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Concert Reviews:
Retro Futura revels in 80s hits at Meadow Brook

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Saturday, August 5, 2017

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- There wasn't a lot of future, or even present, played by the acts the Retro Futura 2017 tour on Friday night, Aug. 4, at the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre.

But truth be told, no one was there for that anyway.

The retro was just fine on an unseasonably chilly summer night, as a half-dozen 80s hitmakers -- led by Howard Jones, the English Beat and Men Without Hats -- threw a nostalgic, four-hour party loaded with almost nothing but hits. Time has not been kind to some of the artists' voices (notably Paul Young, Modern English's Robbie Gray and Men Without Hats' Ivan Doroshuk) and there was a considerable amount of gray hair on stage, but the night was about the songs, not the singers and, yes, you COULD dance if you wanted to -- and many at Meadow Brook did.

Jones' propulsive hour-long set established why he's the package's headliner. Sporting a bedazzled black suit a mop of blonde hair and a grin as bright as any of the stage lights, the singer-keyboardist had the crowd on its feet from the start of "Like To Get To Know You Well" as he and his four-piece band traipsed through hits such as "The Prisoner," "Life In One Day," "What Is Love?" and a moving "No One Is to Blame." Jones had some newer fare to offer, too -- the intense, four-on-the-floor "The Human Touch" from his 2015 album "Engage" -- and he also let that song's EDM flavoring pepper "New Song" and the set-closing "Things Can Only Get Better."

The rest of the show featured short 20- to 30-minute bursts from the other acts, all gamely trying to show they were more than one-hit wonders from 40 years ago. The English Beat was most successful at that, powering through a genuinely awful sound mix with a potent ska-rock attack that included its lively rendition of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "The Tears Of A Clown," a deft coupling of "Ranking Full Stop" and "Mirror In The Bathroom" and a lengthy vamp through "Sooner Or Later." Kudos, too, to toaster King Schascha for walking through the crowd and pressing the flesh during the intermission after the group's set.

Men Without Hats was the night's pleasant surprise; Yes, the Canadian quintet played "The Safety Dance" -- twice -- but also reminded the crowd it did have another hit ("Pop Goes The World") and reached back to the 70s for a crowd-pleasing cover of ABBA's "SOS. The white-clad men of Modern English, however, didn't drum up great interest until its iconic "I Melt With You" closed its time on stage, while Katrina Leskanich (of the Waves) scored with "Rock 'n' Roll Girl," "Going Down To Liverpool" (made famous by the Bangles) and "Do You Want Crying" but surprisingly fell flat during "Walking On Sunshine."

The microphone stand-twirling Paul Young, meanwhile, fell flat on all four of his songs, and even let the microphone fall into the pavilion during Ann Peebles' "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down," retrieving it with a burst of piercing feedback. But that came early enough that it didn't at all dampen the spirit of a show that unapologetically made the past -- right down to original MTV VeeJay Mark Goodman's taped introduction and some unfortunate fashion choices in the crowd -- feel like a still-relevant part of the present day.

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