The 1980s is a decade that is beloved by those who remember it and romanticized by younger generations who wish they were a part of it. A time full of unique styles and fashions, in music, a synthesized New Wave sound dominated Pop charts and defined the decade. A musical movement that spread across the globe, perhaps the biggest contributions came from acts in the European region. Led by the massive commercial success of those like Depeche Mode and Duran Duran, let us not forget the long list of others who made a long, lasting impression. Among those beloved forget-me-not acts include England’s Heaven 17. Formed in 1980 when co-founders Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware departed from The Human League, the two would soon call on Glenn Gregory as their lead vocalist. A bit of history some may not recall, Heaven 17 went out to find their own success with back to back highly charted albums; 1981’s Penthouse and Pavement and 1983’s The Luxury Gap.
Still active through the decades touring and releasing new music, in North America, Heaven 17 have become a bit of an obscure name. Why do you ask? Well, it could be because they have not really toured the region in forty years. In fact, they have only visited a few times; once initially in 1981, before returning in 2017 for a show at The Highline Ballroom in New York City, as well as an appearance at the Music Tastes Good festival in Long Beach, California. Even with such limited exposure, there is still a niche audience who have been pining for years to see Heaven 17 in a live setting here in America. Far-fetched to think it could ever be a reality? No, because the wishes of such followers came true when Heaven 17 announced their first-ever headlining tour in the U.S. and Canada would actually be happening. The news first came in 2020, but due to the worldwide pandemic lockdowns, it was rescheduled for 2022. An unfortunate setback, it felt like the tour would never arrive, but after much anticipation on Friday, September 16th Heaven 17 launched the run of 15-dates at Daryl’s House in Pawling, New York.
Dubbed the We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang Tour, named after their 1981 debut single, Heaven 17 brought a buzz to Daryl’s House that was palpable. Sold out, fans came from all over New York as well as surrounding states, but also as far as cities such Detroit and San Francisco; all just to bear witness to the groups first ever headlining tour stateside.
Packing the room nicely, Heaven 17, led by Ware (keys) and Gregory (lead vocals), were joined by the exceptionally talented Rachel Meadows and Kelly Barnes on vocals, along with Flo Sabeva on additional keyboards. Together they unified for an energy and sound that was nothing less than exhilarating. Not at all an exaggeration, the longtime team of Ware and Gregory were clearly amped up for the evening as they both displayed enthusiasm in their stage presence, but also in their performances. Working together like a well-oiled machine, it would be a disservice to downplay the importance of both Meadows and Barnes’ contributions to this equation; because these ladies were outstanding. Delivering powerful backing, but also leading vocal performances, each of them brought the fun and upbeat sound of Heaven 17’s favorite songs to life in a colorful way.
Shooting through a set of songs that included “Play To Win,” “Geisha Boys and Temple Girls, “Come Live with Me,” and “This Is Mine,” the energy was consistent with the likes of others performances that included “We Live So Fast,” but also newer songs such as 2005’s “I’m Gonna Make You Fall in Love with Me.”
Fulfilling and fun, those looking for some intimate dialogue from the band amidst the show, Gregory also offered personal excerpts; painting images of the Sheffield scene and recalling other acts from the place in time which included recollections of Human League as well as ABC. And maybe it was the quaint setting of Daryl’s House – the lighting, snug quarters, or great acoustics – but Heaven 17 sure knew how to add extra spice to the evening with surprises that included a cover of The Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Hall & Oates “She’s Gone,” but also David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” All done flawlessly well, but distinctively sounding like Heaven 17, they wrapped up the night with a slew of other highlights which of course included “Let Me Go,” “Temptation” and a rendition of the very first The Human League song, “Being Boiled.”
Now three dates into the tour, it is safe to say the wait was well worth it for Heaven 17 fans. Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder, but stellar stage presence, great set list selections, and impeccable vocal performances help too. This tour is scheduled to run now through October 6th when they wrap up in Seattle, Washington, so the only thing left to say is, do not miss a chance to witness this overlooked act…because you just never know if this opportunity will arise again.