Last week, Curt Smith tweeted a photo from Tears For Fears’ tour rehearsals. Jamie Wollam is seated at a drum kit, chatting on his mobile. The caption reads: “so good he just phones it in”.
It’s not just a bad pun. The drummer, like the three other musicians backing band founders Smith and Roland Orzabal, really is so good. But he, guitarist Charlton Pettus, keyboard player Doug Petty, and vocalist Carina Round have no choice: the songs they’re performing range from existential crisis ‘80s synth-pop anthems to Sgt. Pepper-era psychedelia.
That’s because this postponed tour, named for the band’s 2017 Rule The World greatest hits collection, is a career-spanning celebration of their biggest (and/or best) songs. Fittingly then, their biggest arena show yet begins with their first US #1 single, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, performed as if nothing’s changed since 1985. And as Smith’s pure voice delivers lines like “I can’t stand this indecision/ Married with a lack of vision”, it’s clear that nothing has.
The bright, Beatles-flavoured Secret World from their most recent studio LP (now 15 years old) is the perfect springboard for the set’s second tentpole: Sowing The Seeds Of Love. Sung with gusto by Orzabal, who draws special attention to the line “the politics of greed”, the sunflower symphony reaches full bloom with the vocal harmonies of Smith and Round, and Petty’s impeccable recreation of the lavish orchestrations.
Wollam, in turn, has his first truly standout moment on Pale Shelter, with his performance making the group’s second single sound more urgent and Smith’s vocal (“you don’t give me love”) more despairing than ever before.
Repeating the trick of pairing bleak vocals with a bright, sunny melody Break It Down Again calls upon the drummer to lay down a martial beat instead. Of course he obliges with flair. And yet the highlight of this essential Elemental single, originally recorded by Orzabal during the duo’s ‘90s estrangement, is hearing them sing it together.
The title track of their appropriately named reunion album, 2004’s Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, continues the impressive vocal interplay, this time against a kaleidoscopic musical backdrop that Paul McCartney might have dreamed up in 1967.
Change time travels to 1982, albeit with slightly updated synths which, in conjunction with the strobing lights and Pettus’ angular guitar riffs, give it a newfound menace. An anguished Mad World, in turn, needs no tweaking to convey the same sense of alienation, isolation, and hopelessness it did almost 40 years ago.
The same era’s Memories Fade is filled with similar angst but, partly thanks to Wollam’s booming drums and Orzabal’s keening vocal, sounds more epic than ever, before Suffer The Children concludes the four-song run through debut album The Hurting with a major twist. Musically pared down to just a piano, it’s hauntingly sung by Round before Orzabal joins in on guitar and vocals.
Their duetting continues on Woman In Chains, with Round more than capable of matching the soulful resilience of Oleta Adams’ original vocal and the entire band perfectly capturing the drama of the studio version. An effortless Advice For The Young At Heart, also from 1989’s The Seeds Of Love, marks Smith’s return to the microphone which he relishes with a pitch-perfect recreation of the summery single’s a capella finale.
Badman’s Song, Tears For Fears’ most ambitious yet, is a far weightier proposition. As Petty slides from swelling organs to swinging piano and Wollam marks the sudden time changes, from big band swing to skittish jazz, Round makes another powerful Adams performance her own, going toe to toe with an intense Orzabal. That intensity’s matched equally well by Pettus’ soloing during the freestyle jam at core of the night’s emotional highlight.
A bouncing Head Over Heels could never match that towering emotion but, as a bonafide hit rather than beloved album track, is a crowd-pleasing end to the main set, especially with its catchy Hey Jude-style singalong ending that clearly has the desired effect. During the few minutes that the band are offstage, the capacity O2 Arena audience spontaneously begin singing Shout.
And, inevitably, Tears For Fears’ biggest hit (and second US #1) is tonight’s goodnight song. The synths have undergone a slight update since 1984, but that makes no change to the anthem’s impact. Although he could easily hand over to the audience, Orzabal sings his heart out and almost throws himself into the front row during the iconic guitar solo before red and white confetti rains down.
It’s a powerful conclusion to a show where the songs come first. There’s not much chat – Orzabal, alluding to the moved shows, thanks the fans for their patience; the Los Angeles-based Smith jokes about yoga and gets the audience to sing for his family back home – but there’s a lot of love for the music.
Nobody even mentions the long-gestating new album, but based on how invigorated the old ones sound tonight, it should be worth the wait. This tour certainly was.
Review of Tears For Fears at The O2 Arena on 6th February 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.