A noted author recently referred to the 1980s as a “listless” decade. That’s a debatable statement when you’re talking about a time that saw the arrival of both Donkey Kong and the Brat Pack. But seriously, every decade has its ups and downs. To paraphrase one of the tunes of the era, some people had the time of their lives during those years.
The Portland Symphony Orchestra certainly wants to shake out the cobwebs and reanimate more positive memories of that not-so-long-ago time. Its latest Pops concert suggests that a “Totally Awesome ’80s” is something worth remembering, not the least for its lively music.
Conductor Robert Moody, who last year led a celebration of the group Queen, has admitted to being a child of the ’80s. And he certainly seemed to be channeling his inner cool-dude Saturday night.
The orchestra, some dressed in period garb, as was the leader, powered through a couple of medleys during the evening. A highlight was the inevitable tribute to Michael Jackson, complete with a spooky narration during the “Thriller” segment. But that was topped when guest vocalists Tony Vincent and Sarah Uriarte Berry worked through a set that included punched-up versions of Devo’s “Whip It” and Blondie’s “Call Me.”
The orchestra, with drums and guitars placed out in front, fared best on arrangements that stayed within the bounds of the original versions of the songs. An instrumental take on Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” seemed to drift just a bit, even beyond the basically calm nature of the tune. On other tunes, sax and electronic keyboards were used to good effect.
Vincent had one of the best individual moments of the show with his take on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” which Berry quickly followed with a stirring rendition of “The Rose.” The rapt crowd obviously felt the strength of these selections.
Broadway stalwart Berry doesn’t quite have the voice for straight rock, but found a way into Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” for a memorable moment or two. Vincent seemed a natural, shaking it up on tunes like George Michael’s “Faith” and going deep into The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.”
Though they included the classic Springsteen anthem, you certainly didn’t have to have been “Born In The USA” to appreciate the efforts of Mr. Moody and company to keep the sounds of a crazy decade alive.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.