First Night: Spandau Ballet, O2, Dublin
I know this much is true – they've still got it
Wednesday 14 October 2009
In the drab Britain of 30 years ago, Spandau Ballet kick-started the Eighties with appearances – never gigs – at non-rock venues that were as much fashion shows as music events. Images and memories of being mobbed with the band in Edinburgh in 1982 flashed through my mind, as they did on the film montage which introduces their first gig in two decades. The audience in the 9,200-capacity Dublin venue is at least 70 per cent female, though the merchandisers also cleverly target the thirtysomething couples with bibs and romper suits adorned with various Spandau motifs. It's all a far cry from the heady days of the Blitz, the Soho venue where word-of-mouth started for the group who put the style back into pop. Fittingly, they start with the synth-driven "To Cut A Long Story Short" and the irresistible walking base line of "The Freeze", their first two singles, even if they don't revert to their kilt-and-frilly-shirt selves of 1980.
The front four members stand close together in a show of unity as if to recreate the club vibe of their early days and show that the court case which singer Tony Hadley unsuccesfully brought against songwrinter Gary Kemp in 1999 has been forgotten. Unfortunately, the goodwill evaporates as they switch mood and play a sequence of middling MOR songs from 1984's Parade album. "Virgin", the tune they debuted at Live Aid in 1985, is easily outshone by the smooth "She Loved Like Diamond", which barely scraped into the Top 50 on its original release but is one of half a dozen gems in their singles catalogue. "Through The Barricades" written about a couple from either side of the sectarian divide, hits the right note in the Irish capital and turns into a huge singalong for fans who remember the Troubles. Spandau finally hit their stride with a series of dancefloor fillers, starting with "Instinction", with backing vocalist Dawn Taylor battling Hadley and David Tench recreating the keyboard stabs like Trevor Horn's production on the original – a shivers-down-the-spine moment.
Inevitably, they end with "True", the blue-eyed soul ballad that topped charts around the world in 1983. They encore with the rocky "Fight For Ourselves" and "Gold", another tune showcasing the big voice of Hadley, a belter in the Tom Jones mould – without the Welshman's knowing glint. In the year which has already seen amazing comebacks like those of Magazine and Mott the Hoople, Spandau Ballet are not quite in the same league, but their live dates will brighten up many an October evening.
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