Still Sowing The Seeds Of Love: Tears For Fears – Live At The Wiltern

Every concert goer remembers that one show that stands out as the show of all shows, the pure epitome of all live music experiences. It’s the concert that helped to define the musical landscape of one’s youth; it continuously challenges all newcomers and forever conjures fond memories of rock ‘n’ roll legend. For me that concert took place more than 20 years ago: February 1990, Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. The band was Tears for Fears, one of my all-time favorites, then, today and always.

For the unwashed, this erroneously-labeled “80’s band” may be considered a step above a one-hit-wonder. But nothing could be further from the truth. The (originally) Bath, England-based Tears for Fears boasts a prolific musical legacy that has spanned three decades and spawned numerous chart-topping hits in each. The music of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, the power duo behind Tears for Fears, is a noteworthy part of the soundtrack of my younger years, and I couldn’t have been more excited as they descended on Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theater Sunday night.

If there’s one thing that Orzabal and Smith proved on Sunday it was that they can still pack a venue. The Wiltern was filled to capacity and buzzing with energy as Curt Smith took the stage alone, opening with a mellow rendition of “Mad World.” Following this soulful opener, the set immediately ramped into high gear as Smith was joined by the rest of the band, including Orzabal, and together they launched into the song that (arguably) put them on the map, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” The boys sounded amazing, and if there had been any fear that the years might have addled the duo’s abilities, those fears were decimated at that moment. I knew then (and I’m sure everyone else at the Wiltern did as well) that I was in for a night of musical wonderment.

One of the most amazing things to me about Tears for Fears has always been their ability to continually recreate themselves and mature as musicians, something that isn’t so common in the music industry. It’s a trait that separates the true musicians from the imitators. None of Tears for Fears’ albums, from 1983’s The Hurting on, has sounded exactly the same. Tears for Fears has always evolved as a band; “Secret World” and “Closest Thing to Heaven” (3rd and 4th of the Wiltern set) from TFF’s latest album, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, are two perfect examples of how a songwriting team can improve with age. 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending is arguably the duo’s best and most seasoned album to date; it proved that Smith and Orzabal are much more effective together than they ever could be apart.

As the band continued to make its way through its long list of hits Sunday night, it became even clearer that the extra years have done nothing to impair their abilities. Orzabal’s unique voice (sometimes lilting falsetto, sometimes piercing rock ‘n’ roll scream) and forceful guitar playing beautifully contrasted Smith’s melodic tenor singing. The anthemic “Sowing the Seeds of Love” was still as powerful as I’d ever heard it, and the pair’s acknowledgment of the inevitability of growing older was referenced in the song, “Call Me Mellow,” one of my favorites from the last album.

The energy at the Wiltern (and even my own energy) seemed to build throughout the evening. Even as the set neared its end, TFF brought the house down with powerful renditions of “Break It Down Again” and the nostalgic crowd favorite, “Head Over Heels.” And with that, the band left the stage, but no one was ready to go home. Then came my favorite moment of the night.

As I stated previously, Tears for Fears’ Seeds of Love concert in February 1990 is perhaps my all-time favorite live music experience. At that time, TFF had been touring with a soulful jazz singer named Oleta Adams (also featured on the album The Seeds of Love) as part of the band. Adams added so much depth and richness to TFF back then, and on Sunday night I kept hoping that she would magically appear on stage to sing the stirring duet, “Woman in Chains,” with Roland. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, but I was thoroughly amazed by what did happen. Opening performer, Michael Wainwright, joined Roland and Curt onstage to sing Oleta Adam’s part. I was more than a little dubious at first, but as soon as Wainwright started singing, I couldn’t believe my ears. His clear, high tenor voice was a near perfect match for Adam’s. If I had closed my eyes, I might not have known the difference.

Roland and Curt closed out the show with what could possibly be considered their most well-known and most popular song, “Shout.” It’s the song that made me fall in love with Tears for Fears in the mid-80’s. There was a time when I would have called it my favorite TFF song, but it kept getting replaced as TFF continued to grow and outdo themselves as musicians. But it was still a fitting end to the set.

I was sad that the night had to come to a close. Though the band covered all of their most popular songs, there were many more that I would have loved to hear. Personally, I would have been happy if the band had played every song from all their albums, at least all the ones that Roland and Curt did together. But don’t get me wrong. I didn’t feel short changed, and I would have to say that I’m sure no one else in attendance did either. It was a not-to-be-missed experience that brought back a lot of fond memories and even created some new ones. I’m looking forward to another twenty years of musical magic from the iconic rock duo of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. I hope they don’t ever stop making music. I’m certain they have a lot more music in them yet, and I truly hope they’ll be sowing the seeds of love in song for many more years to come.

by Stuart Benedict
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Photos by Stuart Benedict 3/23/10 at The Wiltern (Los Angeles, CA)