It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made this year’s Retro Futura Tour so great, as there were many factors working in the show’s favor, starting with how good everyone looked and sounded. Maybe it was just this lot, but ‘80s-era pop acts seemed to have aged better overall than those from other generations.
The show in Dayton also benefited from an intimate and fun little venue called Fraze Pavillion, nestled in a park in suburban Kettering. You wouldn’t expect a workday city like Dayton to have much interest in this line-up, but for one thing, Dayton and its surrounding communities are pretty cool. Also, one of the most storied alternative radio stations in America sat halfway between Dayton and Cincinnati in Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University. Not affiliated with that institution, 97X, WOXY, was a commercial alternative rock station that barely reached grateful fans in both of the area’s major markets. Likely, many former listeners were in attendance, even though the local Mix station were the official local sponsors.
Top to bottom, it was a solid line-up.
For some reason, Katrina can’t go out on the road with a bunch of hired guns and be Katrina and The Waves. She has to be Katrina (ex Katrina and the Waves). No matter. She still knocked out the hits, and yes, that’s plural. In addition to “Walking on Sunshine,” there’s the very fine “Going Down to Liverpool” and “Love Shine a Light.” On previous tours, she got a little chatty, but this time around she succinctly told the bands story, adding bits before each song. After the big hit, she turned it over to Paul Young who used the same backing band.
Interesting order of songs for Paul Young’s set. He started with “Some People” followed by “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down.” Then came his biggest U.S. hit, a cover of the Hall & Oates tune “Every Time You Go Away.’ So tough to decide which version is best as Young added a great vocal and lyrical hook to the chorus and has a voice just as amazing as Daryl Hall’s. He finished with a song that first brought him exposure in the U.S. on MTV, “Come Back and Stay.” Strangely, the bass player didn’t really pump out that catchy bassline. Also, social media lit up along the tour asking for other favorites which he promised to perform next time around, notably “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s Home).”
Bringing in the most complete original line-up was Modern English, missing only drummer Richard Brown. They kicked off their set with the brilliant “Ink and Paper,” quite possibly their best song. They also played a newer track called “Moonbeam” which was pretty well received, followed by “Hands Across the Sea” from Ricochet Days. That album, along with After the Snow, which contains the big one, is really an overlooked gem. For that big hit, which was not, in fact, a hit (it got to #78), the band was joined by Dave Wakeling of The English Beat. “Melt with You” indeed was one of the biggest tunes of the night.
The English Beat
Unlike Katrina, Dave Wakeling can use his original band’s name. In fact, his former bandmate Ranking Roger does too—only over in the U.K. For this tour, Wakeling used some latter day Beat members as well as some of the folks from the tour’s backing band. They smashed it. We even got a General Public (the group Roger and Wakeling formed after The Beat) song, likely because that was the biggest hit. Also, “Tenderness” is just a great tune. So amazing was The English Beat’s set, it presented a mountain for Men Without Hats to climb. Why were they batting just ahead of closer Howard Jones?
Men Without Hats
It may have had to do more with logistics. As the first four acts shared equipment, it made sense to have the two electronic bands go last. And MWH founder and front man Ivan Doroschuk had a plan. After the radio folks gave an embarrassing and silly introduction, Ivan and his band rolled out with “The Safety Dance.” However, it was the short version. Then came the very fine follow-up to that single from 1982 “I Got the Message.”
From there it was right into the band’s other top 20 hit, “Pop Goes the World.” Then came an ABBA cover (“S.O.S.”), followed by another fine original “Where Do the Boys Go?” The latter was dedicated to the late Allan McCarthy, an original member of the band. The finale was the 12 inch version of “Safety Dance” complete with the spelled-out “safety dance” and that low G/middle G hook.
Sonically, Men Without Hats were only rivaled by the night’s closer. Certainly, Doroschuk’s baritone has been easier to maintain than some of his peer’s voices, but it was no less impressive. The synth bass too really punched through the mix.
Hojo. If there is one guy who is happy he didn’t indulge in the new wave party lifestyle of the ‘80s, it’s this guy. At 62 he can hit every note and his band was amazing. Last year he was the opener for OMD and Barenaked Ladies and was happy to come out and set the table.
Closing this tour, he was properly in his element. Great tunes and an enthusiastic crowd who were happy to sing along on every track as Jones rolled out ten hit singles. He should always be on this tour.
PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.