Strange '80s
The Fonda Theatre
Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sweet Relief Musician’s Fund found a wonderfully strange way to breath new life into the jam concert model last night with “Strange '80s,” a tribute to the decade featuring stars from the acting, music and comedy worlds covering classic retro tracks. Hosted by Finn Wolfhard, the 14-year-old star of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, the show was structured like a greatest hits mixtape, an all-night procession of performances featuring well-known new wave, pop, metal and alternative hits from the '80s.

Incorporating Wolfhard as host was kind of brilliant. Stranger Things became a mega-hit thanks in part to its many '80s movie references and retro soundtrack. Sweet Relief’s Matthew Leone, who organized the event, ran with the theme; there was '80s decor everywhere, tons of glow jewelry given out to the crowd, and fanny-pack goodie bags with cell phone chargers inside. Wolfhard’s own band Calpurnia performed songs that were written just before his parents were born. His take on The Pixies and Weezer was raw and unpolished, but definitely showed a lot of spunk and charisma, which also emanates from the young actor on screen.

The event started off with hit-and-miss covers by students of the Los Rios Rock School, as well as Stranger Things co-star Chelsea Talmadge, but it built major momentum as the evening progressed, especially when the wee fellows of Wallows featuring Dylan Minnette (star of another Netflix hit, 13 Reasons Why) took the stage and busted out The Smiths “This Charming Man” and a fierce take on Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.” Take note: Wallows are a band to watch, whether you watch TV or not.

Deap Vally's Lindsey Troy; Credit: Mathew Tucciarone

Deap Vally's Lindsey Troy; Credit: Mathew Tucciarone

Often there are two ways to successfully tackle a cover song: a faithful, note-for-note carbon copy, or a whole new interpretation. L.A. duo Deap Vally showed everyone how the latter was done with their two songs, Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” and Prince’s “Kiss,” both of which retained the dramatic edge of the much-beloved anthems, but oozed with Deap Vally's trademark bluesy bombast.

Prince got the most nods last night material-wise, and if I had to pick a highlight, it might have to go to the combination of Slipknot's Corey Taylor, Scott Ian from Anthrax, Meat Loaf's daughter Pearl Aday and others, who did two grandiose, reverent and raging renditions of the Purple One’s party starters, “Let’s Go Crazy” and “1999.” They also invited some children on stage for a fun take on Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.”

Though Stranger Things' nostalgic nods have made it a Gen X obsession, it also has a youthful fan base. The event was all-ages and there were lots of kids, tweens and teens in attendance. That didn’t stop many of the night’s performers from spewing F-bombs all night, including Jack Black and Goldfinger’s John Feldmann who, backed by members of Sugarcult and 5 Seconds of Summer, did a giddy take on The Cure's “Just Like Heaven” and Nena’s “99 Luftballons. “

Though often viewed in terms of novelty acts and new wave, the sounds of the '80s were extremely diverse and highly influential. The recent touring success of such '80s bands as The Cure and Depeche Mode have proven the era's music to be more than timeless. Last night featured the decade's pop, metal, soul and classic rock played by members of Filter, Anberlin, OK Go, Velvet Revolver and The Go-Go's (Jane Wieldin was the only artist to do her own songs).

Tenacious D with Sarah Silverman; Credit: Mathew Tucciarone

Tenacious D with Sarah Silverman; Credit: Mathew Tucciarone

Outrageous as ever, Tenacious D's Jack Black and Kyle Gass debuted their newest member, comedian Sarah Silverman. If there was any doubt before, she crushed it — this lady can sing! She did a pretty badass cover of The Pretenders “Stop Your Sobbing,” which they followed up with a soulful yet comic bit (“it's not a bit” said Black midway, but it was) during Huey Lewis’ “The Heart of Rock & Roll.”

Show closer “Weird Al” Yankovic left his parodies at home with two pretty straightforward yet joyful covers: Devo’s “Girl You Want” and Tommy Tutone's “867-5309.” The whole thing ended with all of the night's performers returning to the stage for a group sing-along on two admittedly over-played radio hits that were nevertheless totally awesome coming from this gleeful group: Guns N' Roses' “Sweet Child of Mine” and Joan Jett's “I Love Rock 'n’ Roll” … or were they singing “Rocky Road?” Either way, it was retro and it rocked.

All proceeds from the event went to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial assistance to musicians and music industry members in need due to illness, disability or age-related problems.

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