« Get Out: Cockabilly Road Show at Sidebar Tavern | Main | Concert review: Jackson Browne at Pier Six Pavilion »

August 25, 2010

Concert review: Tears for Fears at Rams Head Live

Sun writer Evan Haga saw Tears for Fears last night at Rams Head Live. Here are his thoughts:

There was a lot of grace and balance about Tears for Fears' roughly hour-and-a-half performance last night at Rams Head Live: A healthy sense of nostalgia was present, sure, but the show didn't use the past as a crutch, or as a reason not to apply a little elbow grease.

As a touring sextet, Tears for Fears sounded well-rehearsed, precise, über-professional; somewhat surprising considering the band hasn't, like many of its contemporaries, made a post-career of touring the hits ...

Craftsmanship has always been part of the equation, though. An English pop duo consisting of songwriters Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, Tears for Fears is best known for producing a handful of singles that vividly evoke the mid-'80s but are so sharply written they transcend the period.

But TFF could sustain its songwriting prowess at album length, producing ambitious pop songs that sounded like hits even as commerce passed them by — 2004's comeback album "Everybody Loves a Happy Ending," which came and went with insufficient fanfare, comes to mind.

Last night's set deftly balanced the hits and album cuts, the vintage material and music from just a half-decade ago. Almost remarkably, there was a cohesion here that made it seem as if it all could have been from the same album — perhaps the edgiest adult-contemporary record you've ever heard, the sort of LP that sees no shame in featuring synthesizers playing horn sounds. So the mega-hit book-ends, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Shout," sounded coherent alongside "Happy Ending" standouts like "Secret World" and that album's Beatles-y title track.

"Sowing the Seeds of Love," an ambitious, multi-sectioned suite of a pop hit from 1989, made sense in the same set as 2004's "Call Me Mellow," or 1983's "Mad World" and "Pale Shelter," or 1993's "Break It Down Again," its militaristic synth groove absolutely propulsive in a live setting. (That last song came after Orzabal and Smith's early-'90s split, when Orzabal was using the Tears for Fears name essentially as a solo artist. A petty band might have excluded it on principle, but it's the best offering from that era of the band and was a welcome addition here.) Even a curve ball cover, a ballad arrangement of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," pretty seamlessly melded into the whole.

As pop music goes, this stuff can be demanding, with creative song forms and unforgiving vocal melodies. The band tackled the material head-on, however, doing an impressive job of recreating the expansive recorded arrangements, often to a tee, and without appearing to try too hard. Vocally Orzabal, who also played guitar, and Smith, also on bass, achieved the equilibrium they've long practiced, Orzabal singing in stout low tones, Smith in feathery highs. (The arrangement can call to mind another original synth-pop group with its fair share of hits, Depeche Mode; Orzabal would be the Dave Gahan to Smith's Martin Gore.)

But the evening's most outstanding vocal moment — it was thrilling, actually — belonged to Orzabal and back-up vocalist (and opening act) Michael Wainwright. On "Woman in Chains," Orzabal covered his part with trademark drama and heartiness, and Wainwright masterfully took on the female duet part that belongs on record to Oleta Adams. He tackled it so well, in fact, that the somewhat strange androgyny factor of the situation went out the window; instead, it was easier to just marvel at his vocal instrument, in all its wailing, falsetto glory.

There were jokes, too: some from Smith about aging, and a monologue from Orzabal listing gigs that might not reflect a band whose album sales number in the multi-millions. There have been gigs at casinos, theaters, small clubs and even a "car park" in Buffalo. The set was so good such modesty wasn't necessary, but it was a nice touch.

Follow Midnight Sun on Facebook and Twitter @midnightsunblog
Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:32 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Concert reviews


Good review. This band is still obviously Roland's band and he just keeps Curt along either out of a feeling of need or nostalgia. Curt's vocal chops are on their last leg and he went flat a number of times on his featured numbers.

It was however great to see true musicians on stage who understand that less is more and tasteful talent always trumps ego-driven showoffs.

One of the things that I detest about going to shows in 2010 is the fact that everyone in the crowd basically knows what song is coming next because they've googled the setlists and realize that most touring bands are playing the same set every night. TFF has a catalog that would allow them to change things up a bit, but because of pre-recorded loops, lighting cues, timing, ect., they don't do that.

It is one of the things that makes bands like The Black Crowes and Pearl Jam so much fun to see and even follow from city to city. I'd imagine that the show we got in Baltimore was almost identical to the 9:30 club show on Monday.

Either way, it was still a great show and fun to see TFF on stage in such a small venue that even Roland said it felt like people were looking up his nose.

I was at this show and TFF sounded great. First of all, the years have been good to the fellas. They look great and their voices are just as powerful as ever. My favorite song, "Advice for the Young at Heart" was played, so selfishly, I was very pleased. However, hearing, "Mad World", "Pale Shelter", and "Memories Fade" from my favorite album, "The Hurting" was wonderful and brought back a flood of high school memories. Radio staples, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Shout" made even this two left footed man try to dance. I agree w/Haga, "Woman in Chains" was dynamic as Wainwright did an exceptional job of taking over Oleta Adams' parts. It is good to know that these guys still rule the world. All in all, an excellent show by one of my favorite bands.

Curt wouldn't tour if he didn't want to (he's a adult and does what he wants after all), and if you have any misgivings about his voice, Eutaw Historian, go download his single Perfectly...Still and then try again. I was there last night as well, and he was in great voice. As a former musician and current singer (yes, that was me singing with Michael Wainwright) I know pitch and there were very, very few flat notes to be heard. The set list was actually different from one week prior when they were in Boston - I was there too. The Baltimore crowd was the best I have been in - singing along to the songs, sometimes almost louder than the band! The show last night rocked!


Everybody does love a happy ending, but we didn't want to see the show end despite leaving with a huge smile on our faces!! Sorry that I never saw these guys live in their hayday, but they took me back there last night! They were truly awesome!!


So far, TFF has done the same 18 song set every single show on this US leg (well, really 17 songs, as Mad World is done twice.)

Okay, a couple of minor tweaks of the running order from show to show, but its the exact same list of songs.

Would it kill them to throw in Change or Mothers Talk, or something?

Also, 90 minute headlining shows don't really cut it anymore. Two hours should be the norm.

I agree this was a fantastic show and they seemed to be having a great time up there. I loved being so close. I was on a high when I left. The entrance was apparently the arrnagement of Adam Lambert's rendition of "Mad World" which was just beautiful. I don't think Curt sounded flat at all and it seems like an equal partnership to me. I'm so glad they are back together and friends again. Makes me happy. They are a huge part of my life growing up. They also looked great and sounded great. They are inspiring me to get in better shape and finally take up the guitar!

Tears for Fears has been my favorite band since I was 17 & I am now 42 and they still hold that title! I saw TFF for the first time when I was 17 & I have to say, they sound as good (or dare I say, even better)!!! I am looking forward to the next TFF concert, only this time I am not going to wait 25 years! Best concert I've ever been to! One more thing, Koodos to Wainwright!!

Great Review. In regards to Eutaw Historian's comments: There would be no Tears For Fears without Curt Smith. I use to think that Roland Orzabal pulled more of the weight, but then I listened to Curt Smith's solo material. Listen to "Halway, pleased", and it easy to see how much Curt influenced TFF's material, even if he didn't receive songwriting credit for it. I honestly do not know where the creativity of either of them ends and the other begins... To S. Olden - I am so happy that you finally were able to sing with Michael Wainwright. It is a great experience isn't?

Eutaw Historian's comment: "This band is still obviously Roland's band and he just keeps Curt along either out of a feeling of need or nostalgia. Curt's vocal chops are on their last leg and he went flat a number of times on his featured numbers," is so far off the mark. Curt isn't the vocalist that Roland is, but what he brings on EWTRTW and Pale Shelter and Mad World and AFTYAH is fantastic, but, most importantly, his harmonies are amazing on the songs, especially the new album. I truly believe Roland appreciates what Curt brings to the table and vice versa. They needed to go on their own and have full autnonomy and it enabled them to come back together and truly enjoy it. I loved Roland on his own, but there's nothing better than them back together with Curt's beautiful tenor and Roland's stunning vocals together again.

SOlden - It sounds like you believe that I thought this was a bad show, quite the opposite, it was great.

But, don't go blindly defending Curt on some of his pitch problems. If you're gonna brag, then I will too, I have perfect pitch and he was off.

And I can download studio singles until the cows come home, live performance is what separates the men from the boys. I'm not saying that Curt was bad, but the songs where we was exposed were a little rough around the edges. But Roland and the rest of the band were absolutely

As far as the set, it would have been great to hear Badman's Song, Elemental, Tears Roll Down or even Year of the Knife as a surprise. But the Chris Cornell version of Billie Jean was great.

anyone have complete setlist?

With such a large catalog, they have to pick and choose. I was just impressed they played something from every TFF album except Raoul and The Kings of Spain. Even one of Curt's solo pieces. And I'm almost certain I remember hearing Change...though it may have been The Hurting...

Lael, it sure is! Michael is just the biggest sweetheart!

Eutaw, no, I know you liked it - you said as much, but I've heard Curt "off" - he was in Boston (self admittedly too - I talked to him at a meet and greet after Boston and there have been equipment issues) But after hearing Taylor Swift on the AMA's or CMA's or one of those award shows sing alone and with the woman from Fleetwood Mac, THAT's singing falling flat. Curt wasn't 100% perfect, but his chops are far from failing!

Their concerts are high energy and they both sound amazing. Roland and Curt's voices are very different and together, they balance & blend very well. One isn't better than the other. As fans, we love when they tour because they are amazing musicians and each song has meaning to many people. Age has not caught up to them, on the contrary, we think they look and sound better than ever. So does the rest of the band, Charlton, Doug and Jamie. Also Wainwright deserves kudos for his amazing voice. Woman In Chains being a favorite. Touring is tough, but as fans we thank them for all of the years of great music & putting up with being on the road. Many people go to multiple shows and it's well worth it.

Marlene Hall:

The "Mad World" arrangement from the beginning of the show was not Adam Lambert's; it was the arrangement from when TFF toured Western Europe with Night of the Proms.

And indeed, the slow version of "Mad World" was not even Lambert's idea: he copied the tempo from Gary Jules, who sang "Mad World" for the soundtrack to Donnie Darko.

I saw then in NY at the Hammerstein Ballroom on August 19th. The set list was largely, if not completely, unchanged from what others seem to be reporting from earlier shows or shows afterwards. For me it really does not matter. Fan for 25+ years (TFF and solo stuff) and the first time seeing them live. No complaints on set list, voice melody, quality, chops, etc etc. I saw the grateful dead - once - loved them in the studio, thought the live show was a waste of time. Why? The hype did not live up to (at least) my expectations. With TFF it was the total opposite: I expected a good show, but got in return a great show I will never, ever forget. I just hope I do not have to wait another 25 years. (PS - the guy who believes this is Roland's band must be a bit crazy. Sure, Roland is a much more dominant figure but I would bet it was Curt, the more mellow and introspective one, who keeps things together somehow)

Fantastic free concert in Orlando by Tff first time I have seen them for over 20 years but thought they were better than ever, flew down from Canada to see this concert and was worth all the effort took my 18 year old son who totally enjoyed it even though he went telling ne he would hate it loved both versions of Mad World Please keep touring and a new album would be fantastic you still have what it takes TFF

The are great and will continue to be great. It is not just their rhythms and melodies, but the meanings in the lyrics that make them so special. Most bands just write from their heads. Tears for Fears write using their brains, souls and hearts. BEST BAND EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Please enter the letter "v" in the field below:
About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

Most Recent Comments
Recent tweets
Sign up for FREE nightlife alerts*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Photo galleries
Stay connected