June 13, 2016 Modern English Spellbound Baby’s All Right Brooklyn, NY 6-5-16
The New Romanticism scene coming out of the United Kingdom in the dawn of the 1980s was filled with talented and unique artists. Born from a mix of Rock, Punk, and Pop, the genre soon dominated the decade with a list of bands rising to prominence, including Colchester, Essex, England’s Modern English. One of the original acts to come from this underground movement, Modern English built a name for themselves with their 4AD Records, 1981 debut album, Mesh & Lace. A record which did fairly well in their homeland, it was an ambient piece of Art Rock, one which remains a fan-favorite thirty-five years later.
While there has been a few breaks in Modern English’s history, as a whole, they continue their legacy almost forty years later as they return to North America in 2016 for a very special revisiting to the early days of their career. Their first visit to American soil in four years, this proper tour kicked off May 11th and ran all the way through June 7th, marking one of their longest run this side of the Atlantic Ocean is quite some time. A delightful surprise for dedicated followers, the tour also comes with the knowledge that Modern English will soon be releasing their first studio album in over thirty years with the original band – Robbie Grey (vocals), Mick Conroy (bass), Gary McDowell (guitar), and Stephen Walker (keyboards). With that in mind, the tour began to wind down on Sunday, June 5th, when they arrived in the borough of Brooklyn, New York to play the club known as Baby’s All Right. A quaint setting, with the Williamsburg bridge heading into downtown Manhattan within sight, the room quickly filled up with eager fans of all backgrounds ready to experience Modern English.
Following a list of local supporting acts, Modern English prepared to take the stage just after 10:30 PM as everyone raised their hands in the air cheering to the opening of “Dance of Devotion (A Love Song).” A dark piece, displaying their early influences from Joy Division, it was a fitting beginning to the night that would spotlight a great portion of Mesh & Lace. Following with “Just a Thought” and the single “Swans on Glass,” Conroy’s bass play along with McDowell’s guitar work set a thick atmosphere that engulfed the compact room. Meanwhile, Grey affectionately sang each word, often pointing to what appeared to be lyric sheets he held in his hands. Not an indictment on the vocalist for needing to refer to a lyric sheet, many of the selections were ones that had not been performed live in over three decades. Speaking of which, some of them included the droning sounds of “Black Houses” and eerie “The Token Man,” tracks which mesmerized the mixed age audience ranging from elder Punk Rockers to younger college students who perhaps recently discovered the brilliance of Modern English.
Mixing it up some, they moved forward with the more keyboard laden 1982 album title-track, “After the Snow.” A brighter arrangement, historically the song was part of an album which ushered into a more Pop era for Modern English. This brief exploration into the After the Snow album seized quickly as they took everyone back into Mesh & Lace going forth with “A Viable Commercial” where Drummer Roy Martin completely nailed the beat with ease. Sounding exceptionally tight as a cohesive unit, Grey continued to engage everyone with hand gestures, smiles, and haunting vocals that echoed through the club. This could be heard brilliantly on “Move in Light,” the single “Smiles & Laughter,” and of course the dream-like space sounds of “16 Days.” Effects which are often difficult to re-create live, the art of noise was in full force as each subtle texture from Mesh & Lace was brought to the stage. As fans captured the moments on their cellphones and danced around any chance they had, the performance all came to an end with the trippy and spacey 1980 single “Gathering Dust.”
All exiting the platform into the green room to the right, it was only momentarily as Grey, Conroy, McDowell, Walker, and Martin returned for a anticipated encore. First, they surprised everyone with a cover of David Bowie’s 1973 hit “The Jean Genie,” although, Grey was proudly dressed in a Ziggy Stardust t-shirt. This could have very well been a coincidence, seeing the conclusion of the tour was upon the band and their clean laundry may have been running low. Nonetheless, it fit the rendition perfectly as the band rocked out the track with conviction and passion, just like Bowie would have. Shifting gears once more, they went into “Incident” where McDowell’s guitar play continued to blister as he moved throughout each change with grace.
Giving the audience a moment to recollect, Grey reached for an acoustic guitar and nearly everyone knew what was coming next. Strapping it over his shoulder he said it was time to play a song everyone knew, followed by a laugh and smile, stating everyone secretly loves it. That song of course was the band’s most successful single ever, “I Melt With You.” A track which essentially helped define the ’80s, it is ranked #39 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s, and just like Grey said, one everyone loves. Bringing it to life with all their energy, the band had everyone bouncing around before they began singing and humming along with the refrain. Seeming there was no other way to close the set, Modern English sent everyone away grinning ear to ear as they departed the room.
Sometimes the unexpected surprises are the best kind. A Modern English North American tour was more than likely an idea that many thought was out of the realm of possibility, but it happened. Their stage presence was exceptional, their song selection magnificent, and musicianship stunning. With their new album on the horizon, fans can pre-order it on pledgemusic.com/modernenglish and receive limited edition offerings of signed copies, VIP packages, etc. With the band now mastering the album at Abbey Road Studios, hopes are they will return to the USA sooner rather than later.