The Agit Reader

Bananarama
PlayStation Theater, New York, February 24

March 6th, 2018  |  by Stephen Slaybaugh

Bananarama at PlayStation Theater

As we should all know by now, we’re living in the age of the reunion, a time when bands from disparate generations can coexist at once. The phenomenon isn’t limited to semi-obscure acts from the ’80s and ’90s reforming to finally get there due, but now pop acts as well are regrouping to relive past glories and satiate the public’s nostalgia for those bygone days.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Bananarama. For one, the British trio first made its mark collaborating with Specials spinoff Fun Boy Three, and its first big U.S. hit, “Cruel Summer,” arguably one of the greatest pop singles ever, remains a perennial favorite. But though Bananarama fell off the radar of U.S. audiences years ago and Siobhan Fahey left the group in 1988, the band never broke up, with the other two members, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward, continuing on either with other members or as a two-piece.

But with Fahey rejoining the fold last year for a UK tour, the band recently ventured Stateside for its first ever U.S. dates. (Yes, you read that right: they had never done a U.S. tour before.) This New York show represented one of just four dates, and it had sold out several weeks in advance. After an extended waiting period that included a goofy DJ spinning disco and ’80s dance tracks, the trio finally emerged with a four-piece backing band behind them, launching into their cover of The Supremes’ “Nathan Jones.”

While Bananarama enjoyed their greatest commercial success with their third album, True Confessions, it was their earlier sides that had the most character—a fact seemingly not lost on the band, as much of the performance focused on their initial singles and first two albums. But while they even played their first demo “Aie a Mwana,” they also diverted into one post-Fahey number, “Preacher Man.” Even more surprising, though, was that they did a rendition of “Stay,” the big hit for Fahey’s post-Bananarama project, Shakespeares Sister.

Nevertheless, it was songs like “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” and “Really Saying Something” that most fully retained their spunky charm 30-some years after their release. Similarly, though the show had obviously been choreographed and rehearsed (the setlist was the same as at every other concert), the occasional misstep and the ladies’ banter between songs showed that they weren’t simply going through the motions.

The other side to the band, though, was the Stock Aitken Waterman–era, and the latter portion of the show consisted of dance-leaning cuts from Wow!, the group’s fourth album produced by that production team. Those few songs lost my interest, but it wasn’t long before they closed out the show with the big hit (“Venus”) and, appropriately, their cover of “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye).” They finished up with “It Ain’t What You Do It’s the Way That You Do it,” the aforementioned Fun Boy Three collaboration, and another of the dance numbers, “Love in the First Degree,” a kind of representation of their duality in encore form. A tsunami of pop hits, camp, and nostalgia taken to the nth degree, the show was everything it should have been and perhaps more.

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