Tears For Fears at the Royal Albert Hall, London - live review

80s prog-poppers return for a spellbinding show

live shot
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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Tears For Fears are clearly enjoying their first British headline concert for 12 years, and their first at the Albert Hall since the era of Live Aid. It’s visible in the grins Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith exchange when the crowd roar over the intro of another prog pop classic, or the way whenever one isn’t singing – they both retain astonishingly strong voices – they groove contentedly when the other’s at the front of the stage, happy to take turns. It’s also in the sly look they give each other when they tweak the ‘come on’ refrain in Shout with a new harmony and it works perfectly.

Any differences the pair had are clearly now bygones, and while they’ve been reunited for several years, this high-profile blitz feels like the launch of a proper comeback. Next year’s new album and full tour will be unmissable.

The atmosphere tonight is euphoric. Any group that can bang out unimpeachable anthems like Everybody Wants To Rule The World and Sowing The Seeds Of Love (the song that brought pop and prog into a happy marriage they didn’t even know they wanted) within the first 15 minutes knows they have a ridiculously stacked setlist. Yes, the audience are bellowing along with every word, but the adrenaline doesn’t drop for the album cuts, which distinguish TFF from mere 80s nostalgists.

For every glorious sweeping chorus – Pale Shelter, Change, the curious fusion of darkness and light that is Mad World – there’s a detailed musical flourish like the jagged blues of Badman’s Song or Break It Down Again. They know exactly which high points to cherry-pick from their lesser-known work (like the plush, underrated Elemental album, which was Orzabal under the TFF brand name) and again, there’s no sense of rivalry.

We tend to overlook what a gifted player Orzabal is, and with just three other musicians (and a male backing singer) the band are a gale of smooth yet busy sound, a funk Floyd, able to glide effortlessly from perkiness to pomp and back again. Even the surprise cover of Radiohead’s Creep, an odd choice, works, with the song’s melodrama downplayed, except for Orzabal’s passionate vocal.

By the time Head Over Heels wraps the main set with its heaven-sent hooks and rousing ‘la la la’s to outdo Hey Jude, we’re reminded that this unlikely duo from Bath are one of British music’s shining jewels. As the reputations of other 80s success stories have slid, theirs has slow-burned to a state of grace. ‘Funny how time flies,’ the epic ends, but few here are enjoying any other moment but this.

After a warm, lush Woman In Chains has opened the encores, a tumultuous Shout brings the house down. You’ve never seen so much fist-pumping and hollering in the Albert Hall, not least from your reviewer, who, when Orzabal walks into the audience, thrusting the mic into our faces, cannot resist taking the chance to let it all out.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.