With JG and the Robots and Michael Douglas Duncan
Granada Theater, Dallas
Saturday, July 9, 2016
Ironies abounded at Book of Love's Granada Theater concert on Saturday night. Despite the above-average age of the audience members, it was one of the livelier shows at the Lower Greenville venue in recent memory — and one of the louder ones, too. The Philadelphia band may be a legacy act, but fans came ready to party, and they danced from the moment the doors opened. At least one fan vomited on the floor. The mission for the evening was simple: Relive the '80s in full, vomit and all.
Book of Love took the stage with no pretensions whatsoever. Wearing a black dress with lacy shoulders, singer Susan Ottaviano had the comportment of a cool mom — the type who might reason that, hey, you and your friends are going to be drinking anyway, so it might as well be under her supervision. She was joined by Ted Ottaviano (no relation — yes, really) on keyboards. Together, they form the nucleus of what was once a four piece band; the other members’ parts here were pre-recorded. Ted, too, was unpretentious, though in a black suit with black shirt and tie, his vibe was more cool teacher than cool parent. Together, they both seemed genuinely delighted and not a little bit surprised to find themselves playing before a massive crowd during the prime hours of a summer Saturday night in Dallas.
They kept it simple, playing their songs pretty much as they sounded on their records. “We didn’t know there was a market for us down here!” said Susan, about 15 minutes into their set. She must have had some idea, however, for a moment later she alluded to her many fond memories at Dallas’ notorious Starck Club, which was at its height at the same time Book of Love were on the rise. Even their new single was simply about starting out as a new band 30 years ago.
Despite their unassuming profile, it can’t be denied that Book of Love was, and still is, a startlingly innovative band — almost in spite of itself. In an age before the internet, they wrote most of their songs by correspondence. Coming up at the dawn of the AIDs era, they were the first to address the crisis in song form. They embraced a kind of new wave Casio minimalism that was ahead of its time. The first song they ever wrote, “Boy,” which was always and still is the audience favorite, still resonates today as an identity politics anthem: “It's not my fault/That I'm not a boy/It's not my fault/I don't have those toys.” Their set was short, about an hour including the “Touch of Roses” encore, which ended with roses thrown into the crowd. It was almost as if they didn’t want to overstay their welcome. For someone not obsessed with Book of Love, the concert was staid – underwhelming, even. But those people weren’t at this concert. Everyone who was there was as amazed to have the chance to see the band as the band was to be able to play for them. And for an evening, this mutual admiration brought a band and its audience out of time.
DJ Michael Douglas Duncan’s opening set, a mix of '80s music videos from bands like Erasure and Pet Shop Boys, had the nostalgia going from the get-go, but JG and the Robots felt truly out of place. JG synchs cyberpunk visuals with a pretty unique and wide-ranging brand of EDM, with mixed results: In some places, he sounds like a half-tempo, vocoder-laden version Neurofunkers like Spor or Nero; in others, he sounds like Daft Punk drunk on Bauhaus. When his set ended, the DJ proposed an encore. In response, he was barraged with “no’s.”
The image of the '80s had been carefully curated — it was no accident, for instance, that the Grenada’s usual twitter banter screen was nowhere to be found — and JG’s Matrix-era nostalgia threatened to disrupt that image.