Last night, my wife and I—just about to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary—treated ourselves to a concert by Tears for Fears.
For those of you who read progarchy.com regularly, you know that not only do we as a website love the work of TFF, but I, Brad, have been rather obsessed with Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith since 1985.
Yes, 30 years—just four more years than I’ve been in love with Rush. And, of course, what a comparison. Can you imagine Peart and Orzabal writing lyrics together? Tom Sawyer meets Admiral Halsey!
I came to TFF in the same way almost every American my age did, from hearing “Everybody wants to rule the world” on MTV. What a glorious song. Here was New Wave, but New Wave-pop-prog. Here were intelligent lyrics. Here, to my mind, was music done properly. Having grown up on Yes and Genesis and Kansas, I wanted my New Wave to be just a bit edgier than, say, that of the B-52s. I wanted my New Wave artists to take themselves as seriously as Yes had done on “Close to the Edge.”
Well, as I’ve written elsewhere at progarchy, Songs from the Big Chair has remained in my top 10 albums of all time—ever since I first purchased it in 1985. Of course, I worked backwards after discovering TTF, finding The Hurting to be a brilliantly angsty and claustrophobic look at the world. I think I’m just about six years younger than Curt and Roland, and I could easily imagine them as schoolmates.
Since 1985, I have purchased every single thing TFF has released—every TFF studio album, every live album, every cover, every b-side (TFF’s b-sides are every bit as good as the Cure’s; the b-sides for each matter, a great deal), every remaster, every deluxe edition, and every solo album. No matter the cost, I’ve happily paid the price. When I switched to CDs in the 1990s, the first two I bought were The Hurting and U2’s October. I also have Orzabal’s novel. Yeah, I’m definitely a bit obsessed.
Have I revealed enough of my TFF street cred to move on?
So, despite loving TFF as one of my three favorite bands for thirty years (Rush, Talk Talk, and TFF), I owe the two Englishmen a rather large apology. For thirty years, I’ve dismissed their live performances as much as I have lauded their studio work. Not that I really knew much about them live. I’d never seen them actually in the flesh. Everything I knew of them live had been recorded, and it always felt a bit “uninspired” to me, with their vocals especially sounding weak.
Well, let me be blunt. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Last night, TFF played their hearts out. I mean: Played. Their. Hearts. Out. Holy Moses. Not only were they amazing live, they were even better live than on their studio albums. I thought it must be just my excitement at the moment as I listened to them last night. My very American enthusiasm—the kind that makes the Brits think me “over the top”—can sometimes get the best of me. But, no. Right after the concert, I listened to the brand new remastered (Steven Wilson) version of Songs from the Big Chair just to check myself and my impressions. I wasn’t wrong. They did sound better live than on Songs from the Big Chair. But, for thirty years, I’ve been wrong! So, my apologies.
From the first explosion of sound to Roland and Curt waving their final goodbyes to the audience, they performed flawlessly, with deep emotion, and with a complete (equaled only by Rush fans at a Rush concert) connection to the audience.
And, Roland and Curt loved every moment of the concert. No English reserve here. Just pure love of the art.
The show began with what I assume was a taped recording of a number of voices singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” In hindsight, I’m questioning whether this was taped or not, as the voices might very well have been Roland’s, Curt’s, and the guest female vocalist’s (I apologize—but I didn’t catch her name). However it was done, it was done well. From complete darkness and the disembodied voices floating around the venue, an explosion of light and sound revealed the full band, and they immediately played the opening song of “Everybody. . . .”
From that very first explosion and revelation, TFF held the entire crowd (about 18,000—there were no empty chairs or spots in the entire venue) in rapt attention. I mean, that audience belonged to TFF: lock, stock, and barrel.
Though the band never took a break—expect for a minute or so before the encore—it would be fair to divide the show into two sets, broken by a cover version of Radiohead’s “Creep.”
The first set ran for 10 songs without a single pause in the music—with the exception of some very sincere and humorous banter from Roland, Curt, and the audience—Everybody; Secret World; Sowing the Seeds of Love; Pale Shelter; Break it Down Again; Everybody Loves a Happy Ending; Change; Mad World; Memories Fade; and Closest Thing to Heaven.
Set Two, coming after Creep, consisted of: Advice for the Young at Heart; Badman’s Song; Head over Heals; Woman in Chains; and Shout.
So, TFF played at least one song from every studio album except Raoul. The first set emphasized The Hurting and Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, while the second set featured The Seeds of Love.
As a three-decade long TFF fan(antic), let me make a few observations—all of which were revelations to me last night, whether minor or major ones.
First, as noted above, Roland and Curt were in top form. Not only did they sound simply perfect (Roland’s voice only gets better with age), but they were obviously happy and confident. Indeed, I think they were fairly overwhelmed by the loving response of the audience. At one point, Roland talked about a recent conversation with Curt. Roland, remembering their performance at Red Rock’s in 1985, asked Curt when the “best days” were? Curt responded: “now.”
Second, Roland is hilarious. He loves adding weird voices on a number of his songs. This, I knew. I just assumed it was all studio fun. What I’d never realized before—not yet having seen them live—is that Roland is very clearly channeling Peter Gabriel from his Genesis days. No, Roland wasn’t wearing strange outfits, but he was definitely playing different characters throughout the songs, especially in the first set. During “Break It Down” (featuring a very enthusiastic Curt, even though this song came from one of the two albums Roland wrote without him), Roland pretended to be Paul McCartney’s Admiral Halsey. It was hilarious and quite true to the art.
Third, set one could’ve been none more prog. It was just so artfully woven together. Every song flowed into every other so beautifully. Really, so TERRIBLY beautifully. I was riveted. Whether the songs were in the XTC vein of “Everybody Loves a Happy Ending” or the Steve Reichian vein of “Pale Shelter,” everything flowed together so perfectly. Obviously, Roland and Curt had created, essentially, a whole new album with their choice of individual tracks. What a tapestry of sound and texture.
Sadly, I never caught the names of the supporting band members, but they performed perfectly as well. In particular, I was struck by how the band as a whole rearranged songs from The Hurting, changing out the brass for fascinating drum or guitar fills. Again, it could get NONE MORE PROG! The transition between “Memories Fade” and “Mad World” was especially powerful, with the guitarist capturing the attention of the audience with a really weird but compelling solo. It could’ve been a 1972 Yes concert.
Fourth, the real friendship—whatever their past—between Roland and Curt was palpable. Simply put, these two men belong together. In a full-bodied Aristotelian/Thomist kind of way, nature meant these two to walk the earth together at the same time. One of the most moving (of many moving) moments came when Curt sang “Change.” As he sang the lyric, “What has happened to the friend I once knew,” Roland just looked at him with a knowing and satisfied smile. All spontaneous, all beautiful.
Fifth. This wasn’t a nostalgia tour. This was real. A real concert with real artists who have made art so well that it breathes freely and readily even after three decades.
What more to say? 13 hours after Roland and Curt waved goodbye to us, I’m still in a satisfied state of mind and soul. That my wife and I got to share that evening—an evening of art, friendship, meaning, and creativity with one of my three favorite bands over 2/3 of my life—means everything. I’m just basking in the afterglow.
If you have the chance, do not under any circumstances miss this tour. I’m already planning on seeing Tears for Fears again in Detroit in September. When I asked my wife if she’d want to go to see them again, she responded, “Of course.”