Twenty five years ago both Tears For Fears and Spandau Ballet toured the country and played to packed houses. Since then a lot of their English based contemporaries have fallen to the wayside, the notable exceptions being, of course, U2 and, to a lesser extent, Duran Duran and Depeche Mode. U2 appear to be one of the few bands that survived the 1980s fully intact (that being no line up changes, split and reformation), and both TFF and Spandau suffered the fate of the rest, they split up and dissolved. If you don’t believe then simply look at a list of who played Live Aid in 1985 and tell me which acts are still around, and potent. Not many at all.
To be fair Tears For Fears didn’t have much to split. They were always Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, and when Curt went his separate ways people thought it was no great loss. Luckily for all concerned, Smith and Orzabal patched up whatever differences that they might have had and have since gone on to make new, stunningly under-rated and under-heard, music and are now well into touring the world. The people who wrote Smith off as lightweight, or dead weight (pick your own) clearly underestimated what he brings to the table at a concert. From the opening track, Mad World, Smith, and Orzabal, had the Entertainment Centre both on and at their feet. They were no mere opening act; they performed a show in their own right. It’d be impossible to call a band that can produce hit after hit after hit a warm act; they were clearly a co-headliner in anyone’s eyes.
The songs came thick and fast. In order, Mad World, Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Secret World, Sowing The Seeds Of Love, Floating Down The River, Pale Shelter, Break It Down Again, Head Over Heels, Woman In Chains and Shout. The stunning Woman In Chains featured their backing vocalist, Michael Wainwright, who goes under the stage name of Wainwright, and who seemed both content and amused to keep bouncing guitar picks off my head for half the show. Luckily for everyone his vocal range was as impressive as his aim. His vocal abilities came into the forefront during the highly emotive Woman In Chains, and while he didn’t make anyone forget Oleta Adams, he certainly made the song his own. Sadly Tears For Fears portion of the show was over all too soon and they left to a standing ovation.
Spandau Ballet were another victim of the 1980s. Famous for wearing tea-towels on their heads (sadly no tea-towels were present last night) they split in the early 1990s and have been fiercely fighting every since, the usual thing, who got the money and who’s going to keep getting the money. The Kemp brothers then forged a reasonably successful career in acting and lead singer Tony Hadley found the keys to the pie cupboard, morphed into an Alec Baldwin crossed with Liam Neeson look-alike and toured where he could. Gary Kemp also wrote songs when he could and the infighting became so savage that even the simple things, such as Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble touring as 'Hadley, Norman and Keeble, ex-Spandau Ballet' became problematic. Eventually Hadley came back to Australia, in 2008, and played the smallest venues that could be found and, due to legalities, wasn’t really allowed to use the name Spandau Ballet in his advertising. Sad.
But last year all had been forgiven. There are still rumbles of differences but you’d not know it by seeing them in full flight. As with Tears For Fears, all the hits were there, some reworked, keeping in line with their new album, and at least one new song, Once More, that sounded like it could have easily escaped from the Parade album. Virgin, Instinction, Chant No 1, Only When You Leave, Highly Strung and the two mega hits, True and Gold (the last song), were present and accounted for. The audience was on a high, everyone cheered and stomped and several dozen “ooohhhs” and “ahhhhs” were heard as various band members, well, frankly Martin Kemp, came back on stage after the main set in a leather waistcoat. Hadley's voice is still there, if anything more powerful than ever, and the rest of the band aren't as good as they once were, musically, they're also better than they were. No dropped notes, no sloppy play and, in a rarity, no missed high notes and no cracked voices, which is all too common for bands of this vintage. More impressive than the music, for both acts, was the high energy displayed and the amount of genuine affection and warmth that seemed to ooze from the stage all evening. For once it appeared that the bands in question actually wanted to be where they were, doing what they were doing. The smiles didn’t appear to be fake, which was very refreshing, and with a history such as Spandau Ballet, you could be forgiven for thinking that they’re pumping out the hits for the cash. Only the band can say for sure, but the banter and glances on the faces of the band members on stage show a different story – they all seem damned happy to be back up where they belong, out of the dingy bars and on the main stage, playing the music that defined them. And good on them for making it work. They deserve all the good will that’s coming their way, and hopefully it won’t be another twenty five years before either act make it back to Australia.
Other than the lack of tea-towel head gear, I’d urge everyone and anyone to shell out the hard earned and catch these two giants of the 1980s before its too late. You’ll not be disappointed. Both acts are highly polished and entertaining and extremely professional. They're not novelty acts or pumping away playing cheap bars on the nolstalgia circuit, these are two bands who are as good as they ever were, and are still relevant, believe it or not. However, as good as Spandau Ballet was, I do believe that Tears For Fears shaded them, slightly. But, to use a classic piece of Australian slang, there was only a rollie paper between them.