Heaven 17 returns to Santa Ana, CA

Brothers, Sisters, We Need This Heaven 17 thing! 40 years. Yes, I waited 40 years for Heaven 17 to tour America! I had tickets twice previously to see them, only to be sorely disappointed with cancellations. Once they cancelled due to visa issues and once due to COVID. Thanks, COVID! So, when I saw this tour announced, I immediately jumped on the chance to FINALLY see them play live!

As the date approached, my anticipation grew… as did my anxiety the show would not happen… again.

But brothers, sisters, we didn’t do that anxiety thing! When I found out that I was going to be covering the show, I was as giddy as a schoolboy the day before summer vacation! Yes, 40 years of anticipation and wanting took me right back to my teenage years for this forever Heaven 17-er! 

They played at the Observatory Theater in Santa Ana, CA… and let me start by saying how much I love the Observatory! It is such as great small venue to see a show; it’s just big enough to handle a decent size crowd and just small enough to still be intimate. There was no opening act, so when we got in the doors, we could see the simple stage setup. Stage right was Martyn Ware’s keyboard, back of stage was an additional keyboard setup and three microphones stretched across the rest of the stage. Since the departure of original member Ian Craig Marsh, Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware have had a pair of amazingly talented female singers to support them. The crowd was an awesomely eclectic mix of people my age and older, and a shocking amount of younger people! In fact, my 18-year-old son and his friend were probably the youngest in the crowd, but there were plenty of 20-somethings.

The lights went down and the crowd began to buzz.

When the fog machines kicked in and covered the front pit area in a blanket of fog, thick enough to inspire memories of a San Francisco afternoon, the crowd began to really stir. Bright flashlights illuminated the path from backstage like a lighthouse guiding a ship in a storm to safe waters. Ware and Gregory took the stage to thunderous applause. To my delight, Gregory welcomed the crowd, thanked us for coming and shared a brief story about why it took 40 years to get here. They then moved into one of the first of their 14 greatest hits of the night — and what a way to start! The ever-danceable “Fascist Groove Thing” immediately got the crowd dancing and singing along. The additional keyboard player added a bit of a deeper dance beat, which made an already great dance song even more so and a perfect fit for modern dance beats.

They moved from “FGT” right into “Crushed by the Wheels of Industry” and the crowd was 100% there for it. Following that tune, the boys again chatted with the crowd and had a bit of teasing back and forth. It takes a special relationship to stay close to someone for some 45-plus years and that connection shows between Ware and Gregory. Their banter made the audience feel like we were all just part of a big party and hilarious conversation. They moved into “Play to Win” and “Geisha Boys and Temple Girls” before slowing it down with “Come Live With Me” and “This is Mine”. Up next was “We Live So Fast”, which again, got the crowd going all-out much to the delight of Ware and Gregory, who commented on the awesome display of 80’s-style dancing (IYKYK).

Gregory and Ware then began talking about their history as a band and where they came from.

Ware shared stories about his time in Human League and their combined experiences in their first bands. Ware and Gregory were hilarious in their descriptions of early band life and the struggles they faced. Ware even shared that the keyboard he was using for the night was, in fact, the first keyboard he bought when they formed Heaven 17! Gregory shared a funny story about the backup singing duo and how they created a 17-point presentation (perfectly appropriate) on why the band should tour America… finally. The final point in the presentation was “we want to go to America to play before you two die”! Ware then moved out from behind the synth and joined Gregory in a beautiful rendition of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”.

But, back to Heaven 17 hits! They absolutely nailed “Sunset Now”! The ladies singing backup were nothing short of spectacular! They hit high notes with killer vibrato and brought the house down. Gregory then began introducing a song that he said they don’t normally play live, but the additional keyboard player loved the song and got it in the setlist. They pulled off an amazing version of “And That’s No Lie”, a song which was amazing on the album, but obviously not an easy song to perform live. Next up was one of my all-time favs, “Let’s All Make a Bomb”; it’s such a great dance song and has a perfectly appropriate message for today. They followed this up with “I’m Your Money” and “Let Me Go.” The second-to-last song on the main set was the title song off their first album, “Penthouse and Pavement”. You know how as singers get older their voices lose a bit? Not Gregory’s! His voice was every bit as powerful and beautiful as it was in 1982. 

They closed the main set with the absolute classic of “Temptation”.

However, they embellished the hell out of it and we were all on board for it. The two supporting singers stepped forward and absolutely crushed an a cappella vibrato-filled breakdown of the chorus before Ware dropped the beat and Gregory dropped the ceiling. The crowd went nuts and danced their asses off! It was like being back in 1985 at Florentine Gardens dance club in Hollywood, though I am sure many of us needed Advil the next day to ease the pain of aching joints that hadn’t moved that hard in a long time! 

The band thanked the crowd and said they would be back. After one of the shortest intermissions I have ever seen, the band hit the stage again. Gregory explained they liked to close their shows by doing things differently. Since they had already played most of their greatest hits, they wanted to pay homage to other bands and songs they love. With that Gregory spoke eloquently and passionately about “one of the greatest performers of all time, gone way too early” — Mr. David Bowie. Gregory shouted to the crowd “Let’s Dance!” before moving into a perfect rendition of the Bowie classic. Much to my delight and surprise, Ware introduced the final song of the night — a loving throwback to his years with the Human League. He not only nodded to his roots, but lovingly poked fun at his former bandmates by saying his time was their heyday. The band then went into “Being Boiled”, which stunned a lot of the crowd. The band ended the night by thanking attendees for staying by their side for these many years and for being so patient for their ultimate arrival in the U.S. They said it has been one of their favorite tours to date and said that they most certainly will be back with something new!

Hmmm… teasing new music??

Following the show, my family and my son’s friend went outside and waited for the band in hopes they would stop and chat with us. I ran into the sound guy, who I chatted with before the show. He hooked me up with the show’s setlist and said the guys would come out and say hi. Sure enough, Martyn Ware appeared and was more than gracious and friendly. When he met my 18-year-old son and his friend, Ware was absolutely tickled that they had such young fans. He was so touched that he called Gregory over to meet them both, take pictures, chat about how they got into Heaven 17 and signed assorted autographs. They could not have been more kind. Oh, and Ware confirmed they are working on new music and will be back to the U.S. on tour!! So, if you are a Heaven 17 fan, you are in luck! See!! It pays to always read until the end of the article. #burythelead

Photography by Shane Pase

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