Greed and excess, yuppies with filofaxes, and Thatcherism; just some of the clichés that are trotted out when the 1980s – the decade that taste forgot - is mentioned. Musically, there are a handful of bands that soundtrack such images, and that includes, “the band that defined an era”; Spandau Ballet. Five years on from a reunion tour that many thought would never happen, the five piece were back in action in Dublin for the opening night of their ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’ tour.
Photo: Darren McLoughlin
Bathed in a sea of blue light, a highly polished and rehearsed spectacle greeted tonight’s audience. Bursting into life with ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’, as a towering and backlit in silhouette Tony Hadley unleashed that unmistakable and huge voice of his, around him his band mates shone, with huge on stage personas of their own. With such a colourful history, of rise and fall from the world’s biggest stages to the country’s most senior court rooms, it’s easy to forget just what fantastic musicians the band are. Solos by main songwriter and band leader, guitarist Gary Kemp, and the amazingly animated Steve Norman on Saxophone during the opener reminded everyone just what Spandau Ballet are capable of. A seductive ‘Only When You Leave’ which followed, reinforced this, as the various band members took centre stage on cue, during a choreographed performance.
Addressing the crowd, Hadley recalled the band’s first ever reunion show which took place in the very same arena, telling them; “the last time we were here we were so nervous as it was the fist time in 20 years.” Back then it was all about playing the old songs, but tonight they introduced the first of their new material with a tender ‘This Is The Love’.
The new song may have sat well with older material, however it was the classic tracks that the crowd were there to see, and they weren’t left wanting for long, as the big screens lit up in for a rabidly greeted ‘Chant No.1’. With multi-part harmonies and some stunning bongo playing from Norman, it was an early set highlight. With a neon ‘Blitz’ sign appearing overhead, the band then trawled through a selection of their earliest material, from their days at the fabled London New Romantic hotspot of the same name. While the quintessential 80’s sound and disco thud of ‘The Freeze’ was greeted enthusiastically, the loudest cheer was reserved for a rousing ‘To Cut A Long Story Short.’
Following that high energy section, a change of pace was welcomed as Hadley and Kemp appeared on a raised platform at the back of the arena to play a brief solo acoustic set. A genteel run through ‘Empty Spaces’ and a brief teasing verse of their alchemic biggest hit (more of which would follow later), were a great way to mix things up, with Hadley confessing “It’s great being up here. It’s the first time we’ve ever done that.” Dispensing with the usual security precautions, the pair then returned to the mainstage by walking through the crowd, singing and playing as the went to the delight of those in close proximity. “That was a trip going through there!” commented a clearly delighted Hadley.
What followed was a run through some of their biggest hits, bringing a spectacular show to a climactic end. While ‘In A Lifetime’ was greeted enthusiastically with many in the crowd dancing in the seats, it was ‘True’ that lit up the arena in more than one sense, as voices filled the air and countless camera phones were raised to capture the mesmerising performance.
With the show coming to an end, a soundbite from Gary Kemp said it all about why the band had decided to reform following years of bitterness; “I don’t want the end of Spandau Ballet to be in ugliness. I want a better end”. A poignant ‘Through The Barricades’ followed. A tale of love across a divide, it could just as easily have been about the band themselves as the conflicted Northern Ireland that it references. All that was left was a run through a euphoric ‘Gold’, as the curtain came down on a truly spectacular night.
The original Blitz Kids may no longer have youth on their side, but tonight they made an admiring audience feel young again with a string of hits performed by a band who are clearly relishing their second life. They bought a ticket to the world, and now they’ve come back again. Welcome home fellas.
First published on gigsandfestivals.co.uk, 4 March 2015.