ABC – Limelight, Belfast
Along with the likes of Rio, Dare! and True, ABC’s 1982 debut The Lexicon of Love ranks high among the most quintessential albums of the eighties. Boasting no less than four Top 20 hit singles, the band’s magnum opus deals with the themes of heartbreak and searching for meaning in relationships whilst filling dancefloors throughout the decade.
Now thirty-four years on from ABC’s debut, the band are fresh from the summer festival circuit and as the only original member, vocalist Martin Fry is touring The Lexicon of Love II released this year as the impressive follow-up to the record that changed his life.
The Limelight is plastered with posters for tonight’s gig, and the venue is steadily filling under the soft colourful lights of the opening DJ set. Playing genre-appropriate music to a crowd of predominately eighties kids, the likes of Depeche Mode, Pet Shops Boys and The Human League transition seamlessly into one another in preparation for New Wave royalty ABC to play their first Irish gig in years. The atmosphere is laid-back, and the audience slightly more mixed than you might expect for a band so of their time.
A large outfit take to the stage with a range of musical instruments, employed for the textured, almost orchestral sound the band is known for. A sharply dressed Martin Fry appears, suited, although not in the iconic gold number he made famous back in his heyday. ‘When Smokey Sings’ begins the show, interestingly a 1987 hit not off The Lexicon of Love but received with singalongs and clapping from the get-go. A range of musical influences is apparent in ABC’s sound, with hints of funky bass playing, jazz vocals and even ska-inspired saxophone. Fry’s unmistakable crooning on ‘How To Be a Millionaire’ proves his merit as one of the most underrated singers and frontmen of the New Romantics, easily giving Hadley or Le Bon a run for their money. After nine studio albums and countless live shows in his lifetime, the 58 year-old’s remarkable voice never falters and carries tonight’s setlist.
Throwing in some songs off a new LP is often risky for such nostalgic acts, but ‘Viva Love’ gets a unexpectedly good fan reaction, and fits in effortlessly with ABC’s eighties material. The band plays feel-good pop with enthusiasm and dedication, and a slight swing vibe. “Most of you will be too young to remember 1982,” jokes Fry, however the statement rings true for this reviewer and his noticeably young backing musicians; despite this, they play ABC’s back catalogue as competently as if they’d performed with Fry on Top of the Pops all those years ago. The frontman dubs ‘Ten Below Zero’ “a nice wintry song” accompanied by some fabulous saxophone that is gorgeous in spite of some chatter from the audience and issues with the microphones. ABC are a tight outfit musically, and Fry’s perfectionism over his brainchild often shines through with tracks such as ‘King Without a Crown’ and ‘The Night You Murdered Love’ barely differing in quality from the studio versions.
“I can feel the love in the air and I appreciate it after thirty-four years,” Fry beams whilst smiling at his adoring crowd and his band. The sense of genuine enjoyment in performing characterises tonight’s show; Fry is all too aware of ABC’s status as a vintage act, but where some musicians would cringe away at the thought, the frontman embraces it and feeds off his fans’ hunger for an escape back to their teenage years. “What can you say about the 1980s that hasn’t already been said a hundred times?” he asks, before launching into ‘Flames of Desire’ followed by the immensely popular ‘Poison Arrow’, dedicated to a fan in a Lexicon of Love T-shirt in the front row. Shimmering synth tabs and female vocal accompaniments further remind us of Fry’s talent for creating a perfectly crafted pop song like ‘All of My Heart’ – tuneful, treasured, and memorable. The crowd sways to the song’s extended outro as he throws one hand in the air as in a victorious tableau, his lyrics chanted back at him.
ABC may never have been as big as Adam and the Ants or Culture Club, but without a doubt they are just as good, if not better. Martin Fry and co. play every song – old or new – with the same passion, even if they’ve done it a thousand times before. They return to perform their biggest hit for the encore, ‘The Look of Love’ – or more specifically, side two track one.