I entered Red Butte Garden on Wednesday night with trepidation. I wasn't sure what to make of the first two groups on the bill. Unlike most Utahns, I'm not even that familiar with Howard Jones or OMD. I don't' get the cult-like passion for their brand of synth-pop that is found here in the Land of Zion, and I'm too young to have listened to their stuff in my formative years, anyway.

I did listen to a lot of Barenaked Ladies, though. Gordon was my favorite album for a very long time, and I'd wager a bet that my former roommate Lyndsay still can't listen to “Jane” or “Enid” without throwing up in her mouth a little, because I had them on constant repeat so often.

 My hesitation ended as soon as Howard Jones bounded onto the stage like a force of nature with spiky hair, sunglasses, a white sports coat and a keytar. That's right, a keytar.

 

 

“My job is to really get this party started,” Jones said, “We're just going to play the hits, if that's alright.” And play the hits, he did. The crowd was on their feet nearly the entire set, singing along to all of the songs—even the ones that I wouldn't refer to as “hits” necessarily. He did play “Life In One Day,” “Everlasting Love” and “Things Can Only Get Better”—with the latter ending in a techno dance remix. Jones' voice was as good as it ever was, and his energy onstage equally matched that of artists half his age. 

“So, Salt Lake, we have a bit of a history, don't we?” he asked before leaving the stage, acknowledging his kinship with the crowd. He added, “All those nights at Park West...” The crowd cheered at the reference to the now defunct Park City venue.

Maybe it's my well-documented affinity for Brits and their accents (Tom Hiddleson, if you're reading this, call me), but OMD kept the party rolling, even with their less than ideal placement in the middle of the show. “Here's the deal,” lead singer Andy McCluskey told the crowd, “We'll be brilliant. You'll enjoy this.” Enjoy they did. Again, everyone in the crowd sang along to every word, was on their feet the entire time and dancing (I'm not sure the band understood what a coup it was to get a Utah crowd Dancing). Like Jones, OMD vowed to only play the hits. “So In Love,” “Enola Gay,” “Tesla Girls” and of course, “If You Leave” were all on the setlist and delivered with as much intensity as Jones. “What is it about Salt Lake and English synth music?” McCluskey asked the crowd. And after promises to return next year, the band exited the stage.

 

So, there I am—a very recent convert to the Utah Brit-pop obsession, and here comes Barenaked Ladies. From the beginning of their set, I started to question the order of the bands. Double and triple billings are always tricky. Who's the bigger name? Who should get to go first?

I can say that without a doubt, for this show, Barenaked ladies should have opened and Jones should have closed out the set. Not only is their vibe a little more mellow, but unlike the acts before them, BNL seemed to have no interest in only playing the hits during their one-hour set. This may be because they separated ways with former singer and songwriter Steven Page, or it may be because they fundamentally misunderstand the intention of a nostalgia tour. The band mentioned how happy they were that the venue was sold-out, but didn't seem to have any recognition that may not have been because of their inclusion on the ticket.

 

And so we got “The Old Apartment,” “Brian Wilson,” “Hello City” (complete with a shout-out to Club DV8) and a few others—but we also got the theme song from the Big Bang Theory and a song from their children's album, Snack Time.

BNL aren't even as funny as they used to be. They had their moments, with a freestyle rap about the flower barrier and a chat about keyboardist Kevin Hearn playing his high school OMD cover band tapes to the real OMD. But singer Ed Robertson changing the lyrics in “Pinch Me” to a joke about putting on his sister's clothes and transgender bathrooms not only felt flat and felt out of place, it was also borderline offensive, at best.

It says a lot, actually, that the highlight of their set as headliners was when Howard Jones joined the band back onstage to sing “No One Is To Blame,” the one glaring omission from his own set.

My advice: Howard Jones is playing a solo show at The Complex tonight. If you missed his set last night, or even if you didn't, go to there. Catch OMD when they come back next year as promised. But, remember Barenaked ladies the way they were.

In short: More synth. More keytar. More hits. More Brits. Less whatever BNL was doing. (And seriously, you guys, play "Jane" more. It's a great song.) 

 

Photos by Stuart Graves