As the fifth edition of the Retro Futura Tour – which bills itself as "America’s Premiere ‘80s Concert Tour – prepares to reach the end of the road, it made a stop at The Pabst Theater Wednesday night allowing nostalgics and those too young to remember (or recoil in horror) to see a full slate of 1980s hitmakers.
The tour includes an interesting mix of acts, few of whom would’ve likely shared stages much back in the day, but all of whom charted at least once in the U.S.
While some venues on the tour only got a sampling of the acts, Milwaukee saw all six: ABC, Belinda Carlisle, Modern English, Tony Lewis (from The Outfield; don’t worry, I didn’t recognize his name, either), Kajagoogoo’s Limahl and Bow Wow Wow’s Annabella (Lwin).
Oddly, at just one show, Latin hip-hop trio Expose was added, but not here.
Up front, I’m going to go ahead and admit that I saw four of the six acts on the bill in concert when I was in high school in 198- (cough, cough) and, honestly, I didn’t expect to ever see any of them again.
Not that they weren't good then or anything, only that the world appeared to have moved on.
The other two, The Outfield and Limahl / Kajagoogoo, never even registered in my consciousness.
So, what did I expect from this gig? I can't say for sure, beyond nostalgia.
What did I get?
I suspect, like most of the crowd – which pretty much filled the lower level and mezzanine of the theater but not the gallery, which was closed off – a walk down memory lane, and moments of surprise when I realized that despite paying little attention to some of the acts in their heyday, I knew most every song performed.
Annabella Lwin from Bow Wow Wow (who dedicated "I Want Candy" to the Fonz and ended her set with a shout of "Sit on it!" before leaving the stage), Limahl from Kajagoogoo – who looked especially spry – and Tony Lewis from The Outfield shared a backing band.
That meant there was no break between their sets, which kept the night moving, and considering the show finished up at three-and-a-half hours long, that flow was a godsend.
While the audience was on its feet for the biggest hits by these performers ("I Want Candy," "Too Shy" and "Your Love," respectively), they were glued to their seats for much of the rest of the sets – polite, but reserved (though there was enough hootin' and hollerin' to lead Lwin to ask, "why are you shouting?").
Modern English, which suffered some issues with the sound, was the first of the acts to feel like an actual band – because it was and appears to still be one. One song the group performed – "Trees" – is from a 2016 release.
Still, while the crowd showed support for the group during its feedback woes, which forced the re-start of a song, it was only during "I Melt With You," that the audience really ignited, especially for a sing-along.
Belinda Carlisle, former frontwoman of The Go-Go's, ran through an impressive slate of hits by her band and from her solo records, and her performance was the first of the night that the entire place appeared to really dig from top to bottom.
Though the front of house mix during her set was the flattest and most dull-edged of the evening, Carlisle was in fine form, her voice sharp, and she overcame that setback.
Martin Fry and ABC closed out the night with a set full of familiar tunes, some of which I'd forgotten over the years, like "When Smokey Sings" and, the sole encore of the night, "Be Near Me."
Fry remains an engaging showman and after all these years, his vocal similarities to the legendary Tom Jones suddenly seemed obvious (how had I missed it before?). While I was surprised to see ABC headlining above the former Go-Go's singer, Fry and his band played a set every bit as powerful and which drew the same fervor as Carlisle.
Certainly, no ground was broken at Wednesday night's show and few likely walked away having discovered something new and exciting, we all just lived in the past for a couple hours and, really, it felt fine. Fun even.
Annabella Lwin from Bow Wow Wow
Baby, Oh No!
Do You Wanna Hold Me?
I Want Candy
Ooh to Be Ah
Hang On Now
The Never Ending Story
Tony Lewis (The Outfield)
Say It Isn't So
All the Love in the World
Into the Light
Ink and Paper
Hands Across the Sea
I Melt With You
Mad About You
Head Over Heels
I Get Weak
Circle in the Sand
Leave a Light On
Our Lips Are Sealed
We Got the Beat
Heaven Is a Place on Earth
(How to Be a) Millionaire
The Night You Murdered Love
All of My Heart
King Without a Crown
When Smokey Sings
The Look of Love
Be Near Me (Encore)
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.