The dusty red upholstery and ornate brass furnishings of Detroit’s historic Fox Theatre contradict the tiny stage. It’s a far cry from the sold-out arena tours of the 80s, but with four guitars, two stools, and no backing band, Richard Marx and Rick Springfield coming together to “soft rock the hell out of Detroit” is appropriately understated. Marx and Springfield (each scoring timeless number ones with “Right Here Waiting” and “Jessie’s Girl,” respectively) met in 1988 and, according to Marx, “hit it off immediately.” Attributing his best onstage memories to acoustic shows, he managed to persuade Springfield to join him on a mini-tour in the early half of 2017.
The auditorium is predictably filled with shrieking, inebriated middle-aged women, but almost equally matched by a surprising amount of just as inebriated men – some who seem like THEY dragged their wives there, rather than vice-versa. After beginning the show with duets of “Endless Summer Nights,” “Affair of the Heart,” and an oddly appropriate cover of “Somebody’s Baby,” Rick turns the show over to Richard. Though slightly gravelly from years of performing, his voice rings clear through his various top ten hits. His songs gain new life through his instrumental choices. (“Should’ve Known Better,” cheesy in 1987, practically rises from the ashes as an acoustic song.) Marx has amassed an impressive songwriting resume to accompany his own success, penning hits like Keith Urban’s #1, “Long Hot Summer” and early *NSYNC ballad, “This I Promise You,” which he performs with his own endearing flair. Disappointingly absent from the setlist is “Angelia,” but he brings the house down (as much as one can with a ballad) in closing with “Right Here Waiting.”
Rick is less linear and more story-oriented, singing snippets of old favorites in between tales of playing in Saigon during the Vietnam war, a self-aware performance of “Don’t Talk To Strangers” after briefly mentioning his infamous philandering ways, and jumping into (and getting immediately mobbed by) the audience during “Human Touch”. Prompted by the popular Internet saying: “What if Jessie’s Girl was Stacy’s Mom and her number was 867-5309?,” an unexpected highlight comes in the form of a mashup of the three songs with him even throwing in a bit of “My Sharona” for good measure, all while effortlessly weaving in between riffs. (The public was so caught up in his heartthrob status that they forgot and still forget that Springfield’s always been a very accomplished guitarist.) The night takes a surprisingly emotional turn when he performs “My Father’s Chair” and “4 Billion Heartbeats” in honor of his late father and recently deceased mother. Pushing his mic away, he sings the last few lines without accompaniment, prompting everyone to simultaneously lean in and duck their heads to dry their eyes. He refuses to let you mourn excessively, jumping into a few humorous recent songs and “Jessie’s Girl” before Marx rejoins him onstage. Closing the show with the Beatles’ “All My Loving” seems somewhat disjointed, but lyrically is an appropriate send-off to lifelong fans and newcomers alike.
Rick and Richard know exactly what you want. They know no one goes to 80s concerts wanting to hear new songs. Very little new material is performed or even available for purchase – the only merchandise available is “Right Here Waiting” and “Working Class Dog” shirts. Clocking in at a breezy three hours, it never once feels like slogging through a Soft Cell concert just to hear “Tainted Love.” While the slightly intoxicated crowd is undeniably most animated during “Right Here Waiting” and “Jessie’s Girl,” the lighthearted banter between the aging stars and their interaction with the audience don’t disappoint. Even being squished at the very back row of the auditorium, you’d never once feel like an outsider, which is exactly what they’re going for. Marx says: “I get to play [the audience] songs that I made up in my head, and tell them stories, kid around with them and make them laugh, and hopefully they go home and go, ‘you know what, I really had a great time tonight and I feel like I hung out with him.’ ”
Exiting through the griffin-adorned doors of the iconic building, I admire how gracefully the seemingly-incongruous venue has aged; subtly withstanding the test of time while maintaining the charm that made so many originally fall in love with it.