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Cheeky Stage Show Proves The Band Is More Than A Studio Creation

Irvine Auditorium, Philadelphia

When Frankie Goes To Hollywoods lead vocalist, Holly Johnson, paused between songs during FGTHs recent concert in Philadelphia for some crowd-baiting, his impish comment, “Its so quiet here in Philadelphia — do you have a tight box?” had significant meaning. To the largely teen aged audience, the comment was just more naughtiness from the band. But what they didnt perceive was the implication in Johnsons question: Is the United States ready for Englands most controversial, outrageous, and popular band?

If the clamoring, standing-room only audience was any indication, then the answer is an emphatic yes. The raucous crowd of about 2,000-chanting “Frank-ie! Frank-ie!” during the opening transvestite/comedy act — was definitely prepared for the hottest act from Liverpool since the Beatles. And FGTH, intent on disproving critics claims that theyre just facile poseurs making a living by being controversial and obscene, provided the horde of adoring fans with an exciting, high-energy concert. Their furious sound, cheeky stage antics and arresting visuals were more than enough to compensate for the surprisingly swift 70-minute set.

The concert literally opened with a bang. Amidst a fury of smoke, flashing lights and sounds of machine guns firing and bombs exploding, FGTH took the stage and performed a thunderous rendition of Edwin Starrs “War.” The melodic “Wish You Were Here” was next, followed by the controversial “Relax,” the lush ballad “Power of Love,” and the densely rhythmic, 15-minute “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome.” Two more songs from their debut album followed — “Black Night White Light” and “Only Star In Heaven” — before they concluded their set with intense versions of “Krisco Kisses” and “Two Tribes.” Because of the crowds insistence, FGTH returned for an encore of Bruce Springsteens “Born To Run” (a surprisingly faithful rendition) and another run through “Relax.”

Throughout, Johnson and back-up vocalist/lead dancer Paul Rutherford were the focal points. The pint-sized Johnson, wearing a Navy officers uniform, commandeered each song with his wailing vocals and dry humor. Rutherford, perhaps the most popular Frankie member, pranced around the stage dancing suggestively with a microphone and working up a good sweat; he eventually took off his shirt and donned a Reagan look-alike mask for “Two Tribes.”

The rest of the band — Mark OToole (bass), Brian Nash (guitar) and Peter Gill (drums) — provided an edgy, rock-tinged backbeat that energized songs like “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome” and “Born To Run,” but unfortunately overpowered the sound of dance-oriented tracks like “Relax.”

In keeping with their controversial image, slides were used as an added visual touch. Some were obscene (“Relax”) while others were political (“Two Tribes”), but mostly they were satiric, showing the now-famous “Frankie Say” slogans.

For the shows concluding “Relax” number, the transvestites from the opening act joined FGTH onstage. The explicitly sexual dancing and the semi-hardcore lyrics were outrageous and the crowd loved it. Yes, Frankie Goes To Hollywood were all they were supposed to be and then some. But the question remains: What will Frankie Say next?

Tracy Steven Peal