The secret to the success of 1980s post-punk band The Alarm was its passion.
Singer Mike Peters and crew infused their songs with energy, urgency and optimism like no other band of that time – including U2 – or certainly since.
Thirty-five years after The Alarm’s commercial peak, more than 25 years after its last U.S. charting hit, The Alarm showed during a concert Tuesday at Sellersville Theatre 1894 that it hasn’t lost that spirit.
It also showed that its hits from that era hold up extremely well, and that songs from its new disc, “Equals,” released in June, stand up impressively aside the classic music.
It made for a great night of not only music, but experience, as well.
Playing the penultimate night of the current U.S. tour (the band closes in Boston tonight), The Alarm opened the show appropriately, with the 1984 hit “Blaze of Glory,” its heart-on-the sleeve lyrics and impassioned music immediately connecting with the sold-out crowd.
When Peters sang, “My hands are held up high,” the audience lifted theirs in solidarity.
As if to make the comparison immediately, The Alarm played the new “Tomorrow,” with Peters wailing vocally – impressively uninhibited for a vocalist who turns 60 in three months.
Backed by guitarist James Stevenson, drummer Steve Barnard and his wife, Jules, on keyboard, Peters played eight of the new disc’s 11 songs Tuesday, largely alternating them with classic material.
The 1985 song “Absolute Reality” was full of passion – its lyrics “you may have love/you may have hate/You may be the president of the United States” as applicable today as they were three decades ago. But the new “Coming Backwards” was just as passionate, and nearly as good.
Peters maintained that passion throughout the show. On the very good 1984 hit “The Stand (Prophecy),” he held his guitar aloft as he strummed it and blew his harmonica. And with three mics set up across the stage, he would run back and forth between them to sing.
Many of the new songs had the same musical feel as classic The Alarm. “Peace Now” was chanty, with Peters’ harmonica. The slow, drum-acoustic guitar-piano treatment of “Transatlantic” was more tender, but still had soaring vocals. “Beautiful” was more of a flat-out rocker.
Some of the new songs even fared better than some lesser older material. “Rescue Me” from 1987 had loads of passion and some melody, but not the kind of substance you remember from The Alarm. That song was especially saved by Barnard, whose solid, powerful drumming was outstanding all night.
But the hits were uniformly strong. The drum-driven “Sold Me Down the River” was very good, and the similarly sounding “Rain in the Summertime” stretched to eight minutes with audience participation. The open-hearted enthusiasm of “Spirit of ‘76” was infectious, and the crowd zealously bought in.
The main set closed with perhaps the night’s two best. An eight-minute mini-medley of “Declaration,” “Marching On” and “Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?” brought back all of the Alarm feelings and emotions.
Strangely, on “Marching On,” Peters omitted the words “He's gonna smash the window/He's gonna tear down the walls” – perhaps feeling it was out of character with his preaching about peace all night. He also changed the references to “we’re the young who stand up,” which was more understandable.
Peters also talked about playing “American Bandstand” on the group’s first visit to America, and tossed playing cards to the crowd at the last song’s line “All cards are marked/And all things will collide.”
The set closed with the 1983 hit “68 Guns,” which was as poignant as when it was first released.
The four-song encore started with Peters alone on acoustic guitar, playing “Love Hope Strength,” which leukemia survivor Peters uses as the theme for his charitable work to battle cancer, before the band — and Love Hope Strength Foundation member Brian Isley on acoustic guitar — rejoined him and tied that tight to a cover of the underappreciated Willie Nile gem “One Guitar” and the new “Neutral.”
And on the title track from The Alarm’s 1985 sophomore disc “Strength” was powerfully emotional, showing that Peters still has all the passion that U2’s Bono lost a long time ago.
The show closed with the new song “Two Rivers,” which also was among the night’s best, and showed more of that passion that has kept The Alarm great. And if it wasn’t clear enough, Peters drove home the point by reprising snippets of “68 Guns,” “The Stand,” “Blaze of Glory” and “Declaration.”