Spandau Ballet proves time doesn’t tame talent in Bay Area performance

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The dream of the ‘80s was alive in San Francisco’s Warfield on Jan. 23. Clad in work-appropriate attire, Generation Xers relived their angst-riddled adolescence for one more night to the tune of saxophone solos and a hint of synthesizer, courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Steve Norman.

John Hughes would have been proud of what had transpired Jan. 23, thanks to the revived British New Wave progenitors Spandau Ballet.

Spandau Ballet, touring this side of the pond for the first time in 20 years, is perhaps most familiar for “True,” a bluesy, overtly tender ballad that will undoubtedly soundtrack high school dances until the end of time. The band is fully aware of “True”’s lasting legacy in the pop canon. “I think it’s a testament to how good they are — you can’t make nostalgia like ‘True’ and ‘Gold,'” John Keeble, the group’s drummer, commented in an interview over the phone with the Daily Californian.

While they may not be able to churn out the hits as they did in their mid-‘80s heyday, Spandau Ballet proved they’re still capable of enthralling audiences with their trusty classic hits while experimenting with their newer singles. When playing at the Warfield, the group was a well-oiled unit, seamlessly interweaving new tunes from “The Story” and their most recent greatest hits collection (“Soul Boy”) with the well-worn trinkets of their prime “Gold.”

Understandably, the crowd was less receptive when Spandau ventured into their newer musical territory — the nostalgic thrill of hearing a dusty classic makes it difficult for new material to ever truly measure up. Yet the group didn’t falter or overcompensate, gliding from track to track without missing a beat.

Lead singer Tony Hadley had a beguiling stage presence: Clad in a slim-fit suit and a slyly assured grin, the frontman was as captivating a performer as he must have been 30 years ago — without having to conform to any gaudy ‘80s throwbacks. An expert in the art of good old-fashioned, classy charisma, Hadley was a thrill to behold, wooing the crowd with the sort of confidence only the wisdom of age can offer. Really, very few frontmen could offer a celebratory toast to the audience with the bravado that Hadley displayed. His voice, too, has aged gracefully — his swooning delivery was most evident in their slow-burning anthem to devotion, “I’ll Fly for You,” in which he croons: “What I give to you / Is all that I could bring.”

The rest of the band was similarly in sync, performing with a nonchalant ease that made their commitment to their revitalized sound truly apparent. “There’s some sort of magic that happens when the five of us get together. Not many bands can say that they still have their five original members — maybe us and U2, that’s it,” Keeble later quipped in the phone interview. Spandau Ballet’s dynamic chemistry emanated from the stage, hypnotizing an adoringly eager audience, most of whom were giddily chanting along with Hadley and guitarist and head lyricist Gary Kemp.

“Thank you for your indulgence,” Hadley graciously remarked prior to performing “This Is the Love,” one of the newly minted tunes off their latest greatest hits collection. Hadley, along with the rest of Spandau Ballet, is fully aware of the band’s perpetual place in the musical canon as the dignified old guards of emotive ‘80s white-boy soul.

Though the group’s gig at the Warfield may have been a celebratory occasion for those hoping to reminisce about their long-gone teendom, Spandau Ballet abstained from waxing nostalgic about their former heyday. “We are better players now than we were then,” Keeble added. If anything, their upcoming world tour is a triumphant victory lap. The ‘80s are truly back in musical vogue; countless Top 40 musicians, ranging from Calvin Harris and his anthemic house to Taylor Swift and her modern New Romanticism, have reveled in the theatricality and hedonism that defined the era.

Spandau Ballet’s brilliant set served not only as an ‘80s teenage dream, but as a reminder to the millennials — a summation of their legacy as pop iconoclasts.

 

Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected].