State Theater, New Brunswick
August 9, 2017
Ahhh, the 80’s…let’s harken back to a time when blazers were oversized, hair rose to great heights, denim was acid washed and music stood out. America’s premiere 80’s concert tour, Retro Futura was just the time machine to transport fans back to the era that made synths so popular. This year’s Retro Futura Tour kicked off on July 18th and over the next month played 26 concerts, providing a summer of song.
Essentially a mini festival each evening, the cavalcade of musicians and tour buses pulled into the college town of New Brunswick, NJ and prepared to strut across the stage of the State Theater about 2/3 of the way through the tour. With this stop being the closest to New York City, attendance was high with Gen X’ers excited to enjoy the tunes that formed the soundtracks to their high school and college days.
First to hit the stage was the lovely Katrina Leskanich (ex-Katrina and the Waves) who packed plenty into her four song set. Opening with “Rock N Roll Girl,” Katrina engaged the crowd and thanked the Bangles for “Going Down to Liverpool.” After high energy renditions of “Do You Want Crying” she told the crowd that she had one more song, having to leave time for everyone and broke into the ever-popular “Walking on Sunshine.” When the wild applause died down, she introduced Paul Young, saying she was lucky to share a tour bus with him, giving him props for being an iPod expert. They hugged warmly and the dapper 6’3” Young took over the stage.
The charismatic crooner who made blue eyed soul so fashionable hasn’t lost a step and Young's set was full of the microphone-stand twirling that was a staple at his shows in the Live Aid era. Fantastic versions of “Some People,” “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down,” “Everytime You Go Away,” and “Come Back and Stay” were well received by the crowd as fans danced in the aisles and filled in the area in front of the stage. Playful and charming, the only complaint about his set could be that it wasn’t nearly long enough to satisfy fans who haven’t had the opportunity to experience his life shows here in the U.S. in decades.
Modern English, dressed in bright white attire, grabbed the stage next. Original singer Robbie Grey fronted the band on hits like “Ink & Paper” and “I Melt With You” as if they were released only yesterday. Though they had gone their separate ways for more than 3 decades, the reunited members of Grey, Mick Conroy on bass and Gary McDowell on guitar and Steven Walker on keyboards have created new music in addition to hitting the road to tour. The magic has been recaptured and the audience responded enthusiastically to “Hands Across the Sea” and “Moonbeam.”
The intermissions to remove instruments and reconfigure the new sets were swift and didn’t distract from the action, instead allowing fans to scoot out for a drink or restroom break. People watching at the historic theater was a fascinating side project, with some fans unafraid to break out some vintage garb from the back of the closet.
One of the best sets in a night full of striking moments was The English Beat’s high energy, fast paced romp through a catalog of fan favorites. With front man and guitar wizard Dave Wakeling at the helm of this iconic ska, pop, soul, reggae and punk rock machine and perpetual motion man King Schascha adding his vocals, the action never stopped for a moment. The band, who prolifically tours, has never sounded better than they did this summer night. “Mirror in the Bathroom” was followed by a General Public cover of “Tenderness.” “I Confess,” “Save it For Later” and “Never Die” helped form a brilliantly curated set that left the orchestra actively wanting more. With 10 musicians partying up on the stage, the set turned into a celebration that truly was a highlight of the evening.
Ivan Dorschuk graced the stage next with Men Without Hats and proved to be the biggest surprise of the evening. The audience followed their instructions on “Safety Dance” by dancing if they wanted to, in fact, twice to that catchy tune, once at the beginning of the set and again as their finale. For those who forgot their other tunes “Pop Goes the World” and “Where Did the Boys Go,” they were in for a treat. And when Dorschuk and crew covered “SOS” from Abba, it worked brilliantly.
The last to take the stage was Howard Jones with the longest set of the night. Walking through the stage under an enormous lighted umbrella contraption, Hojo emerged and took on the keyboards, keytar and more. “Like to Get to Know You Well” was the perfect way to start things off, followed by a string of hits including “Equality” and “You Know I Love You, Don’t You?” Very few sat during Jones’ time on stage, thoroughly enjoying “No One is To Blame,” “Everlasting Love,” “What is Love” and “New Song.” With his signature spiky hair, easy grin and tonight’s red and black patterned outfit, Jones was an ideal way to close out the musical spectacular that was Retro Futura 2017. As fans filed down the aisles, songs reverberating in their heads, conversations turned to wonderment of who might be on the bill for next year’s tour.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon