Live: Modern English at Respectable Street, September 22

Modern English
Respectable Street, West Palm Beach
Thursday, September 22, 2011

Better than: Staying home to watch Valley Girl. 

It has been almost two decades since the original Modern English lineup took the stage, and although they look a helluva lot different (see random details 1 and 2), you could close your eyes and think it was the 1980s all over again.

In comparison to the recent postpunk/new-wave shows -- OMD and Swans -- happening in South Florida, Modern English appeared to be a no-frills type of band. While the sounds of Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees echoed throughout the dark venue and a trio of girls goth swayed on the dance floor, the band members assembled their stage setup and instruments, sans roadies. In a fitted black suit with a T-shirt underneath and white Chuck Taylors, the still oh-so-good-looking Robbie Grey got himself situated on stage. It wasn't long before a gaggle of females rushed to the front in hopes of catching his eye. Much to their delight, he was not as standoffish as one would expect and happily conversed with the doe-eyed, blushing girls. 

The house lights went dim. The stage became lit in blue and green shades. It was finally time. The silver fox approached the microphone, peering into the crowd with a smile.

"Someone get Gary a glass of wine. A nice cold glass of white wine. Seriously. He needs it. Look at him." said Robbie Grey pointing toward the bar.

"Are you ready, Mick? Are you ready, Steve? Are you ready, Gary?" the sleek and polished frontman asked his fellow band members.

Tambourine in hand, Robbie pointed at longtime bandmate Gary McDowell, cuing him to start the show. Grasping onto the microphone with eyes closed, Grey became entranced with the music as he belted out the lyrics to "Someone's Calling."

"I want to see what you can do, West Palm. Why are people sitting?" asked Grey. "It'd be nice to see some people launch themselves at the wall.

"We're going to play some old stuff tonight. And I mean before 'Melt With You,'" explained the extremely chatty Grey, resulting in an uproar of cheers from the audience.

Sticking to his word, Modern English pulled out all the stops, satisfying our musical needs with tracks like "Swans on Glass," "Gathering Dust," "Move in Light," and "Black Houses" -- songs that many of us never thought we'd get the chance to hear live. In between songs, Grey took every opportunity he got to heave verbal gems at the audience, including taking jabs at the lighting guy.

As per request from the band, the sound was turned all the way up, and at certain points, some may have found it deafening. The size of the crowd was smaller than expected, but that only allowed for a more intimate show, a rare occurrence nowadays. Most of the band members are sporting the gray-hair look, and at the age of 50-something, they can still hold it down on a stage -- that is, except guitarist Gary McDowell. In the '80s, he looked a bit off, but who didn't? However, his present-day appearance -- face tattoos and gold, diamond-studded teeth -- is more than unsettling. Additionally, his onstage presence, with the exception of a few guitar solos, seemed to be lacking something. Was it the booze or his massive weight gain that was slowing him down?

The band closed its set (or so we thought) with "I Melt With You," the

song that Robbie Grey referred to as "basically the reason for us

living." Within moments of the song's iconic intro, the entire room burst

into a dance, the band feeding off every second of it. But it

appeared the frontman was having some sort of technical issue, because he

kept bending down to fix the mic, but this didn't stop

the crowd from filling in the lyrical gaps. Toward the end, Grey tipped

the microphone into the audience, encouraging fans to karaoke-style the

chorus. The song ended, they thanked the crowd, and walked offstage. The

crowd began to disperse, but some of the remaining true fans stuck

around to cheer in hopes of an encore. By the looks of the empty dance

floor, it probably would have been for the best if they had left on that high note, sticking the two encore tracks, "Sixteen Days" and

"Gathering Dust," in the middle of the set somewhere. All in all, Modern English scored a home run at last night's show.

Critic's Notebook

The crowd:
Late 30s to mid-40s. Retired goths.

"Welcome to Paradise" (in response to Robbie Grey complaining about the heat).

Personal bias:
It's really difficult to take notes in strobe lights.

Random detail:
Guitarist Gary McDowell really does have a lot lot of fucking face tattoos and a gold grill with diamonds.

Random detail number 2: Frontman Robbie Grey looks like a hotter Anthony Bourdain.

Modern English Set List:
Someone's Calling
After the Snow
Tables Turning
Swans on Glass
Black Houses
Hands Across the Sea
Life in the Gladhouse
Move in Light
I Melt With You

Sixteen Days
Gathering Dust

Follow County Grind on Facebook and Twitter: @CountyGrind.  

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Betsey Denberg