Sunday night’s show at the Madrid Theatre was a reunion of sorts, in a couple of ways.
For the nearly 300 fans attending the Poptone show, it was a chance to see for the first time a band affiliated with three revered British groups that helped create and define a provocative style of music and an ensuing cult scene starting in the late 1970s: Bauhaus, Tones on Tail and Love and Rockets.
Among those three bands, there were two constants: guitarist and vocalist Daniel Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins. Early this year, they formed Poptone, a trio that also includes bassist Diva Dompe – Haskins’ daughter – to revive the sounds of all three bands but primarily Tones on Tail, the shortest-lived and most obscure of the three.
They took the stage shrouded in shadows, but Ash, who sported a well-manicured mowhawk, and Dompe, were dressed in all white (including the frames of Ash’s flashy sunglasses), all of which glowed in the blacklight that beamed from above.
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A dark, slightly deranged version of “Heartbreak Hotel” opened their 90-minute set, but from there they changed course, heading full-bore into a slew of Tones on Tail and Love and Rockets songs, starting with the Tones tune “OK, This Is The Pops.” Like much of what followed, it was a deep-groove, bass-driven industrial dance anthem, dark and moody and percussive and festooned with some heavy and scabrous guitar riffs and leads from Ash.
Next came “Mirror People,” a Love and Rockets number built on a similar foundation: burly drum beats, an elastic bass line and some near-metal guitar play, all welded into something melodic and groovy enough to incite plenty of dancing.
As far as I could determine, neither Bauhaus nor Tones on Tail nor Love and Rockets ever played Kansas City. So the large majority of people in the room Sunday night were seeing Ash and Haskins for the first time – a very big deal for the die-hards who have followed them since their bands’ inceptions. That was evident by the anticipation that roiled through the room before the show and the palpable excitement throughout it: Lots of warm memories were revived.
There were several highlights. “Lions,” an ethereal Tones song with a soft dub/reggae vibe, which featured Dompe on keyboards; “Love Me,” a throbbing Love and Rockets dirge pocked with bursts of guitar mayhem; “Christian Says,” a Tones tune girded by a guitar tantrum from Ash; “There Is Only One,” a Tones song that started with a long, free-for-all instrumental and erupted into groovy post-punk wordplay between Ash and Dompe that recalled the early B-52s and prompted one of the loudest ovations of the night; and the song that closed the first set, a riotous cover of David Bowie’s “Cracked Actor,” a track from “Aladdin Sane.”
They would return for an encore that included another worthwhile cover: Adam and the Ants’ “Physical (You’re So),” which they topped with the Tones’ definitive song, “Go!,” the title track of their only full-length. It provoked another rowdy and joyous reaction, including a loud, unified shout-out of the song’s title.
That seemed as good a place as any to end this show. But they weren’t done. They came back for two more, including the only Bauhaus song of the night, “Slice of Life,” featuring Ash on 12-string guitar. It started out as a nourish ballad but swerved abruptly into something more sinister, then back into calmer waters. Its lyrics are as ominous as they are cryptic, but it its title suited the theme of this evening, which captured and revived moments from decades ago that were worth revisiting and re-living.
Heartbreak Hotel; OK, This Is Pops; Mirror People; Movement of Fear; Happiness; No Big Deal; Lions; Twist; Love Me; Performance; An American Dream; Christian Says; There’s Only One; Cracked Actor. Encore: Physical (You’re So); Flame On; Go!; Slice of Life; Sweet F.A.