Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins at the Totally Tubular Festival at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 28, 2024 | Photo: Carl Perry

If John Hughes deejayed your bat mitzvah in 1983, it would sound a lot like the Totally Tubular Festival did at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Friday night. What an incredibly fun walk (like an Egyptian) down memory lane it was. 

It felt like the 1980s were no longer “A Million Miles Away” in the rearview, as the opening band the Plimsouls sang in that forever fabulous song that will always make me think of how hot young Nicolas Cage was in Valley Girl. With seven bands on the bill, the sets were short but oh-so-sweet, and everyone leaned into their hits, as expected. 

There was no coyness about waiting for the crowd to go crazy and then granting an encore here. 

Tommy Tutone was up next, doing an excellent punk rock version of Cat Stevens’s “Wild World” before launching into that number that’s almost as famous as “9-1-1.” The entire crowd sang, shouted, and danced along to “867-5309/Jenny” and then it was time for Bow Wow Wow to take the stage. They were definitely the band I was the least familiar with on the bill, but they had a fun, dancey vibe and I loved watching the ’80s-outfitted crowd rock along. Fashion statements included lots of retro T-shirts; super DayGlo; and off-the-shoulder, ripped-neck Flashdance-style togs, as well a Karate Kid, many Madonnas, and a very cute couple near me in matching madras plaid that looked like they stepped right out of The Official Preppy Handbook

By the time Bow Wow Wow sang “Do You Wanna Hold Me?” I realized I knew their music after all, especially when it was followed by “Aphrodisiac” (highlighted in the 2006 Sofia Coppola movie Marie Antoinette, on a great soundtrack that also featured music by The Strokes, Siouxsie & The Banshees, New Order, and The Cure). By their final song — “I Want Candy” — I was singing and dancing along with everyone else. 

Next up were The Tubes, a band I’ve seen many times over the years (including at the Bowl). The glam-rockers’ set, which included “She’s a Beauty,” “Sushi Girl” and “Talk to Ya Later,” was made all the more surreal by the fact that I was texting my friend Holly to share some pictures. Once upon a time — after being a Marquette (IYKYK), and before becoming a lawyer — she was a Tubette, go-go dancing with the band as part of their elaborate staging back in the day.

The biggest happy surprise of the night for me was the next band, Men Without Hats. They still had those great not-so-cautious dance moves of the era, and had a punkish, youthful energy throughout a set that featured well-received multiple versions of their hit song “The Safety Dance,” as well as “Antarctica” and “Pop Goes the World,” with its scathing anti-capitalistic themes buried under the catchy tune.

One of the few bands to even mention the words “new music,” Modern English had their tongues firmly in cheek when they played a song from their new album 1 2 3 4, appropriately titled “Long in the Tooth,” after opening with their 1981 hit “Gathering Dust.” “Someone’s Calling” and the obligatory but still terrific “I Melt with You” (also in Valley Girl, another excellent soundtrack with no John Hughes fingerprints that I know of) got us out of our seats and singing (and clapping) along once again.

The Thompson Twins, with band founder Tom Bailey (whom I interviewed here) and an entertaining young all-female band, all dressed in white, to back him, were thoroughly delightful from start to finish. “Love on Your Side,” “Lay Your Hands on Me,” “If You Were Here” (from John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles soundtrack), “You Take Me Up,” “Lies,” and “Doctor! Doctor!” were all thrillingly familiar and fun, but it was their brilliant cover of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” that was probably my favorite song of the night. Although, hearing The Thompson Twins sing “Hold Me Now” for their finale was also pretty freaking cool. 

The OG of EDM, Thomas Dolby, was up last, and as fascinatingly talented as he is, he’s still a guy alone on a big stage with a bunch of electronic equipment, which took the energy down a few notches after The Thompson Twins. His cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday” was a fabulous choice for this crowd though, and he quickly had us back in the palm of his hands — which were busy pushing buttons, firing up videos and all sort of electronic sounds for the entirety of his set. 

Dolby’s sounds that night included “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” “One of Our Submarines,” “Hyperactive!” and his playing along with a 1983 video version of David Bowie performing “Heroes” at Wembley Stadium in London (where Dolby also accompanied Bowie in real life). I couldn’t help thinking that was the part of the show that my colleague Joe Woodard would have really loved, had he been there. For my money, it was Dolby’s final song that was the true ’80s money shot, the song I still can’t get out of my head, “She Blinded Me with Science.” 

I was probably a little more blinded by nostalgia than science, but whatever it was, it was a whole lot of fun.

Tommy Tutone sings “867-5309/Jenny” at the Totally Tubular Festival at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 28, 2024 | Photo: Leslie Dinaberg

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