Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Concert Review: The Alarm @ Radio 104.5's Performance Theater - Bala Cynwyd, PA 07/07/17

"Defiantly they wait for their hairdresser," read the caption to a 1983 picture in Creem Magazine.  It was the first glimpse I had gotten from the band.  It's funny now, looking back on it, that the magazine that covered the hair metal explosion for the next six years was poking fun at this band.  The Alarm had just released their first EP in the states and it was different.  It contained songs of courage, grit, and guts which strayed from your garden variety alternative music of the day.  It was one of the first albums I remember "borrowing" from my sister.  Their music still stands for the same things some 34 years later - but for different reasons.

The Alarm have a long, storied history.  Music first became tangible for front-man, Mike Peters, after seeing David Bowie perform "Starman" on Top of the Pops in 1972 while growing up in Wales.  Although his first concert was Black Sabbath, it wasn't until seeing the Sex Pistols perform in 1976 that he formed his first punk band, The Toilets, in 1977.  By 1981, The Toilets had become The Alarm and they were now telling stories of revolution and personal triumph. After ten years of touring and numerous hits, the band broke up in 1991.

Today, Mike Peters is the only original member.  The band still records new music, and before their first gig on the Van's Warped Tour they stopped into Philadelphia's Radio 104.5 for an acoustic Studio Session. What I love about Radio 104.5 Studio Sessions is the crowd's energy.  Everyone is so excited to have won passes to a private show and to have a good reason to play hooky from work. So happy, in fact, that they are very social. Even I become social.  The conversations start with how we won our tickets, progress to how we ditched work, and end in a frenzy of sharing social media accounts.  Before we knew it, the time had come to be escorted back to the studio.

I managed to nab a seat right in front and waited eagerly for the band to appear. The bass drum was adorned with The Alarm's signature poppies. The guy next to me had the same image inked on his arm.  Mike was joined on stage by guitarist James Stevenson (Chelsea, Generation X, Gene Loves Jezebel, & The Cult) and drummer Steve "Smiley" Barnard (Robbie Williams & Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros).  They jumped right into their set with "68 Guns." Mike's voice was so sharp I could have closed my eyes and it could have been 1986.  In between songs, Mike was interviewed by Radio 104.5 DJ, Amber Miller. She asked him to tell us his story about being a cancer survivor.  He had battled, and won, against leukemia three times in 21 years.  "Strength," the next song The Alarm played, gave new meaning to the struggle and perseverance Mike endured.

Mike feels that cancer had blessed him. The disease had introduced him to wonderful people and great experiences that might have never been.  He was first diagnosed with cancer in 1996, five years after he had left The Alarm.  His journey may have taken another path had this not happened.  He started an organization called Love Hope Strength with fellow cancer survivor, James Chippendale, as a way to expand the marrow donor registry.  They have organized concerts at Mt Everest, Machu Picchu, and Mt Kilimanjaro to help raise awareness. You can sign up as a donor at kiosks right at The Alarm's concerts.  Other artists, such as Andrew McMahon, have adopted the kiosks, too.  This was Mike's way of giving back and saying, "Thank you."

Outside the studio, rain had been falling all morning.  Mike said there was no better time than now to play "Rain in the Summertime." I took a moment to breathe this all in. It was like a dream.  These are the things you fantasize about as a kid never imagining that they could ever come true.  I was sitting right in front of a childhood idol and hearing him sing as though he were still in his 20's.  I may have audibly giggled like a school girl.  I started to put together the ideal setlist in my head.  Mike was reading my mind.  "The Stand," was their first US single and it is still my favorite song by The Alarm.

Mike followed the song by talking about the award-winning documentary about his life, "The Man in the Camo Jacket."  Mike bought his first video camera in 1983 and had been documenting their life on the road.  He handed over these videos for the making of the documentary.  It was incredible hearing him spin the yarns while standing directly in front of me, wearing his camo jacket. All too soon, their time was up, but they treated us to one last song at the spur of the moment, "Marching On."  I was bummed that they didn't sign autographs but we did get to have our picture taken with the band.  I shook each of their hands and told them how honored I was to be there.  I walked outside the door and just stood there in awe as I waited for another member of the audience to fanboy about how great they sounded.

This is one of the musical experiences I will cherish for life.  I have new friends, new memories, and another concert to add to my list - number 97.  I have been on a mission to see the artists I loved from my childhood, but missed out on ever seeing live.  This is one to check off the list.  A guy I met in the audience was introduced to The Alarm by his father, much like my sister had introduced The Alarm to me.  They are reaching a whole new audience while retaining the old one, that is the real test of time.  Being handed down from generation to generation is how good music survives.  The Alarm has earned their place on the Van's Warped Tour.  Go see them live.  Take your kids.  Share your experience.  The next generation is waiting to "borrow" it.

See you when the needle drops!


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