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Live Review and Photo Gallery: ABC at Des Plaines Theatre • Des Plaines

| July 10, 2022

ABC

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Des Plaines Theatre

Review and photos by Jeff Elbel

Never let it be said that ABC founder and frontman Martin Fry doesn’t know his audience, and how to butter them up. “You look too young to be children of the ‘80s,” he said, wondering aloud whether he’d accidentally walked into a room full of Kurt Cobain devotees. Given the strong responses for fan favorites like “Show Me,” MTV-era hits including “How to Be a Millionaire,” deeper cuts like “Ocean Blue,” and the recent fare including “Viva Love” and “The Flames of Desire” from 2016’s The Lexicon of Love II, Fry cheerfully conceded that he was indeed working with the right crowd at the beautifully restored Des Plaines Theatre.

The evening’s set list leaned most heavily upon The Lexicon of Love, an album that celebrates its 40th birthday this year. “If you turned on the radio in 1982, you stood a good chance of hearing this song,” said Fry when introducing the indelible pop classic “Poison Arrow.” The song was anchored by a taut funk bassline and colored by glistening keyboards. Fry was in a strong voice, moving from his rich baritone croon to a silky falsetto. Other Lexicon tracks included “Tears are Not Enough” with its body-moving dance-floor groove. The romantic “All of My Heart” overflowed with outsized emotion and leaned on Fry’s theatrical strengths. “The Look of Love” was reserved for the final spot in the main set, bringing the audience to its feet as the room sang along with Fry and the band.

Read Tom Lanham’s “Hello My Name Is” Q&A  with ABC’s Martin Fry from July 2022 issue 

Fry appeared as elegant and sharply dressed as expected, wearing a black suit jacket with a purple paisley pattern over a black-tie, shirt, slacks, and shoes. The five-piece band accompanying him was also dressed to the nines, but this wasn’t a mere band of pretty boys. The group was polished and tight, with a firm command of ABC’s sophisticated New Romantic pop blending rock, soul, Motown, and R&B styles. The band’s guitarist was featured often, including a stirring blues-based solo during “King Without a Crown” that recalled Stevie Ray Vaughan’s work with David Bowie on “Let’s Dance.” Fry’s reeds player stepped forward in his blood-red shoes for a wicked saxophone solo during “Vanity Kills.”

Surprises included the charged performance of “That Was Then, But This is Now,” an overlooked gem from Lexicon’s underrated 1983 follow-up Beauty Stab. When a fan called for an even deeper cut, Fry indulged in a bit of pantomime. He commended the selection before turning to his bassist to ask whether the highly prepared band could accommodate the request. Upon receiving an answer in the negative, Fry flashed an impish grin and said, “We’ll play ‘The Night You Murdered Love’ for you as a consolation.’”

The set neared its electrifying apex when Fry brought the band and crowd to fever pitch with the soulful homage “When Smokey Sings.” The singer danced across the stage and stoked crowd participation while the band quoted the immortal rhythm track to Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown.” Upon returning for an encore, Fry and his band gave an ageless performance on pop charmer “Be Near Me.” “Who wants to climb aboard the time machine?” asked Fry before performing one of his ‘80s favorites during the set.

Four decades may have passed since ABC’s music first dazzled new ears by the millions, but Fry’s voice and his songs remain full of life. Who wouldn’t love such a joyful trip in the wayback machine?

 

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