TOTALLY ‘80s – Martika, Berlin, Paul Lekakis, Limahl, Katrina of The Waves, Wa Wa Nee, Real Life, Men Without Hats
The Astor Theatre
Tuesday, 19th July, 2016
By Shane Pinnegar
We all have a special connection to the songs which soundtracked out puberty and formative years, but it seems the ‘80s hold a special place in just about everyone’s hearts. Perhaps this is because the time was full of such inventiveness, with technology leaping forwards so fast that new sounds and styles were being created almost daily. It was no surprise to see the charts and that week’s edition of TV show Countdown featuring punk songs next to new wave, pop next to rock, heavy metal next to reggae, new hip hop and electronica genres springing up left and right.
The latest Totally ‘80s tour gathers together a pretty diverse selection of acts from this surprisingly exciting decade, both international and home-grown, with some boasting a broader back catalogue than others, some with better sales figures than others, and some simply with far more talent than others.
What they all have in common though, was an eagerness to entertain, and a crowd ready to lap up every hit.
And what a crowd it was – from the curious to those keen to reminisce, to those who never left the ‘80s and more than a few who looked like they’d give anything to be back there in their glory days.
Triple J antique Maynard F-Sharp Crabbe MC’d the show, introducing proceedings with an apology that pop-babe Stacie Q was a no-show due to illness. No big loss for us as we personally have no idea who she is or was or any of her ‘hits’.
First up, then, was Ivan Doroschuk and his black disco ball shirt, to roll out Men Without Hats’ two biggest hits Pop Goes The World and Safety Dance, which filled the dance floor and got the well-lubricated crowd in the mood from the very start.
David Sterry took his place in front of the house band next, looking greyer and paler than thirty years ago, but otherwise very similar to Real Life’s Countdown heyday. Catch Me I’m Falling and Send Me An Angel – both from their 1983 debut album – went down a storm, especially the latter, possibly Australia’s best new wave single of all time.
Musical director Paul Gray abandoned his keyboard rack at the rear of the stage to take the microphone for the high energy super-sweet-funk-pop of Wa Wa Nee’s Stimulation and Sugar High, complete with that ultimate symbol of ‘80s music: a keytar solo.
At this point we should note that most of these acts were anathema to us rockers and rollers back in the day, but the songs remain memorable three decades later and such is the addictive nature of the ‘80s (especially to those who grew up during the decade), most of these songs hold up extremely well and remain, at worst, guilty pleasures. Older and greyer or balder the performers may be, but they all obviously love getting the chance to wheel their biggies out in front of such an adoring crowd.
The first real rock n’ roll player of the night took the stage next: Katrina Leskanich, once of The Waves. Strapping on a guitar, she strode to the microphone with the confidence of someone who hasn’t stopped gigging since the late ‘70s, took a moment to tune up, then launched into lesser hit Do You Want Crying? It’s a slightly left-of-centre choice but all the better for it rather than relying on a more well known song. In fine voice, it was criminal she was only granted time for two songs, but we all know what was going to be the second one, and she delivered a wonderful, extended take on the irrepressibly upbeat Walking On Sunshine, leaving not a still person in the house – and that was before the clapalong, singalong, dancealong break. Joyously life-affirming.
By way of contrast, next up was Limahl, still sporting spiky blonde highlights, though without the mulletty bits nowadays. Sadly his muted three song set flopped for most, as he strolled nonchalantly back and forth, grinning like a loon in the spotlight, cracking bad jokes and handing out autographed photos of his 1984 self after singing Kajagoogoo’s Too Shy, Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer and his Never Ending Story. His only real hit, here relied heavily on backing vocalist Robyn Loau (herself ex-singer of early ‘90s pop group Girlfriend, and a cinch for Most Valuable Player amongst the band tonight) to get through the soaring melodies. Certainly some of his time could have been better used elsewhere.
An intermission beckoned, before Crabbe introduced the oddity of the night, Paul Lekakis, the only act of the night who played doof doof techno, and the only act of the night who performed to a backing track alone. Applying his scrapyard dog howl to nondescript new track All Around The World, then launching into his one-and-only hit Boom Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back To My Room), which was more of a strip tease with backing dancers than anything else. Best bit: him exhorting the crowd to “put your hands together,” then waving his over his head, very much separately.
Berlin, thankfully, are a world apart. Slick, professional and wonderfully nuanced, their delicate balance of electropop and rock showed exactly what made them such a popular drawcard in The States and Europe for so many years. With synths and guitars perfectly balanced the electropop-rock pioneers delivered a glorious career overview, from No More Words and Dancing In Berlin, through early breakthrough The Metro to whistling rocker Like Flames. Singer Terri Nunn (clad in a black, white and silver cocktail dress and looking energised) broke with tradition for the night, bringing long-time drummer Chris Olivas and synth player Dave Schulz (also of Goo Goo Dolls) with her for the tour. 2014’s underground techno-industrial comeback Animal was next – not from the ‘80s, but fitting seamlessly into the set, before megahit Take My Breath Away from the movie Top Gun, during which Nunn jumped atop a bouncer’s shoulders for a lap of the theatre, singing and clutching at hands all the way. But it was final song Sex (I’m A…) that all the real Berlin fans wanted to hear, and Nunn sang this in duet with Aussie guitarist Craig Laird to top off a fantastic set. Guitar riffs crashed into waves of synths as this song espoused female empowerment in arguably the most powerful way ever recorded, and certainly one of the sexiest.
Martika – looking too thin and pale, and sipping from a mug of tea – may have looked frail but her vocals sounded full and rich as she worked the stage in a figure hugging dress and shoulder length bob. A dancer/actress/singer from pre-teen days, she was a consummate pro and held the crowd in the palm of her hand for powerful renditions of More Than You Know and her danced-up Carole King cover I Feel The Earth Move. Love… Thy Will Be Done was next, co-written by and given an emotional dedication to Prince tonight in a loving tribute which slowed into a hymn like passage of Purple Rain. Another Prince collaboration, the rap hit Martika’s Kitchen was next, playful and funky, before she finished her set – of course – with the simply beautiful Toy Soldiers, a beautiful song which did great justice to the concept of the night, and had the whole theatre in full voice.
The beauty of such a diverse line-up is that everyone will have their own favourites, and it’s pretty clear from what I’ve written which were ours. With such a great turnout for the event, we can only hope that the likes of Katrina Leskanich, Berlin and Martika are invited back for their own full headlining tours.
Originally published on 100% ROCK MAGAZINE