Monday, February 23, 2015

I’m Never Going to Another ‘80s Band Reunion Concert:

Attending One Takes Fans Back to a Wondrous Time Then Leaves Us Rotting Like Tomatoes in Our Reality

Spandau Ballet - Photo by Andrew Hurley via Flickr
I recently saw Spandau Ballet in concert at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. Having seen them twice in the ‘80s, I went with the expectation of being transported back to a time when I swore I had the world by the balls. What I left with was a nightmarish image of my aged contemporaries and paranoid thoughts of erectile dysfunction.

Instead of the traditional opening act (maybe an ‘80s one-hit wonder like Kajagoogoo or Dexys Midnight Runners), the promoters decided to have a washed-up radio DJ from the ‘80s come out onstage and ask trivia questions (I, too, am a washed-up radio DJ from the ‘80s, so I get a pass here.).
With leathered skin and blood-shot eyes, Richard Blade (infamous KROQ, Los Angeles ‘80s DJ) began to quiz the fan-packed theatre with questions about bands like Culture Club and Duran Duran. It felt more like someone leading a bingo night at a retirement home. People screamed out answers, then the winners waddled to the stage to snag their triple-X-sized t-shirt prize. One lucky winner even got a pair of tickets to see Berlin at some club in Orange County. Who? Where?

I began to look for the exit signs, but then Spandau Ballet hit the stage.

The group that was once touted as a “New Romantic” band teased the crowd with a couple of new songs. Fair enough, kill some time for a two-hour show then go heavy on the hits in the second half. But, trust me, this crowd only wanted the hits. Let the show be over in an hour. Home by ten. Pop the cholesterol and blood pressure pills. Roll into bed. Done.

With cracking backs and strained knees, the audience danced to a few of the band’s semi-hits like “Only When You Leave” and “Gold”. After the first hour, the booming music and bright lights were like an IV bag hydrating the fading crowd and helping us maintain consciousness ‘til the end.

Men who used to stage dive at Twisted Sister concerts now swayed in one spot to avoid triggering pain from degenerative disc disease. Women who once screamed with delight and swigged beer from the bottle now sipped pinot grigio and wept, their mascara tears testimony to the brutal reality of how quickly time had passed.

Onstage, singer Tony Hadley appeared to have aged well, but the 600-pound gorilla in the room was… well, him. He barely fit into his suit, which was soaked with sweat three songs into the show. Every woman back in the ‘80s swooned to Hadley in the “True” video (so did some of us guys) with his trim, six-foot frame and shiny black, slicked-back hair. On this night, however, that sexual spark had been replaced by a shared commiseration of our collective reality. Getting old isn’t so bad. Reminding us that we’re getting older sucks.

At one point, I closed my eyes to take a rest from staring at the back of an oversized, 50-something Raggedy Ann doll who reeked of patchouli and jumped around wearing her just-purchased Spandau Ballet 2015 tour t-shirt. With my eyes still squeezed shut, I could hear that Hadley still crooned with that same blue-eyed soul voice he had back in 1983. Some beauty remains.

Speaking of remains, the audience stayed seated throughout most of the show. Come on, people. We never sat during concerts in the ‘80s! Then came that familiar keyboard opening of “True” and the falsetto harmony of the band, “Ah-ha-ha-ha-hah…” Spandau Ballet’s biggest hit got the old fans to their aching feet faster than an airplane seatbelt sign being turned-off. The band powered through the final hour with all of their best, and for a brief time I looked around at my contemporaries and saw the fat melt away. The hair grow back. And the wrinkles vanish.

Then the lights came on.

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