Without forcibly trying, British band Tears For Fears significantly proved that it is not a nostalgia act during its Friday night performance at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. Despite having grown to prominence in the 1980s thanks to a few of the decade’s most recognizable and revered hit songs, the band, and specifically its two founders and leaders, showed nary an interest in living in the past and resting on ancient laurels during a visually and aurally pleasing performance.
On the heels of and in support of its latest release, 2022’s superb The Tipping Point, the performance boasted an unprecedented seven tracks from the new album. While audiences often become antsy or uninterested when veteran acts dip into current material, the majority of the nearly sold-out crowd remained rapt and engaged the newer numbers where played. At times, when either of the group’s co-lead singers and band founders—Roland Orzabal or Curt Smith—referred to their newest release, each was greeted with thunderous applause. Further evidence of the crowd’s acceptance of the newer material was noticeable as many diehards stood and sang along, word-for-word, during the new songs. If that’s not proof that this band still maintains a loyal, accepting, and ravenous fanbase, I don’t know what more could drive that point home.
Walking out to a stage that featured a massive, circular, dual lighting rig with a huge round projection screen at its center, Orzabal and Smith, each dressed in all black, were met with a rousing ovation. Backed by a three-piece band and a single backup singer, the group boldly opened the show with a mellow ballad, “No Small Thing,” the opening track from their current release. Orzabal’s warm, emotive voice sounded strong and fresh above the strains of the acoustic guitar he strummed. Sporting long, straight, shoulder-length silver locks and a full white beard, the singer more closely resembled a throwback folk singer than the cornerstone of an ‘80s pop and new wave band. Nonetheless, his appeal and his delivery defied appearances and instantly gave the audience a hint of what it was in store for the hot, sticky, humid night.
An absolutely flawless sound mix did wonders to bring the group’s sometimes intricate, often nuanced textures to life. Coming early in the set as the night’s third number, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” the band’s instantly recognizable and beloved anthem from its 1985 masterwork Songs From the Big Chair, sounded near perfect. Although Curt Smith’s vocals have taken on a slightly different tone from the days of this song’s original release, he still managed to deliver an impassioned performance and was bolstered by the dynamic guitar work of Charlton Pettus and the strong, forceful vocal accompaniment of sole backup singer, Lauren Evans (who just joined the band this week).
Donning a slim polo shirt and jeans, and sporting a close-cropped haircut, Smith looked youthful, vibrant, and continued to add his pleasant, smooth vocal artistry to his fair share of the night’s performances. Giving the crowd a local shoutout, Smith mentioned having been in the area within the last year to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday and went on to say he had a “soft spot for Tampa” which, of course, was met with a wall of cheers. Immediately following that warm message, Smith delivered what was arguably his best vocal performance of the evening when he launched into “Long, Long, Long Time” from the current album. This gorgeous, delicate ballad fits perfectly into the band’s catalog of work without sounding trite or recycled. Its airy, transcendent choruses wafted through the venue as dramatic lighting aided in setting the tone. Only one of the truly magical and enveloping experiences the group provided for those in attendance.
Orzabal had his fair share of shining moments too. His subdued reading of the very Beatlesque “Secret World” (from the 2004 release Everybody Loved a Happy Ending) included a snippet of Paul McCartney’s 1976 hit with Wings, “Let ’em In” and his ability to rock out was more than exemplified during the rocking, pulsating “My Demons” from the new album.
Constantly shifting gears and alternating between powerful, vigorous songs and subtle, quieter numbers isn’t easy to pull off but somehow, Tears For Fears dit it with ease. At no better time was this evidenced than by the one-two punch of two songs from the 1989 gem, The Seeds of Love. A gorgeous rendition of the moody “Woman in Chains,” on which Evans, appearing in only her second show backing the band vocally, absolutely dominated and recreated the lovely vocal parts originally recorded by gospel and soul singer, Oleta Adams on album gave way to what might have been the absolute highlight of the night: a dizzying, mind blowing version of “Badman’s Song” from the same album.
In a nod to the longtime TFF fans in the audience, the band traveled all the way back to 1983 to highlight its groundbreaking, brooding, 1983 debut The Hurting. The audience warmly received a faithful version of the new wave dance club hit “Mad World,” but it was the slowed down, emotional reading of “Suffer the Children” from that first album that, again, gave Evans another opportunity to shine. This time, by taking lead vocals, Evans absolutely dazzled and wooed the crowd by showing off her skills. In another variation of one of the songs from the record, the band included a brawnier, more guitar-oriented rendition of “Change” in its encore that more than displayed the band’s ability to increase the volume without losing a hint of subtlety.
Ending with what’s probably its most recognizable song, the nearly two-hour show closed with a booming version of 1985 mega-hit “Shout” which had the entire audience up on its feet and singing along passionately. In grand fashion, Tears For Fears optimally showed the 10,000 fans in attendance that they are still a mighty force that’s capable of creating new, fresh, webs of intriguing, thought-provoking sound while still boasting a catalog of well-aged, integral songs that are still as relevant today as they were upon their original release, many decades ago. Again, not an easy feat to pull off but nonetheless, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith are living proof that livelihood outside of the confines of becoming a staid, 1980s oldies act is absolutely possible.
Opening the night with an energetic 60-minute set was 1990s alternative pop band Garbage. Led by the always evocative and intoxicating lead singer Shirley Manson, the band rolled through its catalog and also finely displayed its many sides and sounds. Clad in oversized white tunic, checkerboard leggings and combat boots, Manson, with her flame red locks tied in a ponytail sprouting from the top of her head, looked like a stylish, new wave fashion plate.
Always one to engage with her audience, Manson took plenty of opportunities to say what was on her mind. She dedicated “Queer,” one of the standout songs from the group’s 1995 self-titled, debut album, to the LGBT community and shouted, “We love you!” before delving into the sensual, slinky groove of the song. She also took the opportunity to scream “America! Save our children!” to follow the politically-charged “The Men Who Rule the World.”
Although the band’s sound mix and Manson’s vocals were murky at best at the onset of the performance, quick, noticeable fixes were made. By the time the set list reached the fifth song, “Wicked Ways” from its 1998 sophomore album, 2.0, Manson’s heartfelt words regarding the recently deceased co-founder of synth-pop giants Depeche Mode, Andy Fletcher, were crystal clear. Citing the band as one that greatly influenced her and Garbage, she keenly injected a verse from Mode’s monster hit “Personal Jesus” into the song which drew massive applause.
Manson’s charm and likability were on full display as she admittedly flubbed the start of “Wolves,” a song from the band’s 2021 release No Gods No Masters. Calling for the band to stop the song after only a few lines, she asked for a do-over. Playfully admitting that she’d lost her concentration and forgotten the first line of the song, she asked the band, featuring renown record producer Butch Vig behind the drumkit, to start again, to which they gladly obliged.
The band hit its stride with the chugging, dance beats of “Push It” which unfortunately came late in the all-too-short set. Headliners in their own right, Garbage, which boasts its own fair share of devout fans, left fans wanting more and served as a great lead-in for the night’s headliners.
Tears For Fears Setlist
No Small Thing
The Tipping Point
Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Sowing the Seeds of Love
Long, Long, Long Time
Break the Man
Rivers of Mercy
Suffer the Children
Woman in Chains
Break It Down Again
Head Over Heels / Broken
End of Night
Automatic Systematic Habit
The Men Who Rule the World
The World Is Not Enough
Only Happy When It Rains
Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)
You Look So Fine