About a decade ago, I was in Manhattan for an umbrella Bowie party that featured local performers riffing on The Thin White Duke and the new wave musicians he inspired. One of the acts was a wonderful interpretive dance set to “Mantrap,” the long-form music video directed by Julien Temple to promote the Lexicon of Love, the sensational debut album by soulful sophisticates ABC. (As I recall, the dancer was New York City’s own Alison Clancy.)
The Cold War-colored video starred Martin Fry, the square-jawed frontman of ABC, and it was truly inspired as the always well-dressed Fry cuts still a figure who appears wholly emerged from a romantic spy thriller — today perhaps even moreso with his shock of silver hair and authoritative eyes. I was appreciative to be there too when Martin made his first concert appearance inside Manhattan in quite some years at a recent sold-out show on Broadway’s Sony Hall with his contemporary ABC band, and it was absolutely transcendent.
After a break in the ’90s, Martin Fry recruited a set of touring musicians, several of whom remain with him today, to reconstitute the ABC brand, and they have remained a touring force for the past several decades, pandemic lockdown aside. In that time, they have toured the United States for brief stints at regular intervals, but never previously landed in Manhattan, much less Broadway. But Martin and company are on a short run of US dates now to celebrate the actual 40th anniversary of the Lexicon of Love debut album, so nothing less than the very best should do. The band, classy gents all, looked 100% at home on the elegant stage of Sony Hall, which was packed with people eager to get a glimpse of the towering Mr. Fry and his colleagues.
At Sony Hall on July 6, DJ Larry “The Duck” Dunn reminded us in a brief introduction that the Lexicon of Love was no ordinary debut album. Larry hailed it as a remarkable an album as Roxy Music’s debut record a decade prior. And Larry was right. Across a setlist of 15 songs, Martin Fry and ABC drew five from that singular debut record, starting the concert with the urgent “Show Me” and ending the set with the phenomenal “The Look of Love (Part One).” From the outset of the show or upon listening to them first 40 years ago, listeners realized these were no ordinary songs. They were a unique mix of soul, disco, and adult rock with a touch of glam. How extraordinary! Nothing today still sound quite the same as the ABC-stamped sophistipop.
And at the front of the stage, Mr. Fry stood perhaps more dashing than ever. Admirers clamored to get the best view of Martin as he stood above the crowd, alternating between gripping his microphone stand and stepping to the side to clap or flash a brilliant grin.
Watch the official music video for “The Look of Love” by ABC on YouTube:
Given that only a third of the show was dedicated to Lexicon of Love, ABC took time to explore some of the legacy band’s other milestones, including four songs from third album How to Be a Zillionaire! The presentation of “Ocean Blue” from that album began with a humorous query from Martin as to why natives of land-locked Sheffield, England, would compose a sea shanty. The band marked the middle of the set with the biting “Vanity Kills” and presented a one-song encore with the album’s “Be Near Me,” one of the most stirring torch songs ever recorded.
The audience cheered the addition of “Flames of Desire” from Lexicon of Love II, a brilliant sequel album to Lexicon of Love that Martin recorded in 2016. As reported in the music press around the time, Martin was inspired to create the sequel album in part because hip hop artists produce sequel albums regularly and in part because he thought it intriguing to revisit the themes of Lexicon of Love as an older man. The soaring funky tune hits all of the marks and provides wonderful continuity between the band of today and Martin Fry at the start of his recording career.
For my money, the dramatic “Poison Arrow” may always be my favorite ABC song and hearing it live, performed with Martin’s unwavering passionate and powerful voice early in the set, was alone worth the price of admission. For decades, Martin steeped soulful pop music in his unparalleled style and glamour, and may he long continue to do so.
Here are some photos of Martin Fry and ABC performing at Sony Hall in New York City on July 6, 2022 (with one photo of DJ Larry the Duck). All pictures copyright Parklife DC.