Sometimes the order of stage appearance in double and triple billings doesn’t make sense. Take, for example, Howard Jones’ opening set at Red Butte last year. But this year, at Red Butte’s only such show of the summer, The Retro Futura Tour—Howard Jones, Men Without Hats and The English Beat—the order, and the night, was perfect.
Opening first: Men Without Hats. Led by energetic frontman, and only original member of the band, Ivan Doroschuk they opened their set with “Safety Dance.” They also closed their set with “Safety Dance,” actually. This was a smart move on their part—give the people what they want, and sandwich a fun ABBA cover in between.
Also, there were two ladies without hats in the band. Who knew gender equity would start with Men Without Hats?
Middle act: The English Beat. Again, a band touring with only one original member, lead singer and guitarist Dave Wakeling. Their ska set was marred by some sound issues (Wakeling commented at one point, “It sounds like Iron Maiden up here!)—but it got the crowd on its feet. One notable replacement on the stage was King Schascha who acted as toaster (the role that once belonged to Ranking Roger).
Schascha nailed it. Boundless energy, grabbing cell phones from the audience to take video from the stage and calling a young man celebrating a birthday onstage to dance. He is exactly the infusion of youth and enthusiasm that an aging band needs to keep fans coming back.
Oh, and did I mention they wore matchy-matchy polo shirts? They did. My hand to God. They did.
Closing act: Howard Jones knows he and Utah have something special. “This always feels like a homecoming to me,” he told the crowd, later name-dropping Park West and later saying that he and Utah are 35 years into an “intimate relationship.”
As much fun as Jones was to watch—and he was, in a black suit with rhinestones, a headset and Max Headroom-ish hair bouncing from keyboard to synth to working the crowd with a key-tar in hand—I found myself more often than not looking around me.
The group of middle-aged people who surrounded me were having their best day—they sang along to every word, they pointed, they seemed to be instantly transported back to their youth, to high school dances—to Park West.
The hit-heavy setlist was legitimately fun, yes. And I’d give it a good review regardless. But there was a little bit of that elusive Red Butte magic in the air last night. Jones even acknowledged it, “We’ve had some good times together,” he said, “but this must be close to the best.”
And I’ll be honest, I don’t think he says that to all the crowds. I really do think this is an intimate relationship.