The combination of music from the 1980s and 1990s drew an eclectic mix of stars to the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday.
At “Strange 80s,” a benefit concert to raise funds for Sweet Relief, the organization founded by singer/songwriter Victoria Williams in 1993 to offer assistance to musicians in need of medical care, the “strange” part of the night came at the start, when host and “Stranger Things” star Finn Wolfhard performed three tracks with his band Calpurnia (the standout: their version of New Order’s “The Age of Consent”).
Speaking to Variety before the show, Wolfhard said the band picked songs from a long ’80s playlist. “We just listened to a bunch of different songs,” he said. And with music such a big part of the Netflix show, which song from the decade of excess would suit the series best? “Because ‘Stranger Things’ is a synth-[heavy] show, maybe some super weird ’80s synth pop like Tangerine Dream.”
Television played a big part in “Strange 80s,” with another “Stranger Things” star, Chelsea Talmadge, kicking off the main event, and Dylan Minnette from “13 Reasons Why” who performed two songs — including a Smiths cover — with his band, Wallows.
As it was, the set lists covered a wide range of styles, from ’80s hair metal (“Round and Round” by Ratt) to a Billy Joel classic (“Vienna”) to “Footloose” staple “Let’s Hear It for the Boy.”
The audience also covered a wide span, from those reliving their youth to adolescent fans likely hearing these songs for the first time. And, no surprise, the youthful contingent in the crowd saved the loudest screams for the likes of 5 Seconds of Summer’s Ashton Irwin and Calum Hood, who performed The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” with Goldfinger frontman and in-demand producer John Feldmann.
On the opposite end of the music spectrum, Slipknot and Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor led a metal super group in a cover of Prince’s
“1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”
“The music community has always been, to me, family,” Taylor said. “We’ve always looked out for each other and this is just another way to look out for each other. Some people aren’t as fortunate as I’ve been and they need a little bit of help when it comes to health care and taking care of medical emergencies. That’s why this charity is so important for that.”
Added Feldmann: “When I moved to Los Angeles in 1987, it was in hopes of becoming the next Guns N’ Roses with my band, the Electric Love Hogs. And our guitar player died of a heroin overdose. I’ve watched people become drug addicts and get kicked out of bands. There are a lot of musicians that at some point in their life can’t hold down a real job, whether it’s because they’re bipolar or suffering from depression and can no longer support themselves as a musician. We’re here to prevent suicides, drug overdoses, and hopefully help people that can’t show up and work on their own.”
Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s, who performed her own “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” stressed that in the current political climate, where health insurance is at hot-button issue, an event like “Strange 80s” is more important than ever.
“As a musician, over the decades it’s gotten harder and harder, and so many musicians are without insurance,” she said. “And everyone knows that people don’t really pay for music anymore, so if you don’t already have money, it’s really hard to get along in this world. And Sweet Relief helps people so much and I very much believe in that cause. I believe all Americans should get health insurance. To me, it seems more of a right than a privilege. But, be that as it may, thank goodness Sweet Relief is here for the musicians that don’t have insurance.”
Other highlights of the evening included appearances by “Weird Al” Yankovic, members of Tenacious D, and comedian Sarah Silverman. Precious Kid also performed “I Want Candy,” which channeled all of the playfulness and swagger of the original, and Filter frontman Richard Patrick merged his own “Take a Picture” with U2’s “Bad” into an impassioned, soaring medley that impressed with its vocal power.