A couple months ago, I noticed that The Fixx were coming to San Diego to play the Music Box. Seeing as Pops had always been a fan of the group and his birthday was right on the horizon, I bought a pair of tickets to take him to the show. Soon enough August 18th had arrived, and we shuttled down to the harbor. After grabbing a bite to eat at the Carnitas Snack Shack (an open-air restaurant right on the Embarcadero, with good vibes and a solid reggae soundtrack to match), we rolled into the venue just as the doors opened at 7pm.
Inside, local radio icon Steve West was DJing from the stage in the main room as people began to filter in. West has presided over 91x's Resurrection Sunday show for as long as I can remember, giving the local population their fix of new wave and 80s music every Sunday morning. In fact, Steve West is Resurrection Sunday, and his instantly recognizable Australian drawl seems as key to the whole experience as the music itself. The fact that he was willing to now and then go off the beaten path a little — with selections like Kraftwerk's Computer Love, M's Pop Muzik and Ministry's All Day — made it all the better.
Tonight, he was spinning a tight selection of new wave and electropop — leaning heavy on both Depeche Mode and New Order — with a lot of tasty 12" mixes in evidence throughout (like the K-Klass Remix of Ruined In A Day and Tim Simenon's Highjack Remix of Strangelove). In fact, the set was a lot more electronic than I would have expected in the warm up for a band that ostensibly lies at the more rock end of the new wave spectrum.
There was a heavy dose of dancefloor action in the shape of tunes like Trans-X's Living On Video and the Pet Shop Boys' It's A Sin. Also quite cool to hear Depeche Mode b-sides like Dangerous and their cover version of Route 66 in the mix as well. It's easy to forget how great this music sounds pumping out of a booming system, with the new-wave inflected electro boogie of Thompson Twins' Lies sounding particularly exquisite in this context.
Other surprises included Down In It by Nine Inch Nails (killer drum programming in the intro) and Neneh Cherry's awesome Buffalo Stance, both of which seemed to herald the arrival of the nineties and a whole new era. Of course, there were plenty of eighties rock sounds as well, with Siouxsie And The Banshees' Slowdive, The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and Echo & The Bunnymen's Lips Like Sugar rounding out the set to get the party moving. Closing out his set with Madness' Spanish version of their immortal One Step Beyond (Uno Paso Adelante), West said his farewells, and it wasn't long before The Fixx took the stage.
Without warning, the band launched into a terse version of Calm Animals, coming on like a bolt of electricity. Pure white heat delivered at a breakneck pace, it was over in a flash, leading straight into the more familiar strains of Lost Planes. For whatever reason, it was almost surreal hearing some of their best known songs live and in person. Anthemic numbers like Red Skies At Night and Saved By Zero really came to life on the stage, with the atmospheric synth work of Rupert Greenall hanging all around the band's crisp, taut sound like a mist.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the setlist leaned most heavily on the band's 1989 Calm Animals album, a yet-more rock-oriented record that seems to stand as their most controversial release. Apparently, it alienated many fans of their earlier, more typically new wave sound and in everything I've read about the album, it always seems to be dismissed out of hand. Reading between the lines now, one suspects that it holds a special place in the heart of the die hards. I know Pops loved it, because I recognized everything they played from the record (which wound up being about half the album) despite not hearing it for ages (all I've owned is the Reach The Beach album... but more on this later).
Precious Stone and Cause To Be Alarmed both made welcome appearances, along with I'm Life and Gypsy Feet. My absolute favorite moment of the night was their blistering run through Driven Out, a bracing slab of anthemic power pop that strangely seems to predict aspects of the more radio-friendly end of 90s alternative. Hearing it live was a rush, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. Funny to reflect that out of all their albums, this is the one I remember the best (of course it does have a quite striking sleeve).
After all, I'd grown up on this music through the eighties and beyond. Their records were a steady part of Pops' soundtrack through the years, and accordingly my own. If forced to place their sound in the continuum of the era's music, I'd say it hovered somewhere between Drums And Wires-era XTC's clipped new wave jolt and the spacious atmospheric rock of U2 circa The Unforgettable Fire. The guitars shimmer like a hall of mirrors while the steady undercurrent of atmospheric synth work often throw up proggy shapes that bring to mind The Alan Parsons Project circa Eye In The Sky or even late-period Pink Floyd.
There's a sometimes compulsive funkiness in there too, occasionally bringing to mind INXS and ABC circa Beauty Stab. New Gold Dream-era Simple Minds would be another strong comparison, sharing that same stadium-filling sense of spaciousness and grandeur. Cy Curnin's vocals echo the suave, subdued side of Bowie (in sharp contrast to Billie MacKenzie's amplification of the dramatic), with shades too of Bryan Ferry at his most poised and windswept. Taken altogether, it's a sound apart. This shimmering, widescreen quality is quite evocative in and of itself, and when employed in the service of songs like Stand Or Fall and The Sign Of Fire, it simply sounds unlike anything else in I can think of.
It's a quintessentially modern rock sound, a sound that's easy to take for granted. I even remember Simon Reynolds dismissing the band as boring college rock in Rip It Up And Start Again! That's typically unkind of hipster Reynolds, although perhaps expected when put in the context of his first musical love, post punk. In fact, I suspect his position has softened somewhat in the intervening years, as it has seemed to have with so many of the more mainstream post punk bands of the era.
To my thinking, the band fills an important place in the fabric of eighties pop/rock, almost existing as a sort of glue band tying all the various strands together. They're really only one degree of separation from away from everything from synth pop to alternative, new wave to widescreen stadium rock, power pop and even punk funk gone to the disco. A song like One Thing Leads To Another bears this out: one could see how this appealed to people all across the spectrum, from new wavers to the rockers to the club kids.
At any rate, it was quite heartening to see the group in such good shape and in good sound, doing their thing in such a sympathetic setting. The venue was a perfect environment for their taut, shimmering sound, and they were in fine form throughout. After all, the band's current line up is the same one that played on all their classic albums, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Curnin fronted the band perfectly, playing off the crowd and guitarist Jamie West-Oram, who deserves special commendation as the star of the evening, building up waves upon waves of atmosphere for the singer to surf on. Their interplay seemed firmly in the tradition of Morrissey/Johnny Marr, Ian Brown/John Squire and Damon Albarn/Graham Coxon, with the lead singer playing the role of extrovert showman as the silent guitarist simply speaks with his hands.
Climaxing with Red Skies At Night, the band shuttled offstage while the road crew setup a second keyboard in the center of the stage. Return to the stage for the encore, Curnin sat at the keyboard as the group ran through an intimate version of I Will. Then, they launched into Secret Separation, their true signing off moment for the evening. With the sound still ringing in our ears, the crowd filtered down the stairs and into the cool of the summer night...
Tangentially, the merchandise table at the door was selling CDs of their Shuttered Room and Calm Animals albums, which was a rather pleasant surprise. Naturally, I snapped them both up at the beginning of the night,along with a t-shirt for Pops. Like I said before, Reach The Beach is the only album I own. For whatever reason, I don't remember seeing their albums on CD in the field (they appear to be relatively rare). Besides, I'll always jump at the chance to fill some gaps in the old collection! Over the course of the reason, when I realized how many songs they were playing off Calm Animals, it became clear I made the right decision. The Fixx are cool.