Poptone Electrify Irving Plaza, NYC 8-5-17 w/ POW!

Nostalgia is big these days as bands from all eras and genres of music are reuniting, going on anniversary tours, and/or re-releasing their past hits. However, it would be reductive to say that the newly established Poptone are simply riding the nostalgia train. Though, it is true that Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins have united to revisit classic songs from their time in Bauhaus, Love & Rockets, and Tones on Tail.

Teaming up with Haskins’ daughter, Diva Dompé, they have come together to reimagine the tracks and breath new life into their performances after nearly 40 years of working together. Announced early in 2017, after a successful string of West Coast dates, Poptone brought their tour to New York City’s Irving Plaza for a fun Saturday night on August 5, 2017 with the help of opening act POW!

First up were San Francisco ’80s synth-inspired band POW! Despite being a relatively new band, first materializing in 2014, POW! has become pretty prolific with three full-length albums to their name. The most recent record, Crack an Egg, was released early this year and features fuzzy guitars, punchy drum beats, wild synth sounds, and off-kilter vocals, all of which they brought to the stage to warm up the crowd. Overall, their ’80s-inspired sound made them a great fit to open for Poptone as anticipation grew for the guests of honor. 

By the time Poptone were ready to take the stage, the club had filled with fans of each of Ash and Haskins’ various musical projects. Faded black t-shirts emblazoned with Bauhaus or Tones on Tail tour dates were everywhere, and the crowd was eager to hear which of their favorite songs Poptone would bring out. Bauhaus was the first of several bands Ash and Haskins worked on together, which formed in Northampton, UK in 1978 and was led by Vocalist Peter Murphy as well as also included Haskins’ brother David J on bass. As most know, Bauhaus helped pioneer the genre of Gothic Rock and took inspiration from multiple genres including Punk, Glam Rock, and Experimental Rock to create something that was truly unique at the time. Like too many great ’80s bands, Bauhaus initially burnt out after only 5 years, but the mark they left on Post-Punk with iconic singles like “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “Slice of Life” can still be felt today.

Though Bauhaus came to an end in 1983 – with a few later reunions here and there – Ash and Haskins formed Tones on Tail as a side project beginning in 1982. Tones on Tail only released one studio album, entitled Pop (get it? Poptone?), along with a host of singles and EPs, but with that, the band took the sound of Bauhaus and injected some Pop into the gloomy tones Bauhaus had become known for. Yet another short-lived project, Tones on Tail disbanded in 1984, but in 1985 Ash and Haskins once again pulled in David J to form Love and Rockets. This time around, the trio enjoyed considerably longevity. Love and Rockets released seven studio albums before calling it quits in 1999 and enjoyed considerable chart success in the U.S. With all that history, fans were ready to see which selections from Ash and Haskins’ considerable catalog would be brought out.

All this rich history laid out, the trio finally took the stage after a drawn-out soundscape introduction, but once they appeared on stage the whole room burst into cheers. To everyone’s surprise, Poptone, with Ash and Dompé’s white ensembles glowing in the blacklight, began their set with a dark and brooding cover of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” a recorded version of which can be found on a Tones on Tail compilation. Continuing with some more Tones on Tail, Poptone went into “O.K. This is the Pops.” Of course, Ash and Haskin’s sounded great, but Dompé had no problem keeping up on bass, an instrument that is the main focus of many of the tracks that were to be played throughout the rest of the evening.

Following that came “Mirror People,” the first Love and Rockets track of the night from their 1987 LP Earth Sun Moon. The crowd, mostly made up of an older and more mature fans, were excited to hear these tracks, but also seemed quite content to dance along with themselves – no pushing, shoving, or moshing – which was refreshing and made the set even more enjoyable to watch. Moving into another Tones on Tail track, Dompé took the lead on bass as Ash exchanged his guitar for a saxophone during the slow and moody “Movement of Fear.” Dompé, decked out in a glowing ensemble with the Poptone logo, then moved over to a single drum for “Happiness,” another one from Tones on Tail.

Never sticking to one project for too long, Poptone were keeping the nice mix going with one from Love and Rockets, “No Big Deal,” before bringing it back to Tones on Tail with one of their singles, the slower and synth-driven “Lions,” during which Dompé took another break from the bass, moving over to the synthesizer. Keeping with Tones, Dompé picked the bass back up for the fast-paced single “Twist” before bringing it back to Love and Rockets with the dreamy “Love Me,” which sounded stellar performed live.

Poptone got a huge cheer from the Tones on Tail fans in the crowd as they went into “Performance” followed by a mostly instrumental Love and Rockets favorite, “American Dream,” with some wild lighting courtesy of the rotating disco ball at the center of the stage. Following that, Poptone kept the momentum up with two grooving and Experimental Tones on Tail singles, “Christian Says” and “There’s Only One,” both of which had fans excitedly bouncing in place and singing along before the final song of the set.

Eliciting one of the biggest cheers of the night, the band began “Ball of Confusion,” a Love and Rockets track that was originally written by The Temptations before Love and Rockets put their own Post-Punk spin on it. The whole crowd was ecstatic after hearing this song, making it the perfect song to end a set with, but several of Ash and Haskin’s most well-known tracks were yet to be played. Poptone returned for their first encore with a cover of Adam and the Ant’s “Physical (You’re So).” Interestingly, that was followed by a new solo track by Ash, entitled “Flame On,” before a huge swell of cheers as Poptone played one of Tones on Tail’s biggest hits, “Go!,” and then exited the stage once more.

Just when fans thought it was over, the band returned once again to play “Slice of Life,” the only Bauhaus track of the set. Fans went wild to hear this, and that energy remained through the slow and bright “Sweet F.A.” to officially end their set. All told, Poptone put together a comprehensive set that sampled some of the best work from Ash and Haskins’ impressive history.

There is one more show left in Baltimore, Maryland, and after that, Poptone will be making an appearance at the first Cloak & Dagger festival out in Los Angeles, California. A delight to see Daniel Ash out performing live again, perhaps fans can hope for some new material from these talented musical pioneers soon.

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