These ’80s Weekends are held every six months(ish) at the Microsoft Theater, and the artists involved tend to fall into three categories: the hilariously silly, the underground act that maybe had a hit or two, and the gems/”real” bands. For example, back in January The Bangles were on the bill and they pretty much made everyone else look a bit daft.
This time, Vanilla Ice is firmly in the silly camp, though he clearly embraces that by bringing a teenage mutant ninja turtle (Raphael we think) on stage, and tipping his cap to the crowd as the intro to the ridiculous “Ice Ice Baby” beats out. He played last and, tellingly, attendees poured out during his set.
It’s really only worth mentioning Vanilla Ice at all, because it highlights how insane these nights can be. Immediately prior (and officially headlining), Andy Bell of Brit electro-pop band Erasure played a set that included some of the catchiest tunes that the ’80s produced, including “Drama!,” “Blue Savannah,” “Love to Hate You,” and of course “A Little Respect.”
That’s a killer list of songs, and yet Bell really didn’t look into it. Yeah, he danced a bit, he had some fabulously glamboyant female backing singers up there, and he threw in some playful banter, but it was hard to shake the feeling that he was going through the motions a bit. Still, when the songs are that good it’s tough not too enjoy them.
Welsh rockers The Alarm were the MVPs. Unlike Bell, Mike Peters gave the set his everything and “68 Guns” is a bone fide banger. Similarly, English Beat/General Public man Dave Wakeling can do no wrong and the closing “Mirror in the Bathroom” is untouchable.
Sadly, the two hip-hop acts on the bill (forgetting Vanilla Ice), Young MC and Tone Loc, were both no-shows (weirdly, merch for both was still on sale in the foyer). The last minute fill-in was Tag Team, who had that ’93 hit with “Whoomp There It Is.” That song did not make up for the lack of “Wild Thing” or “Bust a Move.” Also, since when were Tag Team and Vanilla Ice considered ’80s acts?
So elsewhere we got short sets from Modern English (to be fair, “I Melt With You” sounded wonderful), Naked Eyes (best known for a cover of Burt Bacharach’s “Always Something There to Remind Me”) and Berkeley new wavers The Motels.
Surprises came in the form of Tim Worman of rockabilly band The Polecats performing with ’80s cover band The Reflex, before being replaced by Debora Lyall of Romeo Void for two songs, including a magnificent “Never Say Never” with that iconic “I might like you better if we slept together” refrain.
Again, a mix of awesome, forgotten and fantastic. But the truth is, the whole night is incredible fun. It’s hard not to smile throughout, if you allow yourself to. Because nights like these have nothing to do with “cool” or “finger on the pulse.” This is about unrestrained, silly fun. And there’s room for that, if you don’t take yourself too seriously.
Midway through the night, all of the acts for February’s ’80s Weekend, with the exception of the headliner, were announced: Tiffany, Josie Cotton, Chins Crisis, Limahl, Lisa Lisa, Big Country, Violent Femmes and MC Hammer. See you there.