When this tour was originally announced, it was a twin bill with The English Beat. I really wanted a chance to write about The Beat’s Dave Wakeling’s remarkable career. So I grabbed it. Covid hit. The Beat bailed and Fastball became the opener. Sometimes you soldier on. Sometimes you get lucky.
Here’s my funny story for the night. I was absolutely NOT looking forward to the opener. I kind of figured my head would explode if I had to listen to the Shrek theme song. A woman in the lobby mentioned to me that she would delay heading in because she couldn’t abide Hey Now You’re An All Star. Shook my head and agreed. Said I was working.
Then two unassuming middle age guys walk out on stage with acoustic guitars and start singing these loose, laid back songs. I sat perplexed until a friend texted me back to say: “You idiot. It’s Fastball. Not Smashmouth.”
And I’m supposed to be writing about music as though I know something about it. In the dark, nobody could see the egg on my face. I wanted to find that lady again and say: “Uh, about that Shrek song…”. Maybe it would have made me feel better.
Fastball is Tony Scalzo and Miles Zuniga. This was one of those Austin bands in the early 90s that went from working the nightshift to platinum records in less than a year. That band I knew and liked. The mood was loose and the self effacing patter funny. The songs were asked to stand on their own merits with just two acoustics. They did.
Heading into the headliner, the issue was, I really didn’t know the band. Sure, I could sing Saved By Zero, One Thing Leads To Another or Red Skies with the best of them. You were living under a rock in the 80s if you couldn’t do those earwigs in your sleep. Either that or you’d never seen MTV. But I admit I could have bumped into any one of those guys at the grocery store and never known it. I never listened through any of the deep tracks on those albums which went charging up the charts. Two hit the peak, if I’m not mistaken.
As the band flashed through echoes of Roxy Music, The Cars, David Bowie and the occasional Nick Cave, all bands I love, I began to wonder how on earth I managed to miss the buzz when The Fixx was blowing up. I came to a couple conclusions. In retrospect, I had no business laying some preconceptions on these guys that they didn’t deserve.
To wit: there are some of us old enough to have dug in our heals as music changed coming out of the 70s. We watched our rock icons replaced by disco. Our own generation let us down. Then punk came along and decided that everything was bloated and undemocratic, so they deconstructed everything. By the early 80s, rock was looking for a new voice. Along came MTV and the New Wave movement had a platform unimagined before. The Fixx, like many of their contemporaries launched to stardom during that period with the help of that outlet. The pretty young stars, the mullets and padded shoulders seemed to me a bit precious and contrived so I turned away from anything MTV (then again my generation thought bell bottoms and paisley polyester was pretty cool).
Never mind that David Bowie was crooning songs like Let’s Dance or Heroes wearing the same tipped over triangle suits and feathered, blow dry hair. Bowie was a star! Who were all these kids grabbing stardom without having to do all that spadework? The problem with that attitude became increasingly clear as the band played on. Never make broad assumptions about any seeming “group”. Because there were some world class bands from that era that not only managed to ring the bell, they also managed to survive. First and foremost, they were…a world class band. The Fixx are at the forefront of that bunch.
How many bands, with the history of success of The Fixx, have remained intact, touring and making music together for 40 years? That’s absolutely remarkable for any number of reasons. Success does strange things to egos. Things like families and kids conspire to call a man home. What are the odds that somebody in the band doesn’t succumb to the ravages of drugs or booze? If you’ve played the arena circuit, can you remain motivated as the venues become more “intimate”? Which, by the way, is not a commentary on The Pantages. That theater is a gem and my absolute favorite around town. But you get the point. In the world of rock and roll, longevity is a special thing. Doing it with energy and grace without becoming a caricature is what separates the good from the great.
When the band walked on stage, I was immediately struck by the attention to detail. This just looks like an establishment rock band in full command. The Fixx was a fashion darling on that rocket ride in the 80s. But nature has a way of running us all to ground. The princes of the stage usually end up looking a bit like a middle aged Dad or a caricature of that earlier self. The Fixx avoids that entirely.
I found myself reflecting on the fact that here’s a band with 5 distinct rock star personas. I’ve often written about how too much can be a distraction. You lose focus. But not always. The best live bands are the ones where you could entertain yourself all night long just watching one person. How defined can each part be without blurring the picture?
The rhythm section of Adam Woods and Dan Brown are one of the best going. You have to be if you’re charging through all this bass driven dance music. I loved the look. It’s like two guys you’d meet in a quiet English pub. Woods is a terminator on the kit and looks like he just parked his lorry before settling on his stool. Brown in the bowler rarely moves. He makes the whole thing look effortless. Two unassuming chaps thundering along.
Rupert Greenall on the synths is a wry spirit. Clad in traditional white peg leg jeans and white shirt, only his black fedora keeps him from floating from the stage. Jamie West-Oram not only looks the part of a classic British guitar player, he is a pro’s pro with that emerald Strat. Guitar players should look like either of the Glitter Twins, Mick Ronson or The Waterboys’ Mike Scott. I swear, there’s a difference between playing like a rock star and actually being one.
It’s Cy Curnin’s band. The Ringmaster at the center of the circus. Draws you in and demands attention. He moves about the stage with an easy grace. He’s retained those good looks that MTV grabbed hold of. He’s covered the years gracefully and the voice is still one of the echoes of an era that revolutionized the rock landscape. At times, I felt like Curnin could be lifted from the stage and comfortably set on the stage of some Broadway Musical. As I exited the Pantages, I overheard a woman say to her companion: “It just felt so theatrical.” And that about sums it up for me, too.
It was an evening of pleasant surprises. I love theatrical shows in beautiful theaters. Especially, when the band can flat play. I guess I wasn’t fully expecting that from The Fixx. But that’s exactly what they deliver. Maybe it’s a bit old school. Maybe classic. Right down to the line abreast curtain call bow.
As I drove home, I realized I was filling in a gap. Yet, I was still kind of the odd man out. Here I was just loving all these songs I’d never heard. The crowd had been warm and receptive. But respectful. Until the end of the main set when they dropped One Thing Leads To Another, Stand or Fall and Red Skies. The audience leapt to its feet. Women danced and men started filming. It was a time warp for a particular generation.
For me, those were the only moments that weren’t a surprise from the evening. While the crowd ate it up, I had to come back from the wonderland walk I’d been on. I’d gotten a tour of a wonderful catalog of music I’d never heard from an impeccable band. Best of all, my favorite song of the entire night dropped in the middle of the encore. A darker commentary on our present world titled Wake Up. The first single from a soon to be released album.
I tell you what, guys. I was late to the party listening to all those classic albums. After tonight, I promise I’ll be at the front of the line when it drops.