I think we can all agree that 2020 has essentially been a denatured picnic on a submarine with screen doors. When you start anatomizing the realities in the choleric tempers of these last few months, a bit of unremitting ‘80s magic begins to a.) carry the welcome aroma of petrichor after a rain-doused cultural wildfire, and b.) become something most of us would pay a sultan’s ransom for. Abductedbythe80s.com and Manic Merch met our unverbalized yearnings in the most musically voluble way imaginable on Saturday, June 13th with “Back To The Basement”, a livestreaming riff on the days we used to spend idyllically discovering the sacred semiotics of Aquanet and neon animal print. Kevin Rankin, ruling drummer of A Flock of Seagulls, played shepherd to the wolves for just over two hours of stippled ‘80s staples put through the particle collider of modern video technology, all in support of funding for Direct Relief.
As a certain writer’s rural mountain internet connection is, I firmly believe, clandestinely generated by the tin can and twine combinations of a chubby, goateed character named ‘General Beauregard Biscuits’ or the like, I was just a few minutes late tuning in to this extrasolar event. However, I was aptly greeted by the tessellated sounds of Nu Shooz and their iconic “I Can’t Wait” the moment I did achieve the requisite 1.21 Gigawatts. For those who do not know: Valerie Day is a sidereal Athena with a high-throttle plinth of a vox. She’s mighty and sprightly too, a rare and delightful combination to behold.
My tardiness meant rabidly waiting afterward for the full show to be uploaded to YouTube so that I could find out it was actually The Escape Club, sitting in a fairy-green English garden with acoustic guitars, lit torches, a lion statue, and some tubular synth samples, who opened the gala with the most perfect revamping of “Wild, Wild West” imaginable. They followed that flawless execution with “I’ll Be There”, a wistful ballad dedicated to angelic lost loves. It was just the intro one needed to this sort of gladiatorial do that would feature a wardrobe of sounds responsible for shaping entire epochs of attitude and aesthetics.
Spoons came next, with “Nova Heart” and “Romantic Traffic”, because apparently the world had forgotten just how mind-bendingly New Wave and outwardly supine, we all were 25 years ago. Both songs, and the band, seemed to have fallen out of some gossamer firmament only known to Canadian club kids and maybe Molly Ringwald. Their cosmic performance can best be described as cloudscapes across the surface of a river in Fantasia. Sheer beauty.
Farrington/Mann followed with coruscating forms of “The Promise” and “Heaven Knows”. Having very recently seen the other half of this lovely band, still performing under the original moniker of When In Rome (QRO live review) after some internal divisions led to touring separations, and thus having that half’s version of “The Promise” freshly tattooed on my ears, it was bittersweet beyond belief to hear the striking reverse relief of Farrington/Mann’s equally stellar rendition. Guys, you all truly sound like the strings to one another’s bows. Get back together! Please! We Lauper-wannabes outright adore you.
Your intrepid reporter likely looked as if she had no idea whether she’d lost a mule or found a rope when she caught sight of the group who followed Farrington/Mann. Synthesized drumroll please… Nelson!!! Still playing twelve-strings with unbelievable accomplishment, still able to charm the rain out of getting them wet, and still looking like (by their description) “hot Swedish girls,” they represented the surprise joy of the whole show for my seventh-grade heart. Yes, I still have the full-length door poster of them I used to kiss before leaving for class each morning. You’re welcome, Gunnar. Their twin-harmonies still turn around one another like an ouroboros of brotherly shimmer in these unplugged modes of “Love and Affection” and “After the Rain.”
All of your favorites, whether popular holy chrisms or bits of esoterica, are in attendance for “Back To The Basement.” Animotion doing “Last Time” like it was their first time. Real Life with the aural baptism that is “Send Me an Angel”. Naked Eyes effortlessly slinging “Promises, Promises” and “Ready”. Interspersed between the variant sets, you get wonderful weigh-ins from the likes of Tiffany, Richard Blade, and the matchless Downtown Julie Brown. Though streaming this bitchin’ soiree fully solo, marooned in my light-suffused kitchen on one of the first real Saturdays of June, that didn’t stop me from unconsciously talking aloud to whomever (the fridge?) in my instantly reignited ‘80s lexicon about how “mega” everyone looked or how “rad” they sounded.
Other highlights include Information Society, ever wicked in their righteous green and red suits, doing “Pure Energy” and “Peace and Love Inc.” entirely from montaged pre-pandemic live concert footage. The Vapors stood nice as ninepins on someone’s front stoop, “Turning Japanese” of course and also showcasing “Together”, off of their most recent album of the same name. The divine Nick Van Eede of Cutting Crew, with his 100-carat diamond of a voice, offered totally acoustic and gorgeously stripped-back interpretations of “Died In Your Arms” and “Say Something”, totally alone but for an artistic assist from his ultra-hip daughter.
The immortal A Flock of Seagulls gave us “The More You Live, The More You Love” and “Space Age Love Song”, which brought with it visions of Career Opportunities with Jennifer Connelly and Frank Whaley wafting through that department store like the unofficial sugarplum mallrats of old-skool roller-skating. This is still the only band on Earth that can universally dress in vestments that are black as a Sunday in Lent and yet, the moment they generate sound, consistently make you feel like you’re parasailing above the world on the back of an unusually amiable bubble. Mike Score never needed the gnarly Dilophosaurus hair fins to be cool, as will be patently clear.
Wang Chung opened with “Space Junk” before Downtown Julie Brown introduced the world premiere of “Everybody Stay Safe Tonight”, a Covid-redo of the band’s classic hit in which Jeremy Ryder displayed arguably the most unbelievable vocal stasis of the day. Evidently not a moment has passed in the boom chamber of his voice. He hit every single one of those notorious high notes and Valerie Day joined him on that legendary middle eight that goes even higher. Just astounding and inspiring, really.
Wang Chung playing “Everybody Stay Safe Tonight” with Valerie Day:
They say the only two things in this world that cannot be mended are the heart and a buckled wheel, but perhaps whomever said that hadn’t seen the “Back to the Basement” merch? The merch, people… ohhh, the merch! The humor, genius, and self-deprecation of the graphics alone are well worth your minutes.
For those of us innately well-versed in the sonic stock-in-trade of this last authentically irreverent era in pop culture, it does not feel like big, surging oceans of time have passed since you first heard any of these songs on your crappy little peach-colored plastic boombox, whose gaggles of scratch-n-sniff stickers often emanated when you tried to get all Marty McFly with the decibels. The best thing about ‘80s music is that it was never cross-hatched with anything outside of its stated purpose. While innuendo and allegory were much cooler then and definitely prevalent, we were still a minimum of 15 years away from ‘snide’ having foxed the place of ‘witty.’
‘80s bands never spoke so much as a syllable of diminuendo, and it is said that beautiful things exist in an eternal present. Seeing and listening to this many at one time and in one digital place is like opening the door to a junk shop of the soul. It felt palatial altogether. To have encountered most of these faces when MTV was a mewling infant, and with all the experience of knobs on televisions and rolling static that time frame implies, and now to view them virtually (and virtually unchanged) in a distinctly non-analog way seems a gloriously insubordinate testament to their endless materiality. Bodacious music is the only fountain of youth for sure. Like, totally.