Sunday, August 24, 2014

Retro Futura Tour
Best Buy Theater, NYC
August 21, 2014

Picture it – 1987 and two 15 year old, New Wave-obsessed boys from New Milford, Connecticut are trying to concoct a way to get to Radio City Music Hall in NYC to catch the Thomson Twins on their Close to the Bone tour. Having missed the group the last time they came to CT in 1985, the boys devised every possible scenario that would get them to this show but not matter what they tried, the answer from their parents was the same – NO – and their efforts were thwarted. Forced to endure the agony of defeat, the boys swore to each other, “next time dude. We will catch them on the next tour.”

I was one of those boys but little did I know that by the time ‘the next time’ came around, I would be 42 years old!

In early 2014, with the announcement of Tom Bailey joining the Retro Futura Tour, I was excited yet slightly cautious by these prospects – would this taint the legacy, the mystery of the Thompson Twins that had built up over the ensuing decades? Or could this signal the start of a new chapter in their story? Or at least Tom Bailey’s story as both Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway have retired from performing.

A package tour is an odd thing – a nostalgia trip on one hand while on the other, a possible reintroduction to a band. While Retro Futura packed in five acts, expect fairly short sets from all the acts. It was a wise move then to have a house band accompany the first three acts: Katrina (sans the Waves), China Crisis and the mighty Midge Ure. Katrina and China Crisis compiled their hits into energetic 20 minute sets. As fine as those acts were, Midge Ure upped the game considerably with his impressive guitar skills and still-powerful voice. Ure tore into his short set with aplomb – Hymn, Vienna and the classic Dancing with Tears in My Eyes were all delivered with passion and fire.

After Midge Ure’s explosive set, the house band excited and the stage was stripped bare to make room for Howard Jones and his band. The new stage set had an 80’s minimal vibe – complete with electronic drums with light-up neon cymbals, a keytar and racks of flashing electronic lights behind the keyboard. It almost looked like a backdrop from the movie Tron. But aside from these visual flourishes and the fact that the songs were from his classic 80’s period, Jones incorporated plenty of arrangement changes – and killer keyboard breakdowns – to keep things fresh for his very vocal fans who sang along to every song.

Throughout his set, Jones was the charismatic front-man chatting up the crowd and calling out for audience participation. Highlights included the new grooves added to the set opener Like to Get to Know You Well and the reworked Things Can Only Get Better which featured a funky clavinet solo that would have made Stevie Wonder proud and a pounding techno reprise at the end of the song.
One of the main criticisms that used to be leveled at musicians from the New Wave era was that the music was devoid of feeling and simply programmed into a keyboard. Jones dispelled that notion straight away and delivered a high-energy set full of classic songs and tremendous musicianship.

Between Midge Ure’s unrepentant rocking and Howard Jones turning the Best Buy Theater into a New Wave-themed rave, the question emerged – how would Tom Bailey compete with that? Especially after returning to the live music fray only DAYS before this show!

Taking the stage to the instrumental backing tracks of the Thompson Twins’ We Are Detective, Bailey and his all-female backing band – who have been affectionately dubbed “The Sisters of Mercy” after another Thompson Twins song – launched into a buoyant version of In The Name of Love, which set the tone for the next 45 minutes as love was certainly in the air in Times Square.

While the audience happily danced here and there, a majority of the crowd seemed transfixed on Bailey himself, almost shocked that they were actually watching him perform these classic gems live after 27 years away. Early on in the set, Bailey, who looked shocked and moved by the loud reception, told the crowd, “I can’t believe this – this is amazing; just look at you all!” It was a warm and beautiful moment between band and performer and the crowd made sure to let Bailey know that the feeling was mutual.

His short set was comprised of all the expected hits but Bailey made sure to pepper in a few surprises such as the Middle-Eastern-sounding bridge during In The Name of Love, the additional versus added to If You Were Here, a stomping rendition of Lies, and a reworked King For a Day which was much slower in tempo than the original hit. This slower tempo and more somber delivery actually brought out the bitter-sweet quality of the lyrics which tended to get overshadowed in the original’s synth-pop groove.

Shifting between the guitar, keyboards and electronic percussion, Bailey worked the stage like a seasoned pro that never left the game. Age has not touched his voice and he has lost none of his range or unique vocal quality. And let’s not forget the previously mentioned “Sisters of Mercy” - keyboardists Angie Pollack and Amanda Kramer and drummer Emily Dolan Davies - who made the perfect backing band.

Twenty-seven years is an almost unspeakable amount of time to step away from the limelight. Judging from the response to his return to the stage, Thomson Twins’ Tom Bailey has an eager audience waiting for more. He has always retained his air of mystery so whatever is in the cards will remain in the cards until he chooses to reveal his hand. Let’s hope that whatever it is, it happens soon. 

#tombailey #retrofuturatour #thompsontwins #howardjones #midgeure 

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