Demand is finally high for forgotten decade

For ’80s acts, the moment that signified pop music’s wheel of fortune had spun back around their way may have been in 2007′s final episode of “The Sopranos” when Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” played during the final moments of a series well-known for its pop IQ.

But while that song helped the band sell out a string of large venues last summer, it was another ’80s band — Bon Jovi– that scored last year’s top-grossing U.S. tour, with ticket sales north of $210 million. And Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors tour drew like-minded ’80s acts the B-52s and Erasure to midsized venues nationwide.

“People in the concert business have been saying for years that the ’80s bands were about to hit,” notes Alex Hodges, chief operating officer of Nederlander Concerts, “and it never quite happened like it did for the ’70s bands. But it looks like this is the year it might really start. Eighties acts are a lot more valid now than they were even two years ago.”

According to Hodges, the formula for determining an ’80s act’s viability as a live draw is hardly foolproof, but it’s nonetheless a rather simple one.

“It’s not that different from evaluating a classic car,” he says.  “What was the depth of their music at their peak, in sales and in tours, and how much of that will still translate? Sometimes it just comes down to, ‘Who had more hits, Styx or Survivor?’ ”

Hitting the concert trail this year — often in bigger venues then they’ve seen in the past — are Poison, Def Leppard, Blondie, Pat Benatar, Teena Marie, Keith Sweat, Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys. Tours are also planned for ABC, Missing Persons and Wang Chung.

L.A.’s DJ Crash is reluctant to declare a full-on ’80s revival on the pop charts, but notices a change in the reception to the decade’s hits.

“There is a difference in how people respond as opposed to five years ago,” he says. “It’s not as gimmicky a feel as it used to be.”

Certainly, a number of these success stories can be attributed to external factors. 2004 VH1 show “Bands Reunited” brought a number of defunct acts like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Dramarama and Vixen to new attention by reassembling them on camera. Also, as Hodges points out, many of the ’70s acts who once dominated the touring nostalgia business are, along with their audiences, getting too old to take to the road year after year.

“For (a revival) to be successful, an act has to have something that will get not only the original fans out, but also their kids,” he notes. “You look at a case from the ’70s like the Steve Miller Band, and they’ve attracted a whole new audience to their shows long after their peak.”

And increasingly, that new audience may recognize the decade’s sounds from contempo mainstream pop: From Kanye West’s synth pop experiments and Santigold channeling everyone from Missing Persons to classic Police to Flo Rida’s Dead or Alive-interpolating “Right Round” to Lady Gaga, who seems to model her music after Italo disco and her persona after a Bret Easton Ellis novel, it’s clear that 2009′s biggest hitmakers have been taking notes from a generation past.

If that’s the case, it could be awhile before this ’80s journey fades to black.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more