Existing for just two short years (from 1982 to 1984), Tones on Tail were a brilliant flash in the pan. Consisting of former Bauhaus members Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins along with Bauhaus roadie Glenn Campling, the trio released a smattering of EPs and a sole full-length, but the brilliance contained on those few sides (as well as Ash and Haskins’ subsequent success with Love and Rockets) ensured that the band would not be forgotten.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that we would ever have the opportunity to see the band in any sort of live setting. But like another bold lightning strike, Ash and Haskins decided to take the Tones on Tail songbook out on the road, recruiting Haskins daughter Diva Dompe to play bass, rounding out the setlist with an equal portion of Love and Rockets material (and one Bauhaus cut), and dubbing themselves Poptone. The shows on their first tour last year (I saw two) were nothing short of mesmerizing, the band not just breathing new life into the material, but delivering the nuanced verve of the original recordings.
So naturally when the band emerged for another batch of tour dates, there was little doubt where I’d be the night of its New York show. This time, though, instead of playing Irving Plaza in Manhattan, as they did last year, they chose the much more spacious, more laidback, and generally all-around better venue Warsaw, an old Polish dance hall (they still serve pierogis and Zywiec beer) in Brooklyn.
For this go-round, Poptone has really made it a family affair, with Haskins’ other daughter Lola opening with her band Automatic. They played a nice set of electronically tinged rock that was the perfect warm-up to Poptone’s set, which could be described similarly in the most basic terms. After coming onstage to Tones’ “Rain,” they began slowly with Love and Rockets’ “I Feel Speed,” a somewhat mellow meditation on the joy’s of motorcycle riding and a new addition to the setlist since last year. Things picked up quickly, though, with “Haunted When the Minutes Drag,” another new addition taken from Love and Rockets’ debut. It was certainly one of the highlights in a night that included several. In fact, it’s hard to think of a moment when the set let up. Sure, Tones’ songs like “Happiness” seemed sedate in comparison to the big riffs of “Mirror People” and “No Big Deal,” but they were no less riveting. Indeed, “Love Me, ” a song from Love and Rockets’ Express, combined shards of guitar with a chill vibe to great effect. Similarly, “Performance,” a haunting Tones cut, juxtaposed snare bursts with oscillating synths for a yin-and-yang vibe.
Up to this point, there had been no reason to think anything was amiss. The band had cancelled the previous night’s show due to illness, but everyone seemed to be in fine form this night. Here, though, Ash admitted that he was under the weather, or “fucked,” as he put it, and needed to cut things short. Skipping Tones staple “Christian Says” that had appeared on the tour’s other setlists, the band wrapped up with a version of “Ball of Confusion” that seemed to teeter on the edge of falling apart. Nonetheless, Ash and company valiantly returned for an encore of Tones hit “Go!” and this time things did go sideways, with Ash loosing the thread completely during one refrain. Regardless, it did nothing to taint the evening, as everything else had been quite stellar. As it was, we got nearly an hour’s worth of pure brilliance, Poptone delivering these mighty songs in all their glory.