Lost ’80s Live
Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk
August 3, 2018
Review by David Chiu
It may be 2018, but for one particular night at Coney Island’s Ford Amphitheater in Brooklyn, New York, the sights and sounds of the 1980s reigned supreme. On that occasion, the Lost ’80s Live! tour rolled in, featuring a number of musical acts who achieved popularity during MTV’s golden era: A Flock of Seagulls, Wang Chung, Naked Eyes, Nu Shooz, Animotion, When in Rome UK, and the Romantics. For over three hours inside the venue situated on Coney Island’s famed boardwalk, Generation X-ers like myself re-lived the music of their childhood and teenaged years— from a time of big hair and pastel-colored attire.
It seemed appropriate that the Lost ’80s Live! show occurred on the 35th anniversary of the unofficial height of New Wave (or referred to as New Pop in Britain). 1983 was a banner year for Anglophilic pop, particularly from British bands like Duran Duran, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, and the Human League. In one particular week in July of that year, there were seven British acts that occupied the Billboard Top 10 singles chart: the aforementioned Duran Duran and Culture Club, along with the Police, Madness, the Kinks, Kajagoogoo, and the Kinks. From 1981 to 1985, the American pop charts and MTV were filled with mostly one- or two-hit wonders known for their photogenic looks and synthesizer-driven pop music. By the end of the ’80s, the return of guitar rock and the popularity of hair metal in America ended those pop artists’ careers at that time.
Decades after New Wave first hit both sides of the Atlantic, ’80s music still has a loyal following. Proof of that are the nostalgia tours, which in themselves have become a big business. In addition to Lost 80s Live!, there’s Retrofutura, who’s recent installment included the Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle, Modern English, and Tony Lewis of the Outfield; the long-running Rewind Festival in the UK, which is celebrating its 10th year; and the ’80s Cruise, in which passengers can enjoy their favorite ’80s acts perform on a boat. There’s overlap of the participants from these ’80s package tours — the most frequent names that come up include former Spandau Ballet singer Tony Hadley, Berlin, Missing Persons, Loverboy, Rick Springfield, Men Without Hats, ABC, and Modern English.
The Lost ’80s Live! show at Coney Island this past Friday was the first one that I had seen in four years — the last time being a Retrofutura show in Manhattan that featured Tom Bailey, Midge Ure of Ultravox, Howard Jones, Katrina (formerly of Katrina and the Waves) and China Crisis. If you never been to an ’80s nostalgia show, this is how it works: each act performs at least three of their hit songs, with the main headliners having more room to play additional numbers. And it’s just strictly the old hits — not songs from recent or new albums, no matter how good they may be.
And that’s what the concert goers at Lost ’80s Live! got for their money’s worth, beginning with Nu Shooz, the Portland-based husband and wife team of John Smith and Valerie Day, best known for their huge hit from 1986, “I Can’t Wait.” They performed that song along with “Point of No Return” and “Should I Stay Yes” that die-hard fans would probably remember than most casual fans. Following them was Animotion, who broke through the mainstream with the sexy synthpop hit “Obsession,” one of the definitive pop songs of the 1980s. The onstage chemistry between the lead singers Bill Wadhams and Astrid Plane was still evident when they did that song along with “Let Him Go” and “I Engineer.”
Next up was Naked Eyes, led by singer Pete Byrne (sadly one half of that duo, keyboardist Rob Fisher, died in 1999). His set was the most interesting of the evening in that some of the songs didn’t follow the exact arrangements of the original recorded versions to a ‘T’, but left rather room for variation; “Voices in My Head” and “What in the Name of Love” sounded more looser, rocking, and funkier at times. Not rearranged, however, were Naked Eyes’ signature hits, “Promises, Promises”, and of course their famous cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Always Something There to Remind Me” — proof that the most recognizable the song, the most cheers it elicits from the audience.
Of all the acts in this lineup, only When in Rome UK qualified as being a true one-hit wonder, thanks to electronic-heavy “The Promise” from 1987. Fronted by singers Andrew Mann and Clive Farrington (there’s also another competing version of When in Rome), When in Rome UK performed that now-famous hit, which was later be covered by country artist Sturgill Simpson on his 2014 album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. The driving and energetic performance of that song got the crowd standing and pumping. The Romantics from Detroit brought more conventional power pop and rock compared to their fellow synth-pop dominated artists, beginning with “Rock You Up” and through their most popular hits in “Talking in Your Sleep” and the frenetic show-stopper“What I Like About You.”
‘Everybody Wang Chung’ed’ tonight when the duo Wang Chung hit the stage and played three of their biggest songs, “Let’s Go,” “Dance Hall Days” (their first breakthrough hit), and the massively-popular and iconic 1986 classic “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” that got people in the front dancing. Interestingly, leading up to the performance of that latter song, their touring drummer, Josh Thompson, took the mike and sang on a cover version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” slightly changing the chorus to “Girls just wanna Wang Chung.”
Finally, the show’s main headliner, A Flock of Seagulls, ended the evening with a slew of their hits. That band, led by singer/keyboardist Mike Score, certainly epitomized what ’80s music was all about: outrageous fashion sensibility, catchy synth-driven pop music, and a sleek and futuristic sound. Today, Score looks quite normal compared to when he had that wild and memorable cascading haircut. But what hadn’’t changed was the still-memorable music that elevated the Seagulls to MTV immortality, thanks to tracks “Space Age Love Song,” “Wishing,” and finally their massive hit “I Ran.”
While not on the same caliber of a hypothetical dream bill of Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna, or Duran Duran and Culture Club, these particular ’80s acts who performed that night at Coney Island still projected the energy and enthusiasm of the younger days. For these artists, the benefit of these nostalgia tours keeps them in the public eye and brings their music to a new generation who were not even born after those records came out. Compared to other shows, the vibe was friendlier, with some of the artists making themselves available to sign autographs and meet fans at the merch tables. Aside from seeing those artists from that era still alive and kicking, what’s sobering was how the audience members from that formative era of your youth were now older and had families of their own (a number of them brought their kids to the shows). At least for one night, they got to reclaim their younger days through the music that still matters for them.