BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
42 years after debuting as a punk band in Wales named The Toilets, Mike Peters and The Alarm’s spiritual journey touched down at The Regency in San Francisco Friday night, returning to the city where they played their first US show as openers for U2 in 1983 at the Civic Auditorium.
While Bono’s band hasn’t fared too poorly, The Alarm has built a highly dedicated fan base of it’s own with an uplifting brand of rock anthems since first forging it’s own identity after signing with IRS Records in 1982. Supporting U2 on the War Tour helped introduce the band to US audiences while promoting their stellar debut album Declaration which featured “Marching On”, “The Stand”, “Sixty Eight Guns” and “Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke ?” All had previously been released as singles before the album dropped, and The Alarm’s electric live performances quickly catapulted them to widespread admiration on this side of the pond.
The explosion of MTV on the music scene also helped fuel The Alarm’s popularity. On April 12,1986 the band played one of the first live worldwide satellite broadcasts from the campus of UCLA at a time when music television was at it’s absolute peak. Attended by close to 30,000 people in the flesh, including a much younger version of this reporter, it featured fans on rooftops and perched in trees straining to get a better look at a highly energized group at the peak of its virility long before they had accumulated well over six million in album sales.
It was later that year while hitch-hiking home from outside London that lead singer Peters met his future wife Jules Jones, who now provides keyboards and backing vocals to the bands efforts. Unfortunately it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the couple as they’re both now cancer survivors. Awarded an MBE earlier this year for his chivalry along with his efforts and contributions to raise awareness of the disease, the experiences have clearly helped supply the inspirational messages that are evident in so much of The Alarm’s musical catalog.
Back on the road touring in support of Sigma, their eighth studio album released just five weeks ago, Peters, 60, and The Alarm continue to produce quality new material well into their fourth decade as a band. The album showcases the passion and optimism that has been a constant throughout their career.
On Friday night, the band played three of the albums dozen songs during their 95 minute set, including opening with “Blood Red Viral Black,” the energetic cut that also opens the album, as well as “Brighter Than the Sun,” yet another track that showcases Peters always powerful vocals along with the driving drums of Steve “Smiley” Barnard. The band has such an abundance of quality material to work with that two Sigma songs, “Armageddon in the Morning,” a powerful new seven minute tour de force, and the positively passionate “Love and Understanding,” yet another Alarm song that features Peters soaring vocals, couldn’t even find their way onto the hits packed setlist.
Moving about the front of the stage throughout the evening, Peters took turns using all three microphones placed left to right to give the entire crowd better access to him. The career spanning set featured fan favorites ranging from “Sixty Eight Guns” and “The Stand” from 1984’s Declaration to “Spirit of ’76” and “Strength,” the title track from 1985’s follow-up. 1987’s Eye of the Hurricane was well represented by the rocking “Rescue Me” and the unforgettable “Rain in the Summertime, and a bluesy version of “Sold Me Down the River” served as a reminder of what a quality album 1989’s Change was.
While it was clear throughout the evening to anyone will a pulse that the band was truly having loads of fun and enjoying themselves onstage, a feeling equally shared by everyone in the audience, their enthusiasm was notched up even further when original drummer and founding member Nigel Twist joined them for an encore rendition of “Shout to the Devil,” with “Sixty Eight Guns” and “Two Rivers” soon to follow. If anyone arrived unfamiliar with the quality of The Alarm’s catalog, they certainly left as an enthusiastic new fan. They could’ve easily played an even longer set, but no one went home disappointed after yet another inspiring performance by the band from Wales.
The Alarm, with opening acts Modern English and Gene Loves Jezebal, continues their West Coast trek Monday with a trio of back-to-back shows in Portland, Seattle and Spokane.