After years away, ‘80s synth stars Heaven 17 returned to our shores for their first real US tour. After launching it back East in September, their tour concluded on the West Coast last weekend. Formed in Sheffield, England in 1980 under a Clockwork Orange banner, the band of today features former Human League member Martyn Ware, and Glenn Gregory.
It was a beautiful evening in Santa Ana, home of The Observatory. It was a packed house since Heaven 17 has only played in the US a handful of times. In fact, the last time they played the US was in 2017, and that was only for two appearances, so yes, there was a lot of anticipation for this show.
The stage featured blue, purple, red, and white lights and a fog machine. With a variety of keyboards and mics onstage, three women stride out to the stage and take their positions as the fog machine created a dramatic effect.
Suddenly, a figure emerges wearing a cowboy hat and sparkly cowboy suit… Martyn Ware. A few moments later, another figure appears… Glenn Gregory, the voice of synth-pop, and he has a big smile on his face.
Gregory wasted no time as he dives right into a very long version of “(We Don’t Need This!) Fascist Groove Thang!” The song is 4:23 in its original version, but is now probably 12 to 15 min. A popular song at the dance clubs in the ‘80s, and probably even now, it includes references to “Evil men with racist views, trigger happy military generals, and Hitler’s funky stuff!” Lots of interesting news stories in the ‘80s!
In what will become a pattern of the night, Gregory will go into an explanation about the next song; how it came to be, why he wrote it, what it’s about, and little details. He takes his time giving the full backstory and it is incredibly interesting each time. Upon the release of “Crushed By the Wheels of Industry,” a song about the mundane struggles of the working class, one critic commented: “Highly entertaining pop funk with sardonic woo-woo’s and a cynical jab at society in general.”
“Play to Win” is next and I see everyone dancing; I don’t think I saw one person standing still. “Geisha Boys and Temple Girls,” “Come Live With Me,” and “This Is Mine,” are next and then the place erupts when they play another hit: “We Live So Fast.”
A cover of the Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” was a treat to hear live. “Sunset Now” is one of my favorites, so that was amazing as well. “Let’s Make a Bomb” and of course, their huge hit, “Let Me Go” had the crowd cheering and dancing.
At this point, Gregory introduces everyone: Martyn Ware (keys), Rachel Meadows and Kelly Barnes (vocals), Flo Sabeva (additional keys), and of course Glenn Gregory (lead vocals). They finish with “Temptation,” which they played magnificently.
After some encouragement from the crowd, they return for an encore. They dedicate the next song to their friend David Bowie. Gregory described meeting Bowie for the first time. He was in the studio recording something and Bowie popped by for a listen. Just happened by? Gregory emerged from the booth; Bowie grabbed him by the shoulders, shakes him and yells, “Yes! Yes! This is the future of music!”
Could you imagine DAVID BOWIE EXCITEDLY YELLING IN YOUR FACE THAT THE MUSIC YOU ARE MAKING IS THE FUTURE!?! Amazing! They did “Let’s Dance” in Bowie’s honor, then covered Human League’s “Being Boiled.”
After a very successful run on this side of the pond, Heaven 17 is now headed back to England. Hopefully we won’t have to wait as long to see them next time.
It was a wonderful evening of ‘80s and beyond, an experience their fans hope to experience again soon!