Author: Hugh Fielder
Publish date: December 1 1984
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD
EVEN THE Americans knew they were being hyped. And without a hit record to back up all the ballyhoo, Frankie Goes To Hollywood had to be content with a polite welcome to the Big Apple.
But then America seems unnerved by the latest wave of British chartbusters pounding their shores. Culture Club have been getting the kind of reaction the Stones provoked 20 years ago – Candid Camera’s idea of a stunt over here is to knock on a suburban door and ask whether the occupants would mind if Boy George used their house for a video. On more than one occasion, the response was almost hysterical.
Frankie may have stirred up a lot of interest among the rock fraternity - Tom Waits and Kid Creole were among the onlookers for the second of their three nights at New York’s Ritz Club but curiosity seemed to hang heavier in the air than anticipation, even among the gay contingent. But then they probably still remember the Village People.
When the lights went down, smoke drifted across the stage as the tapes began to roll and the band filtered on. Cue slides, cue lights, cue ‘War’. Frankie say you can’t beat a good old fashioned rock and roll intro.
Holly Johnson, in his long black teacher’s gown and slicked-back hair, brought back visions of the Damned’s Dave Vanian. Paul Rutherford cruised around in black knee length boots, white pants with a black stripe and a pink handkerchief hanging from his left buttock pocket - I was too much of a wimp to ask any of the Greenwich Village leather boys exactly what that meant, I’m afraid. The five musicians around them attacked the central riff with a gusto that owed as much to the Kinks as it did to Edwin Starr. And after a frenetic ‘Wish The Lads Were Here’, they boogied into ‘Relax’ with a distinctly heavy metal flavour.
Maybe I’ve got befuddled by all the megamixes but this, like the first two songs, seemed surprisingly short and edgy. Holly’s vocal authority on ‘The Power Of Love’ proved to be the turning point of the gig, however, as he crooned away with Johnny Ray-style passion and teased the front rows into a minor frenzy with his white scarf. And the guitar solo at the end was pure pomp.
‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’ surged out of the backing tapes with more assertive control, bassist Mark O’Toole hammering home the famous Frankie trademark vigorously. It was about this time that Paul, who’d been twisting and twirling around the stage thus far, started wiggling his bum at the audience. And once he’d started, he seemed unable to stop what became an increasingly irksome habit.
The crowd’s response continued to be somewhat muted - particularly on the more unfamiliar songs like ‘The Only Star In Heaven’ and ‘Krisco Kisses’ although they squealed volubly enough whenever Holly expressly told them to. And everyone got their rocks off on the final, booming ‘Two Tribes’ of course.
The show was over in not much more time than it takes to play the album. The encore was ‘Born To Run’ which was a brave choice in the city where Springsteen is God but they succeeded by turning the song into a punkish thrash that had more originality and fervour than they managed on record.
They then brought back ‘Relax’ to give it fuller justice as various female imposters - including a stunningly accurate Tina Turner pranced on and proceeded to mop the boys’ brows and other bits with Kleenex that were then tossed into the audience. It was enough to make Wham! choke on their shuttlecocks.
Frankie’s amateurish approach was both their saving grace and their come-uppance. It gave many of their stunts an engaging freshness but they sometimes spilled over into childish exhibitionism.
What the gig really highlighted was the gap between Holly and the rest of the band. The group are competent and keen but some way short of the image ZTT have been thrusting upon us. Whether Frankie will be able to get away with being just another rock band in Britain remains to be seen.