only When You Leave
Round and Round
This Is the Love
Chant #1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)
To Cut a Long Story Short
I’ll Fly For You
Through the Barricades