Slave To The Square Wave
Revival Theatre Toronto
Saturday, January 25th 2020
By Keith Sharp
Thirty-seven years after they last performed together at Kingswood north of Toronto (1985 to be exact), Liverpool’s China Crisis hooked up again with Montreal’s Rational Youth, this time at Toronto’s Revival Theatre with local band Slave To The Square Wave opening the triple bill by getting patrons on to the dance floor with a short but spirited set.
It was another one of ace charity-raising entrepreneur Ed Sousa’s efforts to promote 80’s synth-pop bands, and like he has done previously with The Spoons, The Box, Images In Vogue and another Liverpool band, A Flock Of Seagulls, Sousa has successfully showcased another pair of retro pop bands in the Southern Ontario market.
In this case, Rational Youth has been reduced now to the married pair of Tracy and Gaenor Howe while China Crisis originals; lead vocalist Gary Daly and guitarist Eddie Lundon are now supported by keyboardist Jack Hymers and saxophonist Eric Animan.
Noted for being Canada’s first synth-pop band with their debut `Cold Water Night Life’ release in 1982, Howe is now the sole survivor of Rational Youth’s original four-player set up but along with his wife, Gaenor capably handles both the vocals and keyboard arrangements with all the key instrumental elements pre-programmed.
Although, at times, cutting somewhat sparse figures on stage, the Howes’ covered most of the band’s key tracks with the band’s ground-breaking “Dancing On The Berlin Wall”, “Close To Nature”, “Just A Sound In The Night” and the closing “Saturdays In Silesia” drawing strong reactions from the crowd, many of which seemed thrilled to see Rational Youth back in action again.
The night’s big attractions though were China Crisis, a new wave synth band in the same mould as A Flock Of Seagulls, Echo And The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and Frankie Goes To Hollywood who never really caught on commercially this side of the Atlantic during their heyday of the mid-Eighties, but listening to their infectious synth-pop numbers, it’s a crime that so many great songs were originally ignored.
Driven by some excellent sax work from Animan, the band delivered a 13-song set of infectious pop melodies propelled by Hymer’s keyboards and Lundon’s guitar rhythms yet the real star of the band was lead vocalist Gary Daly. Aside from delivering key vocal melodies like “Arizona Sky’, “African And White”, “Bigger Than Punch” and “Tragedy And Misery”, Daly’s communication with the audience was delivered with typical Liverpudlian piss-take humour.
Introducing “It’s Never Too Late”, Daly explained that this track was supposed to be the follow up single to, “Wishful Thinking” but their record label (Virgin) thought it was too similar so it was relegated to be the B-side to “Black Man Ray” “If we had released “It’s Never Too Late” as the next single, we’d all be floating around the South Seas in our yachts right now instead of playing crap gigs like this one,”
And talking about music cassettes making a comeback, Daly observed “what sort of horseshit is that. You could never find a certain song on any cassette and good luck if it was a Yes album!” he noted.
Introducing “King In A Catholic Style”, Daly implored the crowd to recapture the spirit of Queen performing “Radio Ga Ga” at Live Aid by clapping in time to the song, a request his audience duly complied with.
Finishing off strongly with “Working With Fire And Steel” and “Christian” before returning for a three-song encore of “Seven Sports For All”, “Fool” and “Soul Awakening”, China Crisis proved that maybe the U.S market initially overlooked this band in favour of domestic acts like The Talking Heads and REM, but the quality of their music has stood up well and China Crisis is as relevant today as they ever were back in the mid-’80s.