New Wave greats Modern English graced NYC with a rather surprising small venue show at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right that unsurprisingly sold out in a heartbeat. This is the first time that the band has toured the states in a few years, and does once again thankfully involve most of the pioneering original lineup. To brand ME as just another drop in the sea of early 80’s new wave artists, or even as a one hit wonder (as so many sadly know of this band), is a tragic shame. They were a edgy and defining power source to the beginning of the 80’s music scene well before they busted into mainstream success, with a darkly experimental sound that shared elements of the newly minted post-punk movement of the ilk of Joy Division and Bauhaus, but also sharing in the electronic trail-blazing of the early industrial scene of artists like Throbbing Gristle and Kraftwerk, while also having a significant amount of the more pioneering late-70’s new wave scene of the likes of Human League and Talking Heads.
After their impressive, and very, very Joy Division influenced debut album Mesh and Lace, they moved forward with a cleaner, happier, and more keyboard-driven sound that certainly got them a lot of commercial attention, but before to long also lead to the band going their separate ways. Lead singer Robbie Grey did reform the band a few more times over the years, but it never seemed to stick all that long. In 2010 the original lineup (with addition of a new drummer) began playing gigs again to the delight of fans everywhere. Now, the band apparently has a new album ready to go, but appear to be going back to their beginnings by playing their groundbreaking first album in all of its extended glory before releasing the new one.
The crowded show at Baby’s also came packing four opening acts that aptly seemed to traverse a few different modern interpretations of the late 70’s/early 80’s post-punk sound. First there was the NYC quartet called PAWNS. This band clearly has a rather early 80’s goth vibe going on, complete with a female bassist vampiress, with a sonic boom quality that reminded me of Sisters of Mercy, with an early 80’s punker frontman of a Dead Kennedys breed who brooded about the stage and got into many deeply imposing positions throughout the set.
Next was the Boston foursome CASANOVAS iN HEAT, who seemed a bit more on the “rock n’ roll all night and party every day” post-punk take. They did have a great driving bass and some fun melodies, but weren’t entirely my cup of tea in general. After that was Richmond, Virgina’s Shadow Age, who really took on the sort of sound you’d really imagine being a proper opener for ME. With a spooky, hollowed out gloom of a sonic attack, a ridiculously overly-echoed vocal track, and a torrentially driving rhythm sense, they really fit into a new take on that classic Joy Division sound. The robotically precise hammering of their drummer really gave the whole sound a proper modern post-punk kick, and the whole band really proved to be quite amazing.
Finally, there was another Boston quartet called DAME, whom, as you could probably tell by the name, is a riot grrrl take on the post-punk, with a bit more of the new wave keyboards for taste. It was definitely a combo of stuff I liked, but sometimes it worked better than others. Still, it’s not so punk to be super precise, and probably wouldn’t have fit them anyways.
Then it came time for the great genre-bending Modern English, who was playing to a now sardine-like crammed Baby’s All Right, over-flowing with anticipation and rabid fans. I was caught quite unaware that they were going to be playing the first album on this mini-tour, but I was happier than a clam at high tide for it. They did play 1981’s Mesh & Lace in a different order than that I was used to from either my vinyl or my CD versions, but I did like the flow it presented. This arrangement started with “Dance of Devotion (A Love Song)” which is how my vinyl ends and ended with “Gathering Dust,” which is how my CD version starts. Then, as an encore they played a quite lovely cover of David Bowie’s “Jean Genie” flowed by another Mesh track called “Incident” before Grey joked with the audience, “Here’s a song you’ll all know the words to. I know we’re not really playing the pop tonight, but we’ve got to pay the bills,” and with a chuckle launched into their seminal 80’s smash single “I Melt With You” complete with a wonderful sing-a-long that blissfully went on too long.
Article: Dean Keim