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Musical Viagra

Musical Viagra

by Max Sleaze, images by Jurie Senekal / 11.05.2010

The ‘80s – “it was the best of times it is the worst of times”. A real tale of many ditties. It was the decade where popular music came of age, the midwife to a screaming newborn MTV that paved the way for a whole new visualisation of pop music. It gave us Madonna, U2, REM and Sting who are still around today, pretending to save the planet, adopting third world offspring and swapping charities, things that their pop star training so eminently qualifies them for. On the other hand it also encouraged the manufactured dross that Stock Aitkin and Waterman churned out, like Rick Astley, who we all should be very thankful that he has gone back on his word and has decided that he will now actually “Give us Up”. Cheers for that Rick!

This dichotomy was clearly highlighted by the two emissaries from the eighties that landed on our shores recently for a retro double bill. On the A side of this dodgy seven inch was a band that had burst on the scene with an edgy take on synth pop, rode the new romantic wave, matured into a soulful globally commercial successful sound and then called it day, while not at their zenith, still early enough for their glory years to be remembered. Then waiting 20 years to let all those inclusions on the “Best of the ’80s” albums to justify some serious marketing for the comeback. Savvy, soulful and, in a mainstream sense, pretty talented too, they even have a memorable name Spandau Ballet. So all in all worth shelling out for a babysitter.

Alas cool name is where the comparisons end with the B side act. Naming yourself after a cool French flick, might seem like a great idea in the pub, but really Alphaville you’re just setting yourself up for some not very favourable comparisons. Unlike Spandau they never broke up, they made one breakthrough album with one and a half hits and then went on to… hmmm nothing. Well not really nothing, unfortunately like herpes they hung around. Their one clear hit forever young has been rereleased a staggering seven times, what is German for flogging a dead horse?

So it was with mixed feelings that I entered Grandwest. Not that it is not a great venue, it was purpose built, so it better be, the sound is always quality, access is well organised, toilets are clean and getting a beer is easier that any other venue. But it is in a Casino for Christ sake! Nothing more than a controlled adult fun park designed to dazzle, pacify and fleece. Though considering the clean toilets and bar service maybe it is too late for me to try to hang on to ideas of rough and ready rock ‘n roll romanticism. Anyway it was the perfect venue the forty somethings that want to relive their, ever so slightly, misspent youth in a safe sanitised environment.

Knowing that the line up was decidedly school disco, it made sense to prepare myself the school disco way- get well and truly plastered before you arrive. Can’t confiscate what’s already been drunk. A good call as when I walked in I swear I saw every type of school days cliché and without the booze, the realisation of my complicity in all this, would have put a serious damper on my nostalgia trip. Especially when I looked around and realised that the whole arena was white, unequivocally, unimaginable, unbelievably and every other description you can throw a prefix at, white! Fuck me! I thought, this is what it must be like to be at one of those Angus Buchan revival meetings!

Alphaville, to steal a line from my colleague’s recent, pointed 7th son review, were shit. Which goes to show that some things are universal. They seem trapped in between obsequious homilies to the crowd, (“yes Cape Town is showing you love – R500 bucks a ticket buyers remorse love”) and a limited back catalogue that they might have sung just that one too many times. Out with the aforementioned one and a half hits and Big in Japan (I seriously doubt they were) they battled to engage with each other never mind with the crowd. They seemed to be awed by the size of the place and a little lost. Showing their age and a little more around the waist they reminded me of a pub band. I was half expecting “American Pie” or “Hotel California”.

The ’80s was contradictory decade, redemption was at hand. I barely had time to beer rinse that annoying “Forever Young” refrain out of my consciousness before my solar plexus was ripped through with a thudding bass beat that felt like a Manny Pacquiao combination. With a crack of light, Spandau literally launched in to an impassioned “To Cut a Long Story Short” that was more rock band angst than any new proto punk pretenders.

From there on was a non-stop rollercoaster, never letting up as they ripped through their back catalogue dragging the audience with them from “Highly Strung” to “Muscle-Bound” to “Chant No. 1” and on, never taking the finger off the pulse of the crowd, even when they dropped the tempo. “Gold”, I then realised is one of those anthemic pop songs that you will only get in an arena and I think maybe Bono borrowed a little of his trademark “sincerity” from the last repeated heartfelt refrain, “I know, I know, I know this much is true” at the end of “True”. Tony Hadley is one of those rare vocalists that can stand on his own without the need of an instrument; he strutted around the stage so cocksure, not like a man possessed, but a man who knows what he possesses. For a bunch of old geezers they were relentless, with nothing to prove they were enjoying themselves, it was infectious and they obviously had made good use of the back stage rider and on top of whatever else they were on, it had the effect of nothing less than musical Viagra.

Yes you could call it a sad nostalgia pop trip; though there was nothing sombre about the ecstatic mood that pervaded as the crowd positively boogie’d to their awaiting SUVs. I bet many of them had never felt that buzzed since their own school disco. Word is that there is going to be more ’80s reunions this year, and they coming out our way. In fact they’re already preparing to wheel out Bryan Adams. Now if only a certain Mr Morrissey would get over himself and get his mates back together, I could finally get my own school disco issues out of my system.

All images © and courtesy Jurie Senekal.

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RESPONSES (4)
  1. bizarrojerri says:

    Great article…It has been far too long that SA is the dumping ground for musical hasbeens and other jobbing buskers…

    We want the finest whiners known to man, we want them here and we want them now!

    Meanwhile, anyone got a spare ticket to Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, preferably in the wheelchair section?

    Yours In Wrinkly Wrock,
    Jerome B. Izarro

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  2. BM. says:

    nice piece n pics. this show was surprisingly great. and white.

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  3. The Comrade says:

    I like Spandau Ballet, and I like Alphaville even more, but not enough to go to a fucking concert.

    80s music is a naughty thrill, for God’s sake. You’re supposed to bashfully sneak a listen late at night, preferably under the bed covers. Not go to a concert.

    In any case, I must be the only black person in this country to like Spandau Ballet.

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  4. Lisa says:

    i ADORE Spandau.
    like, compeltely!
    and i could kick myself for missing the concert! Alphaville i could do without

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