By Wal Reid
Artist: Spandau Ballet
Date / Venue: Sunday May 10th, Vector Arena, Auckland
Spandau Ballet always had that air of posh James Bond to them. Their sophisticated style of New Romantique-Disco Pop and debonair suits probably helped perpetuate that myth, I guess also having the most influential songs of the 80s doesn't go amiss either. Who hasn't danced naked at home to Lifeline or lip-lynced the shite out of True? The band have always been the centre of the tabloids with the documented suing of guitarist Gary Kemp by band members or actor brother Martin Kemp's (of EastEnders fame) benign brain tumours. But here they were, the five original band members ahead of their appearance on NZ's X-Factor, as singer Tony Hadleynicely put it, "it's been five years, how're you doing Auckland?".
Wasting no time with formalities the band lunged into new tune Soul Boy however it was the golden oldies that the 40 plus crowd were gagging for, luckily they didn't have to wait long as Highly Strung, How Many Liesand teen fave Only When You Leave from their successful Parade album (shit 1984 scary) were duly dealt to before Hadley finally let burst with a shout of ‘Auckland!'.
Not a big fan of the Vector's acoustics, but I have to admit it was humming tonight. As the night progressed, the sound improved to the point I was tuned out totally immersed by the onstage spectacle. The band were on fire, Hadley's almost opera-resque vocals sounding just as good as I remember from my misspent youth. The pitch-perfect trademark backing vocals, John Keeble's solid time keeping on drums, Kemp's fiery guitar solos coupled with the sparse lighting and big screens enhanced the concert experience as the familiarRound And Round played with video footage of the group in their heyday. After the song a middle aged female's voice shot across the Arena "I love you" not skipping a beat Hadley fired back "I love you too darling".
Hadley is a consummate entertainer a funny bugger too, I've never seen a frontman bond with an audience so quickly. The group all smiles were enjoying themselves, it was hard to fathom the band having had in-house dramas as he quizzed the Auckland audience "Been alright the last five years? Good".
He recounted they've been busy filming a new movie called Soul Boys of the Western World which was an easy introduction into brand new songs This is the Love & Steal, the latter surprisingly good, emulating that pop feel good smooth the band are well known for
The night wore on like a good wine, getting better the longer they stayed on stage. Hadley remarking on how many English people he could hear on the streets of Auckland, while toasting the audience with beer in hand before the band rarked up the tempo with the Wham sounding Chant No.1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)before transporting us back to their roots with a retro blitz medley of pre-loved 80s hits preceding True. It was stark dichotomy between their old and new music styles, songs such as The Freeze and To Cut A Long Story Short, classics that have finely stood the test of time.
As much as the guitar is central to any song be it a solo or rhythm, saxophonist Steve Norman is worth his weight in gold (excuse the pun) and more than most guitarists, his feel on songs such as the brilliant solo onSteal or the intro to Raw is integral to the groups sound. As the focus moved to the back of the Arena, Hadley and guitarist Gary Kemp did the unplugged thing wowing the crowd with stripped back versions of Empty Spaces and Gold, most people managed a few lines of the song much to Hadley's pleasure. From there the close of the evening was on nigh heading into festive mode the classics the audience had been waiting for slowly made their appearance, Communication, Lifeline, True, Through The Barricades and Gold all received warmly while Hadley & co took their final bow to a standing ovation.
Tony Hadley is one of the most likeable guys you could meet in a couple of hours and come away feeling like you've made a friend. Spandau Ballet seamlessly defy time, their music harkens a pining for the 80s. It was a great night of singalongs and reigniting those childhood memories - Superb, one to tick off the bucket list and for once with great sound, hey hey.