New Wave with Old Friends: The double bill of Howard Jones and former Ultravox man Midge Ure makes sense in the sense that they probably share many fans; they are, after all, both British new wave merchants that emerged in the early part of the ’80s and had many hits. Both could claim to have had an impact on the synthwave sound.
But the similarities pretty much end there, and that’s what makes this such a fascinating night. Both aesthetically and sonically, it always felt like Midge Ure was coming from a darker place than Jones. Apparently the lighting guy at the Ace Hotel’s Theatre knows it too, as Ure is bathed in cold blue during his set, while Jones gets the full range of colors.
Ure was tremendous on Friday night in Downtown Los Angeles. Most of the set was pulled from the Ultravox catalog, the British new wave band that formed in 1974 and that Ure joined in time for the Vienna album in 1980. Naturally, we got that album’s title track — one of the ’80s’ great, epic songs. We got his cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” a rendition of “Fade to Grey” (the song that he co-wrote for another former band, Visage) and he ended with the classic “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes.”
It all served as a reminder of just how many great songs Ure has been responsible for — he might not be the first artist that Americans think of when recalling British new wave and ’80s synth pop, but he should certainly be right up there.
Similarly, people often forget how many great songs Howard Jones has in his arsenal. As we said earlier, he’s much brighter and chirpier than Ure, something that lead to him being labelled as twee and vacuous by “serious” music critics back in the day. A strange accusation in the ’80s, of all decades!
Jones pull out plenty of tunes from that decade, including the opening “Pearl in the Shell,” a magnificent “New Song” and of course, “What is Love.” When introducing “Thing Can Only Get Better,” he references the Supreme Court decision on Roe vs Wade and makes his support known for women’s reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ marriage equality rights, to huge cheers.
It’s both odd and awesome when Ure joins Jones for a rendition of Band Aid’s “Do They Know it’s Christmas?,” the song Ure co-wrote with Bob Geldof. Awesome, because you don’t get to hear that song performed live very often. Odd, because it’s fucking June.
The fact that former Kajagoogoo bassist Nick Beggs is now in Jones’ band also meant that we got a great rendition of that band’s “Too Shy.” When the band leaves the stage at the end, and then Jones reappears by himself to play “Hide and Seek” at the keyboard, it feels poignant and perfect.
Ure and Jones then — different but the same. And both absolutely superb in L.A.
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