Mike Peters and The Alarm Deliver a Legendary Show
Any frequent visitors to RarasFarm realize that I am a huge Mike Peters fan. Strength is in my Top 25 albums ever, “Walk Forever By My Side” was my wedding song, and a fortuitous meeting at a Warped Tour event led to my favorite interview ever… with the endearing, compassionate front man from The Alarm.
I went into the show on Thursday night expecting I would love the show, and I admit I was predisposed to smile on the performance, as I greatly admire and respect Mike Peters, the artist and the person.
To understand my appreciation for Mike Peters, you might want to check out this interview from last year: Mike Peters is Love, Hope, Strength.
If you don’t like extremely positive, almost gushy reviews, you might want to skip this one, because I had a blast.
When I first saw the concert announcement, I was thrilled to find The Alarm were going to be playing at the cozy Social on Orange Avenue. The venue is a cramped, sweaty box that holds at most a few hundred people, everyone within 50 feet of the tiny stage. The acoustics are nothing special but the experience of being up close and tight with the performers is priceless. It is the textbook definition of intimate.
I got there about 90 minutes early, and during that time chatted with a few fellow longtime fans. One had traveled from Miami and another from Clearwater. The latter, making a spontaneous trip after seeing a pristine show a few nights earlier. It was fun reminiscing about the early days of The Alarm.
I had seen most of the previous set lists and loved the variety, only lamenting that “Unsafe Building” was an extremely rare add. In my opinion, it is the band’s most under-rated song, and an early lyrical masterpiece. But otherwise, the song selections looked just about perfect.
There have been many iterations of The Alarm over the years, and for the past few decades, the only constant has been front man, guitarist and creative force, Mike Peters. None of the other original members are playing in this band and any reunion with them seems a remote possibility, but Peters has surrounded himself with a talented cast. James Stevenson (Gene Loves Jezebel, Kim Wilde, The Cult) plays bass and guitar, Steve “Smiley” Bernard (Joe Strummer) is behind the drum kit, and Jules Peters (Mike’s wife) was on keyboards.
Stevenson is a consummate professional who delivered stand out moments on bass all night, and later in the show pulled off some sweet guitar solos. Sitting behind a simple drum kit, Bernard was the smiling glue that held the set together. He seemed to be having a fun time throughout the show and deftly reacted to a few improv moments from Mike Peters, and actually showed off his guitar skills late in the set. And Jules was just an inspirational joy to watch, she was having a blast on stage and had a few spotlight moments of her own on the keyboards. She fits in well with her band mates and is comfortable on stage with her friends.
Check out photos from the show here: The Alarm at The Social.
A cherubic Peters led his band onto the narrow Social stage, where he had his typical, fan-friendly, three mic set-up. Bernard slipped behind the drum kit stage right, Stevenson flanked Peters to his left, and Jules Peters was wedged in behind his left shoulder. A cozy set-up for sure, but a situation that allowed all of the members to easily interact, and still afforded Mike Peters the chance to cruise between the mics.
As soon as he plugged his guitar in, there were immediate issues with feedback. So, the consummate professional that he is, Mike started chatting with the crowd. While things were worked out, he reminisced about the early years of The Alarm, grabbed an acoustic guitar and slid into a pristine, passionate, unplanned version of “Unsafe Building.” My night was off to an unexpected fantastic start.
After a rousing finish, it was apparent that the technical issues would continue for a few minutes, so Peters shared a story about the band’s first ever gig at the Victoria Hotel in Prestatyn, Wales back in 1981. They got to the stage and found one lone fan in the crowd, but saw others milling outside the room. So, they cranked up their guitars and started a hard-driving beat to draw the others in… Then did something like this:
An invigorating start to the show, at a point where things could have fallen apart. Instead, the Orlando crowd was gifted with two songs rarely played anymore, in fact, this was the first time they played “Shout To the Devil” in a year…
While the band was in the early-80’s vibe, they immediately slipped into “Declaration/Marching On,” again deviating from the standard set list. It was a super-charged start to the night, probably fueled by the cozy confines and receptive crowd.
It was fun watching the interplay between the band members as they adjusted on the fly to Mike’s improvisations. They were all smiles, and seemed to be having as much fun as their indulged fans.
From that point on, things were a little more predictable. A powerful version of “Blaze of Glory” was followed by hopeful new tune “Tomorrow.” For the next hour, the band rotated new material in every few songs, and the mix worked fantastically.
Unlike many of the fans in attendance, I was very familiar with the new material and the powerful new album Equals. The new music is damn good, and clearly deserving of copious radio play, but knowing the sorry radio scene, the only likely way to hear this music is to purchase or download it yourself. Do it – the songs are catchy, meaningful tunes with a definite rocking vibe. You can order Equals here.
In general, the newer tracks had more of a gritty edge played live, and most sounded better than the majority of the “rock” littering the airwaves these days. Standout fresh tracks included “Peace Now,” “Two Rivers” and “Beautiful.”
The band took a brief break, leaving Peters alone on stage, and he delivered a heartfelt, yet abbreviated version of his wedding song, “Walk Forever By My Side.” He then called out his wife who slid behind the keyboards. He recognized her courageous cancer battles and elicited a tender, loving smile from his mate. She then tapped out the iconic piano opening to “Spirit of 76.” It was a goosebump moment that evolved into a boisterous full band romp, with plenty of help from the crowd.
There were plenty of other singalong moments. “Absolute Reality” was an early favorite, followed by scorching versions of “68 Guns” and “Where Were You Hiding” which was accompanied by several decks of playing cards fired above the crowd.
The two most popular tracks may have been “Rescue Me” and “Rain in the Summertime” which sandwiched a raucous rendition of new song “Thirteen Dead Reindeer.”
The band’s encore started with a heartfelt plea to support a few of The Alarm’s deserving causes, including the uber-successful bone marrow-matching program Love, Hope Strength, which has led to over 3,000 life saving matches for other Leukemia survivors like Peters. He brought out a fan who made a large donation to accompany him on guitar, as well as another cancer survivor to join them on stage, as he offered out a heartfelt version of “Lope, Hope and Strength.”
Add in a scorching version of “Strength” and a sweet delivery of “We Are the Light” and the fantastic show came to a close, with the fervid fans nearly as exhausted as the band, we drifted out into the warm Orlando night.
We are the light
Shine on, shine on
We are the light…
Shout to the Devil
Blaze of Glory
Thirteen Dead Reindeer
Rain in the Summertime
Walk Forever by My Side (acoustic)
Spirit of ’76
Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke
Love Hope and Strength
We Are the Light