CLEARWATER -- There are '80s bands (the synths, the Frank Lloyd Wright hair, the glammy sheen) and then there are bands that were simply born in the '80s. For all the Midnight Runners and Seagulls flitting about, that magical decade was the last great calendar span for everlasting music. U2 transcended. Metallica and Madonna, too.
Because I'm a critic and spend my days debating such heavyweight issues, I routinely argue to a froth that Tears for Fears transcends '80s-stuck status, as well. Yes, the duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith couldn't have been born at any other time. (Big hair, dumb videos, etc.) But the Brits have proved substantially more than their b-day, too.
Maybe they're not as good as Duran Duran, but hey, they're definitely not Kajagoogoo, either. (No offense.)
Maybe you don't agree with me, but the 1,955 fans at a nearly sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall on Wednesday certainly did. TFF drew a big, passionate crowd to the venue, robust testament to the group's enduring hook-based songs that honor substance over Spandexed artifice.
Confident in a catalog that runs deeper than most remember (or at least deeper than your old cassette of 1985 album Songs From the Big Chair), Orzabal and Smith, backed by a four-piece crew, opened with a chilling choral version of Mad World. They then segued into that tickly opening line of Everybody Wants to Rule the World, the entire venue lifting to its rapturous feet.
The 90-minute setlist was smartly blended, with know-'em-by-hearters (the Beatlesesque Sowing the Seeds of Love) tucked between album cuts (the thumping Call Me Mellow) that showed the boys have morphed from sensitive New Wavers into a thoroughly rocking outfit. They're also much loopier than their solemn MTV personae, especially Orzabal, who crooned a cheeky-cool cover of Billie Jean.
The boys traded off on lead vocal and soared on the harmonies, a still-moving merging of octave-spanning derring-do, from Princely falsetto to rumbling lows. After the MJ salute, TFF launched into a fantastically melodic five-song finish: Pale Shelter (trust me, you know it) Break It Down Again (you know that, too), Head Over Heels and, for the encores, Woman in Chains and Shout.
At one point in the show, the constantly mugging Orzabal said, "We're not just known for our '80s classics," then, after a straight-man pause, goofed, "YES WE ARE!" Of course, he could laugh about it because he's in Tears for Fears and not Men Without Hats. (No offense.)
Sean Daly can be reached at (727) 893-8467 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.