Home / Concert Reviews / Bow Wow Wow w/ Men Without Hats @ Shank Hall
Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012

Bow Wow Wow w/ Men Without Hats @ Shank Hall

Nov. 17

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Bow Wow Wow
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Though their 1982 cover of The Strangeloves' sugary smash “I Want Candy” is an '80s nostalgia staple, that minor hit, peaking at number 62 on the Billboard Hot 100, is more or less the only glimmer of recognition that remains for Bow Wow Wow, and that’s a bit of a shame. Sure the group was more or less manufactured by former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, who rather unscrupulously convinced Adam Ant’s backing band to abandon him and installed a fresh faced 14-year-old nobody, Annabelle Lwin, in his stead, mainly as an outlet for his friend Vivienne Westwood’s New Romantic fashions as well as his own eccentric musical and cultural ideas (some of which were prescient, others borderline insane), but the music that ultimately ended up on wax is some of the most oddly compelling of the post-punk era, a frothy Day-Glo hodge-podge of manic punk, pounding African rhythms, spaghetti western themes and whatever else struck their self-consciously eclectic fancy. Of course, that was all 30 years ago; the question at hand is whether Bow Wow Wow circa 2012 is worth seeing.

Before we could find out the answer to that however, there was the opening set from co-headliner Men Without Hats, another '80s leftover who, much like Bow Wow Wow, ended up one-hit-wonders, forever synonymous their 1983 cheese-fest “The Safety Dance.” The only original member left is the lead singer, Ivan Doroschuk, who resurrected the group in 2010, much to the chagrin of his brother, guitarist Stefan. The musicians he’s hired were unspectacular, but at least punchy and tight as they ran through deep cuts like “Where Do the Boys Go?” and “Living in China.” Yet, they were better to listen to than they were to watch: I’m not sure what look Doroschuk is going for, but while synth-pop still flies after all these years, ponytails, tight jeans and sleeveless T-shirts do not (while the band played the intro to their first song, he was waiting in the wings, arms crossed, and I assumed he was just a behind-the-times roadie). An obligatory rendition of “The Safety Dance” closed out their hour-long set, after which they came back on for a cover of ABBA’s “S.O.S.,”which they neither butchered nor improved upon (it is a near perfect pop song after all).

Bow Wow Wow themselves have had some lineup changes since their heyday, with just vocalist Lwin and bassist Leigh Gorman joining this revival tour, but again, they were always sort of a contrived band anyway, so conceptually at least it all kind of evens out. That being said, Lwin was always the face of the group (McLaren, ever the dirty old man, never missed a chance to put the then-underage singer front and center, often in a sexualized way), but more importantly she was its voice, bringing an unbridled energy to even the silliest songs. Even now, at 46, she’s still a spitfire, filling any downtime with motor-mouth chatter about, among other things, the old days, dancing and, since this is Milwaukee, “Happy Days.” The band did their best to keep up, which added a rushing speed to punk-ier early numbers like “C-30 C-60 C-90 Go!” and turned the chanting “Golly! Golly! Go Buddy!” from See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over! Go Ape Crazy into a boisterous sing-along with the decent-sized crowd. The whole set was surprisingly satisfying; one could have reasonably gone in expecting a shambles, but they were a lot livelier than their nostalgia-circuit status suggests. And yes, they played “I Want Candy.”