SPANDAU BALLET, O2 Arena – Evening Standard, 18 March 2015

Touring for the first time since 2009, on the back of a new documentary that unflinchingly incorporates warts, Spandau Ballet have managed to rise above the naff Eighties revival circuit and present themselves as a band of lasting significance.

Two nights in Britain’s biggest venue shows that there is still a large appetite for the sound of the Thatcher years, gloss and pomp topped by Tony Hadley’s blustery voice. Gary Kemp putting on a twin-necked guitar was an apt symbol of Eighties excess, along with employing a full-time saxophonist in Steve Norman and giving drummer John Keeble a gong.

Ruddy-faced Hadley looks like a Tory MP these days but songwriter Kemp, once his rival in a High Court royalties dispute, has maintained more of the spirit of rock and roll. With tight trousers, bright socks and a well-practised gurn, he provided clipped funk guitar lines to the lively Chant No 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On).

A handful of new songs included This is the Love, calculated to sound indistinguishable from the old stuff with its bombastic Trevor Horn production. Steal was better, a rare moment of subtlety that was soft-centred and pretty.

One line in another fresher one, Soul Boy, showed that even the new stuff was built for nostalgia: “How we love this new romance”. Footage of heavily lipsticked New Romantic youngsters in Covent Garden’s Blitz Club preceded a segment of sharper edged, synth-dominated early material including Confused and The Freeze. Here the band literally stepped back, jostling closer together on the vast stage, finding a looser energy and becoming much more watchable. Sweetly, they dedicated these songs to recently departed Visage frontman Steve Strange.

The documentary, Soul Boys of the Western World, premiered last autumn. Constructed almost entirely of archive footage, it proved more gripping than the usual ageing talking heads format. “I’d forgotten how much fun we had,” said Hadley in a clip aired here, justifying this belated happy ending. With his arm around Kemp during an acoustic Through the Barricades, hatchets were buried and voices were raised in joyful celebration of a past that mattered.

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