ABC is a British funk/pop/rock band formed in 1980. Best known in the US for their hits “Poison Arrow,” “The Look Of Love,” “Be Near Me” and “When Smokey Sings,” they have continued touring and recording in various formations. This concert was one of only two US dates for 2011, at the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas, NV.
Fremont Street is known as the “old Strip” in Las Vegas, depicted in every old movie as a drive past the waving cowboy neon sign and old-style lightbulb covered casinos. Today, it’s known as the Fremont Street Experience, with pedestrians only on closed streets covered by a multi-block video canopy. This mix of retro casinos and modern video was an appropriate setting for British new wave group ABC’s triumphant return to the United States, as part of an ongoing series of 80s concerts through the summer of 2011. They treated the packed crowd to a full-length setlist filled with their biggest hits, as well as a few newer gems, on one of only two stateside performances scheduled for this year.
Original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood, the host of the summer concert series, got things started by being driven to the stage in — what else — a DeLorean. She bounded out to the front of the stage, giving the crowd a detailed reminder of who they were about to see. I’d heard a few people in the crowd speculating about how good ABC would actually be, since frontman Martin Fry is the only remaining original member. I’d say these concerns were put to rest about 6 notes into the first song, as the top-notch 6-member band broke out “The Very First Time” from the band’s 2008 album “Traffic.” Even though the US crowd wasn’t familiar with the song, it still went over gangbusters with them, one of the few times I’ve seen a group do so well opening with such a lesser-known song.
From there, it was a trip through their catalog of hits, with two more newer tunes from “Traffic” added in for variety. While their house-oriented “Up” and “Abracadabra” albums were left unrepresented, their four earlier albums satisfyingly provided the bulk of the setlist — two songs each from the “How To Be A Zillionaire” and “Alphabet City” albums, one from the much maligned “Beauty Stab” album, and a whopping seven from their groundbreaking first album “Lexicon Of Love.” Eight, if you count “Poison Arrow” being played both during the full set AND the encore, a point that was at the same time disappointing (could’ve heard another song) and welcome (after all… it IS “Poison Arrow”). Singer Fry seemed as fit as his voice, sounding for the most part just as he did 30 years prior, augmented well by dynamic female percussionist and background singer Lily Gonzalez. He even made it through the 90+ degree heat without unbuttoning his tailored suit coat, though the tie did get slightly loosened.
The ABC song catalog covers a variety of genres from soul to rock to borderline hiphop, which can prove challenging for a band. With the sole exception of some occasional keyboard issues which may have been cabling-related, the band proved up to the challenge. They were able to duplicate the intricate funk arrangements of “Tears Are Not Enough” and Motown-styled sound of “When Smokey Sings,” as well as direct style changes such as the guitar-driven rock of “That Was Then, But This Is Now” which immediately followed the heavily synthesized dancefloor sound of “How To Be A Millionaire.”
Throughout, the band was rock-steady tight, anchored by the rhythm section of Richard Brook on drums and Andy Carr on bass, who did a particularly good job on the funk-heavy basslines. The aforementioned Gonzalez provided the extra percussion that fills many of their songs, plus the necessary female voice on the “Lexicon” album’s breakup songs. Rounding out the band was versatile American guitarist Matt Backer, plus Rob Hughes and Steve Kelly on keyboards. Hughes also frequently stepped out front to deliver some very well done saxophone solos.
ABC definitely proved that they are still a force to be reckoned with, raising an already hot night’s temperature a few extra degrees. By the end, the audience had been given a full-length show and was still screaming for more. The size of the audience and their reaction, combined with the overall quality of their performance and catalog of songs, both old and newer, proves that ABC still has plenty of life. Martin Fry seemed to be having a ball, delivering his trademark over-the-top vocals with a smile on his face, interacting with the crowd and making frequent mention of how great a city Las Vegas is. Martin, don’t be such a stranger, come by and see us more often!
- The Very First Time
- Show Me
- Poison Arrow
- How To Be A Millionaire
- That Was Then, But This Is Now
- Love Is Strong
- Date Stamp
- The Night You Murdered Love
- 4 Ever 2 Gether
- All Of My Heart
- Tears Are Not Enough
- When Smokey Sings
- Be Near Me
- The Look Of Love
- Encore – Poison Arrow
- Vocals: Martin Fry
- Guitar: Matt Backer
- Drums: Richard Brook
- Bass: Andy Carr
- Percussion/Vocals: Lily Gonzalez
- Keyboards/Sax: Rob Hughes
- Keyboards: Steve Kelly
- Official Website: http://www.abcmartinfry.com