What’s in a name? That which we call Men without Hats
By any other name would sound as sweet;
-New Wave Juliet
Men Without Hats today occasionally will wear hats. Half the quartet also are women. So are they Men and Women Maybe Without Hats?
The Men Without Hats who visited The State Theatre Thursday were a lineup recruited by lead singer Ivan Doroschuk and not the classic band. But does it matter? Ivan was the only consistent member throughout the years anyway and the new lineup sounded amazing with James Love on guitar and duo synthesizers played by Lou Dawson and Rachel Ashmore — a killer duo with impressive synth skills.
The band opened with “This War,” a song whose lyrics may remind us that “love is a battlefield” but it has a wonderfully driving electronic sound that could have sprung right from a basement club in 1979. The song hails from the new album, Love in the Age of War. Released in June, it’s a collection of 10 songs by the current lineup that serves as a mighty credit to the Men Without Hats catalog.
Men Without Hats offered up several selections from the new album in the dozen songs they played to a small crowd of roughly 125 enthusiastic attendees. While “This War” was the strongest, “Head Above Water” and “The Girl With the Silicon Eye” also meshed seamlessly with the legacy songs, compelling people to dance the night away.
And speaking of dancing, yes, let me get it out there — Ivan and company closed their set with “The Safety Dance,” which he called the “one we have been waiting for.” The #1 dance hit sounded as fresh as ever and the audience ate it up.
But part of the appeal of Men Without Hats is that the songs only fans could name are really terrific songs — songs like “I Like,” “Living in China,” and “Where Do The Boys Go?” The first two appeared along with “The Safety Dance” on the Men Without Hats debut album, Rhythm of Youth in 1982 and still sound sharp today.
And of course, the band played “Pop Goes the World” right in the middle of the set to keep the crowd pumped. The 1987 song was recorded the year keyboardist Rachel was born, Ivan noted.
After the set, the band returned for an encore of one song, a cover of ABBA’s “S.O.S.” as heard on the album The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century, the follow-up to “Pop Goes the World” that began to see Men Without Hats fade from the charts before disappearing for 10 years.
All in all, the revised Men Without Hats are a terribly talented band worthy of a much larger audience than DC metro offered up Thursday night. They capture the sound, the look, and the attitude of Ivan’s heyday very well. They’ve largely wrapped up their current tour aside from an upcoming date in Toronto, but hopefully they’ll record again and be back with more material and a bigger show. They certainly deserve it.
Los Angeles quartet Right the Stars opened for Men Without Hats. They were a perfectly pleasant band that often evoked the feeling of Paul Simon fronting a jangle pop outfit. Vocalist and guitarist Rich Jacques and his fellows (bass, guitar, drums) spun up some tunes easy on the ears, particularly the appealing “Computer Crimes.”
But I found it a little disheartening that Jacques told us before every song that it had appeared in an X-box commercial or “Grey’s Anatomy,” or the box office flop “Furry Vengeance” starring Brendan Fraser — a fact that Jacques too made light of after some good-natured “boo’s” from the audience even though he took the pains to point out that “We Got It All” appeared in the movie in the first place. (I doubt Vampire Weekend remind us that “A Punk” was in that movie…)
Right the Stars may have potential but their appeal really extends more from the charm they exude as a group of guys that would be cool drinking buddies. I have to give them props for dancing up a storm in the audience to “The Safety Dance” though.