Sell nostalgia, they’re not making it any more.
An evening of A Flock of Seagulls, Glass Tiger and Corey Hart at Budweiser Stage on Friday was a gift to the MuchMusic generation, those mid-lifers raised on television-ready pop stars, synth-shined tunes and recessionary economies. Liverpool’s Seagulls (who elevated big hair to an art form in its day) longed for Polaroid proof of a long-gone love on Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You). Alan Frew and Newmarket’s finest insisted on memory fidelity when they revived the 1986 hit Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone). And Hart, on his first major Canadian tour in more than two decades, reminded us that songcraft, showmanship and cloying sentimentality never go out of style, even if the counterintuitive use of sunglasses has.
The 1980s, the era in which the three above acts flourished, were a time when radios were fixed to the same frequencies and national video networks enforced a monoculture. Young music lovers mostly listened to and watched the same things. But just because the stuff was rammed down an audience’s collective throat doesn’t mean the music isn’t memorable. The overly bright production techniques of the eighties – thankfully toned down at Budweiser Stage – were sticky varnish to recallable melodies and unflagging hooks built to last.
The headliner on this tour down way-back lane is Hart, a pouty, squint-eyed brooder who has grown up to be a shameless romantic and generous performer in fine vocal shape at age 57. He mixed cuts from a new comeback EP (Dreaming Time Again) with old hits and well-chosen covers, including Coldplay’s Viva la Vida with its wistful “I used to rule the world” declaration.
The Montrealer was backed by a full band that included a saxophonist (the Ottawa-raised Alison Young) and backup singers. Hart must have arrived to the stage on the E Street train, because it’s the Bruce Springsteens of the world who still use a full complement of live accompanists any more. Digital backing tracks are simpler and don’t require a per diem.
Then again, with Hart, it’s all about the human touches. He invited a female fan onstage during the performance of a new song (First Rodeo) that featured the appearance of Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy. A misty-eyed Hart sang I Am By Your Side to his sister. A poignant Let it Be was followed by a grandstanding a cappella snippet of Queen’s We Are the Champions, in honour of a recent Toronto Raptors accomplishment.
Hart spoke of a father who had abandoned him and of his late mother who did not. He said he wished that social media had existed back in his hit-making days, so that he could have better interacted with his fans. His outreach onstage now seemed to be a catching-up exercise in camaraderie.
A three-song encore began with his signature 1984 hit Sunglasses at Night and ended with Never Surrender. The emotive request of the latter was for “just a little more time,” an appeal that the curfew-enforcers at the venue could hardly deny.
Hart had walked onstage just as a taped version of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl faded down. “Hey, where did we go?” Morrison wondered, on a song about transistor radios and singing “sha-la-la-la.” It was appropriate walk-on music for a concert that may not have been one to remember, but which was certainly all about remembering.
Corey Hart plays Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place, June 18; Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome, June 20; Edmonton’s Rogers Place, June 21; Prospera Place, Kelowna, B.C., June 22; Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, June 24; and Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, June 25.
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