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Romeo Void on VH-1's "Bands Reunited"

“Sun Suit Girls Must Be Discrete”

Of all the bands featured on the first week of VH-1’s new 80’s group reunion series, Bands Reunited, the only one to really strike a chord with me is San Francisco’s Romeo Void. There are several good reasons for this:

  • Unlike other groups to appear in the show’s first week of broadcasts (Berlin, Flock of Seagulls), RVoid was not a synth-heavy band, focusing instead on guitar/sax over a suitably throbbing bottom;
  • Frontwoman Deborah Iyall’s lyrics were both darker, more poetic and sexier than anything offered by faux-provocative outfits like Berlin;
  • I had a thing for the band’s BBW singer – even spent some time with her backstage at a Central Illinois club once just before a concert (and, damn it, I was a gentleman – okay, I was too drunk to be able to do much, but stillllll . . .)
I was and remain a big ol’ drooling RVoid fan, in other words, so I was definitely pulled into this entry of Bands Reunited.
The premise of VH-1’s series is simple enough to explain in a ten-second spot: host Aamer Haleem tracks down members of defunct 80’s groups and wheedles ’em into reforming for a one-night gig at the Whisky A Go-Go. We get to see each saggingly middle-aged member as they appear today, see how they’ve fared outside the rock ‘n’ roll milieu (in the case of most of Romeo Void, they generally seem to be doing okay), watch ’em rehearse for a show the following night, climaxing with an onstage performance of two songs from the group’s repertoire. Whether the band actually performs more than two numbers at the Whisky is unclear from the episode I watched.
As Haleem tracks down the group members, we’re also treated to a history of the group, the factors that led to its success and dissolution. With Romeo Void, two themes keep re-emerging: the usual story of internecine jealousy over the group frontperson receiving most of the attention – plus the record label’s inability to support a band whose lead femme singer was plus-sized. (One band member tells the story of Clive Davis and a group of flaks coming to view a concert, only to walk out of the club the moment Debora stepped onstage.) It was the group’s misfortune to come into prominence during the dawning of the video music era. As the band recounts it, after they released the video to their second big single, “A Girl in Trouble Is A Temporary Thing,” sans any camera tricks or shadowy obfuscation a la Ann Wilson or Alf Moyet, Columbia immediately pulled its support of the group.
Yet Romeo Void was anything but a mainstream, image-centric pop group: Iyall’s boho lyrics and the group sound were more suited to college radio than a wild hair candy band like Flock of Seagulls. Their arguably grandest song, “Never Say Never,” was inspired by a post-punk club band, the Bush Tetras, and released for radio with a line about a “fuck-about-it grin” mixed down so you could hardly catch the words. Iyall’s frequently pissed-off talk-sing delivery (the chorus to “Never” is more accusatory than enticing) was a marked contrast to, say, Terri Nunn’s cooing come-on. In retrospect, Columbia didn’t have a clue about the group, which probably made its betrayal inevitable.
Aside from Debora, much of the focus of the Bands Reunited ep was on group’s saxophonist Ben Bossi. An essential part of the band’s sound (think of the horn hook to “Girl in Trouble,”) Bossi suffered severe hearing loss during his time with the band and is the only member incapable of playing with the group today. Though the band does its Whisky set with a session horn player, Reunited never lets us forget about Bossi’s loss. It’s more-than-a-little manipulative, but, then, tell me a show biz story that isn’t.
As for the band’s in-concert sound: as a group, Romeo Void always had a ragged edge, so the quick-rush rehearsal doesn’t hurt ’em too much. VH-1 gets a tad gimmicky with the performance, occasionally split-screening to images of the group in its youth and interrupting the music with periodic band voiceovers. (Hopefully, the inevitable CD collection’ll be free of such nonsense.) But once our aging songstress launches into the chorus of “Never Say Never,” a quick chill of delight rushes through me. I later wonder: will aging Flock of Seagull fans feel a comparable frisson? Call me an art snob, but somehow I doubt it. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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