An ’80s Flashback at the Santa Barbara Bowl

Culture Club, The B-52s, and Tom Bailey of Thompson Twins Together

The B-52s

Pieter M. Van Hattem

The B-52s

The final installment of this season’s flashback series hits the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday, September 23, when Boy George and Culture Club will be joined by The B-52s and Tom Bailey of Thompson Twins for a night of classic 1980s pop. It’s hard to imagine a more promising triple bill for reviving the dancing, party-out-of-bounds spirits of the original MTV generation. What Culture Club can’t do, the B-52s can, and when you throw in Tom Bailey, who has not only his classic Thompson Twins hits but also a strong new album to work from, it is entirely safe to expect pandemonium. The tour represents a lot of hard work on the part of an energized and ambitious George, whose company planned the whole thing and pieced together the dream team

Speaking with Bailey by phone recently was a pleasure, as he’s one of the most clear-headed, intelligent, wise musicians to walk out of the dark night of the 1980s alive. After taking several decades off from playing Thompson Twins music to explore other interests such as dub reggae in New Zealand and soundtracking a film about space exploration, one of his many passions, Bailey recently returned to the stage and to his multiplatinum repertoire, making new fans and pleasing lots of loyal old ones in the process. Inspired by the satisfaction of playing “Lies” and “Hold Me Now” with musicians who were not yet alive when he wrote them, Bailey went back to the studio and created Science Fiction, an entire new album that sounds remarkably like the music he was making 30 years ago.

Of the decision to begin writing pop songs again, Bailey said, “One thing leads to another, and after I was seduced into playing the hits live again, I felt that I didn’t want it to be just a nostalgia thing.” As a result, listeners have a great new record that fulfills two purposes: Bailey and his band have more great songs to play that aren’t all old, and the singer has a way to express some of the ideas and interests that have occupied him in the meantime. The title track, “Science Fiction,” makes a great example, as it is less about reading Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke or watching a Star Wars movie than it is about the fact that, as Bailey put it, “science fiction isn’t about the future really; it’s actually a way of talking about what’s happening now.”

Listening again to all this wonderful music reminded me not only (vaguely!) of a misspent youth but also of how remarkably eclectic and diverse the music that got labeled “new wave” really was. A great Thompson Twins song such as “Lies” has synths that echo Roxy Music, sure, but there’s also a dead-solid bass line that would be perfectly at home on a Rick James 12″. As for The B-52s, is there a more perfect dance-floor filler than “Love Shack”? And it’s not just the goofy lyrics or Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s soulful harmonizing; there’s a whole world of funky guitar riffing percolating beneath it all before the exhilarating wind-up. “Bang bang on the door” for sure, sugar.

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Boy George with Culture Club, The B-52s, and Tom Bailey of Thompson Twins will play Sunday, September 23, 6 p.m., at the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.). Call (805) 962-7411 or see sbbowl.com.