Wow, what a show.
The British invaded Portland on Monday coordinated by The Alarm who brought nearly 40 years of music along with a solid new album to a well-attended Aladdin Theater for their Sigma LXXXV Tour 2019.
The Alarm headlined this 80s throwback, so to speak, with Modern English and a bit of Gene Loves Jezebel in tow, as the Mike Peters fronted band showed their new wave, post punk rocking roots along with their heart set on the future. The Alarm recently released the great new album Sigma of which they played just two from (well, sorta three) starting with the opening song off the new record “Blood Red Viral Black” featuring Billy Duffy of the Cult (no, he was not there) which opened their set . Go ahead, close your eyes “Blood Red Viral Black” sounds so vintage it could come from anyone of those classic records they released in the early 80s.
The Alarm continued with their great “The Stand” and the vigorous “Peace Now” one of four played from last year’s Equals another collection of edgy rock songs. Some classics followed in “Rescue Me” and “Sold Me Down the River” which absolutely shined thanks to Peters’ guitar work. The band dialed it back a bit for the reflective “Psalm” which took on even more meaning after Peters’ mentioned his wife Jules Jones Peters’ successful battle with breast cancer, before hitting the energetic rock chords again with “Neutral” and the purely awesome “Strength.” It was a 13 song set lasting about 70 minutes and The Alarm used every minute pacing through the songs, taking a few breaks to work the crowd – Peters even left stage and sang “Neutral” while surrounded by a mob of people – but mostly stuck to the script and dialed off song after song with precision.
Peters, now 60, has dropped his crazy hair days from when the band got started but keeps his Welsh-tinged vocals and now more than 20 years after a cancer scare has hardly slowed down. Somehow he wore a what looked like a tight-fitting, warm winter jacket the entire evening – this on a hot Portland night that left those in the rafters stifling and longing for some air-conditioning. He worked three microphones (stage left, center and right) all evening, added a harmonica into his guitar work and The Alarm was on high decibels, a bit too much at times for the small venue, but put together an overall fun and career spanning set. The musical gem that comes from “Strength” (easily one of the best songs from the 80s) left me quite content and longing for more so the follow-up “Rain in the Summertime” fell a bit flat but “Beautiful” got the energy flowing again and The Alarm was back in full form for their early career hits “The Spirit of 76” from 1985’s Strength and set closer “Sixty Eight Guns” originally released as a single that appeared on their debut album Declaration from 1984. They encored with “Two Rivers” first released on Equals and then as a reprise to bookend Sigma. (Where was “Brighter Than the Sun” off the new album?)
The Alarm always felt like that band the kids who thought they were cool in high school listened to while the actual cool kids listened to U2. In hindsight, those students who thought they were cool were on to something because The Alarm might not have the reach of that Irish band they once opened for but today comes across far cooler than U2 ever did. How else do you describe a band that somehow channels punk (“45 R.P.M”), off 2005’s In the Poppy Fields, Neil Diamond (“Psalm”), and the Rolling Stones (“Blood Red Viral Black”) all the while keeping a tone that defines them as The Alarm? They have their core singles from more than 35 years ago that resonate today plus the band follows up their hard rocking Equals with an equally rocking Sigma just a year later that has sold quite well and garnered positive press.
The Alarm doesn’t have the core members that helped the band reach the charts so many years ago, an asterisk for purists, but really the band belongs to lead singer and founder Peters. His wife now plays the keyboards and he’s got a solid guitarist in James Stevenson, who also performed with Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel, and way more than a time keeper in drummer Steve “Smiley” Barnard. Peters abruptly left The Alarm in 1991, actually announced his departure at a concert, and indeed followed through which ended the band’s run. He returned 10 years later and since then The Alarm in various forms (a faux name and alternative versions of The Alarm name – you figure it out) has cranked out studio albums with surprisingly consistency.
Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel (aptly named so the feuding, founding twin brothers can carry on the band’s legacy separately) opened the evening with a pretty solid 30 minute set and Modern English, which arguably had the most famous song of the evening in “I Melt With You,” but far less commercial success, worked a solid 45 minute set. Time prevented a deeper dive into their catalog but Modern English clearly offers more than that one hit song made famous on the movie “Valley Girl” and the group has not been dormant as they released an album two years ago and another in 2010 shortly after much of the original lineup reunited.
The Alarm Setlist at Aladdin Theater in Portland:
1. Blood Red Viral Black
2. The Stand
3. Peace Now
4. Rescue Me
5. Sold Me Down the River
9. Rain in the Summertime
11. The Spirit of ’76
12. Sixty Eight Guns
13. Two Rivers