One of my favorite bands from the late 70s and 80s Ultravox recently announced that they were getting back together in 2009 for a reunion tour. Whether this is a one-tour deal or the band is getting back together again for more tours or even a new album, I was happy to hear the news.
Unlike other acts that have gotten together or are thinking of getting back together with or without the original line up (like Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant) Ultravox will have the same line up of Billy Currie on keyboards, Chris Cross on bass guitar, Warren Cann on drums and frontman Midge Ure on guitar and keyboards. It will be the first time the band has been together since 1985’s Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium in London.
Musically, Ultravox would set a standard for the use of synthesizers and a unique style of music during the 70s and 80s. Although Brian Eno and Kraftwerk had been doing it for years, Ultravox made it more accessible with a catchy pop infusion and evocative lyrics. Originally fronted by John Foxx for three albums, the arrival of Midge Ure in 1979 guaranteed that the band would not become another post-punk casualty and enjoyed modest success thanks to such hits as “Vienna,” “The Voice,” “Reap the Wild Wind,” and “Dancing with Tears in my Eyes.”
I think it’s cool that some bands with the original members/line ups get back together again and have a decent tour like the Eagles or even Devo. It’s great that a new generation can enjoy some of the music that many of us Baby Boomers loved and grew up with—music that defined a generation and an era. On the other hand, if you are not going to have the original lineup or even close to it, it’s kind of a rip-off. That’s kind of how I felt when I heard the news of Led Zeppelin getting back together sans Robert Plant.
And do we really want to see some aging rockers still prancing (or trying to prance) around on the stage? Some acts can get away with it; others, maybe I just want to remember them the way they were. Tell that to The Rolling Stones, right?
I remember back in 1981 I attended this “Flashback to the Fabulous 50s Concert” that featured Bobby Lewis, The Drifters, and the Reagents in Matthiessen Auditorium at LaSalle-Peru Township High School. It was okay to hear Bobbi Lewis still belt out “Tossin’ and Turnin’” as well as The Drifters (sans one of the original founding members) still deliver a powerful rendition of “Under the Boardwalk” with some of the dance moves that made them famous, but the Reagents, dressed-up in red leisure suits just seemed a bit off singing about “Barbara Anne.”
On the other hand when I saw James Brown in Seoul in 2006, he might have lost some of his moves and momentarily forgotten where he was (“It’s great to be in Shanghai,” he said at the beginning of his concert in Seoul), but he was still James Brown. The Godfather of Soul proved in Seoul that was still the hardest working man in rock and roll.
And I was happy back in 1986 when I could see The Moody Blues as well as The Monkees even though both bands were just a little beyond their prime. And yes, Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork did actually play their instruments, but the one real Monkee, the one with probably the most talent of the four, Michael Nesmith, had not joined the tour. So, I guess it really wasn’t The Monkees after all.
As for Ultravox, of all the concerts that I went to back in the 80s, I was fortunate to have seen Ultravox in concert two times—the first time on Halloween Night at Southern Illinois University in 1980 and the second time at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on Good Friday in 1983. For that first concert the band was on their Vienna Tour and the second one was their Monument or Quartet Tour. If I had to come up with my Top Ten List of Favorite Concerts, those two concerts would most definitely make that list.
I hadn’t listened to much of their music before the first time I saw them in 1980, I had listened to “Vienna” and “Sleepwalk” a few times but when I saw them again in 1983, I had all their albums from Ha! Ha! Ha! to Quartet and had listened to them a lot. They will always be one of my favorite bands from those Post-punk New Wave years and many of their songs get a lot of play on my iPod.
I have no doubt in my mind that it will be a successful tour for the band (fans have been hoping for such a tour for years) and that they will entertain just as many new fans as they will diehard ones. Midge Ure has had a pretty successful solo career after leaving Ultravox and I am sure he will still be able to sing “Vienna,” “The Voice” and “Hymn” with just as much passion as he did over twenty years ago. I know that I’ll probably never have the chance to see them again—I’m just fortunate that I had the chance to see them not once, but twice the first time around.