The Spirit of ’86 is alive and well, and fully embodied by Mike Peters. Peters, frontman and chief songwriter of earnest ’80s Welsh alt-punk rockers The Alarm, brought out the big guns (all sixty-eight of them) for a rousing solo show at Crossroads in Garwood, a venue he’s played a number of times over the years, on September 10.
Peters was celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the live satellite broadcast of The Alarm’s appearance at UCLA in Southern California on April 12, 1986, by replicating that evening’s entire set (plus a few other Alarm favorites) in a show dubbed Mike Peters Presents: The Alarm Spirit of ’86 Tour.
(Punk) Rockin’ and Rollin’
Like a latter-day punk pinball wizard, Peters practically never stood still during his 90-minute set as he moved somewhat manically between the three microphones placed across the Crossroads stage, sometimes even during the same line of a song.
Brandishing a white Auden acoustic/electric guitar with THE VIGILANTE stenciled on it in all caps, and sporting a colorful shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “We came, we saw, we destroyed” over his right shoulder, Peters instantly engaged the SRO (standing room only) Crossroads crowd, who often sang along in solidarity to anthemic tracks like “Blaze of Glory,” “Spirit of ’76,” “Sixty Eight Guns,” and “Strength.”
“This is the sound and the fury of The Alarm!” Peters exclaimed before diving into a frenzied “Where Were You When the Storm Broke?” — also inviting members of the audience onstage to sing along and toss playing cards into the crowd (a longstanding Peters tradition). After the song finished, one male patron leaned over to speak in the singer’s ear before being escorted offstage. Peters joked to the crowd, “You can tell he’s from New Jersey — he wants to have a chat onstage!”
In addition to triggering bass-and-drums backing tracks via his pedalboard, Peters proffered some searing electric tones on his Auden guitar, occasionally stomping on the foot pedal for the bass drum boasting the familiar red-poppy Alarm logo that was placed in front of his center-stage microphone.
Behind the Music
Between songs, Peters engaged the audience with tales of his first embarrassing meeting with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols in 1976 and what happened back at The Alarm’s hotel after their 1986 UCLA performance, reinforcing the personal touch that has endeared him to New Jersey audiences for decades.
In an exclusive interview, Best of NJ sat down with Peters an hour before the show in his upstairs backstage dressing room at Crossroads to discuss his ongoing love of Jersey crowds, navigating the streaming era, and what Bruce Springsteen song he’d most like to cover.
Best of NJ: The Garden State seems to love you. Why do you think that is?
Mike Peters: I think there are a lot of roots we’ve laid down in the community here in New Jersey. When the band [i.e, The Alarm] came to America for the first time, we played all the colleges, like Rutgers. That was a highlight I’ll never forget. We did some amazing shows there.
We didn’t just play a gig — we became interactive with everybody. When the show was over, we’d play soccer matches against some of the fans in the sports halls, and became friends with the teams that put on the shows — the entertainment committees. We’re still friends with all of those people today. I think that interaction with people spins into a deeper relationship, and spills out of the immediacy of it as well. It makes people say, “Hey — those guys are real.” People know us as real people, and we’ve got a lot of friends in Jersey. We’ve got family here.
Best of NJ: Jersey fans are very loyal.
Peters: Very much so.
Best of NJ: I’ve seen a lot of familiar faces downstairs. A lot of the same people come to your shows. That’s got to feel good.
Peters: Absolutely. That’s one of the values of playing music that appeals to everyone in life. I try to write about the possibilities of loyalty, and I try to inspire that as well — for people to be loyal in their own lives. You get a lot of rewards for that.
We live in fickle times — pick things up, put them down, discard them. You want to walk through life with things that are always going to be there, even if it’s your music. Songs from your past help you through the times where maybe you lose your job, or your relationship breaks down.
Best of NJ: A lot of your music is available through streaming services. How do you feel about people accessing your music that way?
Peters: Well, I’ve always thought that the medium is the message. If people get to hear one of my songs through any medium, I’m happy. I believe in and trust my talent enough that I’ll make a connection through that music that turns into something more than just a passing listen. I hope that somebody who hears my music in any form is intrigued enough to want to dig deeper.
Sometimes with the streaming element, you’re a little bit removed from where you are as an artist. You don’t necessarily have a lot of control over it. The Alarm on Spotify, for instance — the photographs are a little out of date, and the bio isn’t that up to date. But trying to unravel how to make that work for a whole community and for those people who just found out about the band — that’s a challenge, and it’s still something I work on. I’m fairly obsessive about the band myself, and how it’s presented. That goes back to complete control — The Clash, and punk rock, and only being about the music.
Best of NJ: As the content creator, you control the message so that when we see something with your name on it, we know there’s a certain standard coming our way. You’re giving us your own seal of approval as an artist.
Peters: We always try to put a certain level of quality in all of our releases. And I get very involved in the artwork. I’ve always been that way as an artist from Day 1, to make sure the stamp runs all the way through from when you see the singer onstage to when you pick up a booklet inside a CD. It has a connection.
Best of NJ: Our final question is: Obviously, one of New Jersey’s favorite sons is Bruce Springsteen. If you were to perform a Springsteen song, which one would you do?
Peters: Oooh. Well, right now, since we’re thinking about 1986, I’m thinking about the Born in the U.S.A. album, because that was still huge at that particular time. I love [the song] “Born in the U.S.A.” I sing bits of it sometimes. Talk about the time [pumps right fist in the air and sings with a slight rasp]: “Born in the U.S.A.!” (chuckles) But I also like “Stolen Car” — that’s one of my favorite Springsteen songs, from [1980’s] The River.
Best of NJ: Ah, a fellow River fan. Bruce just did those complete River shows out at MetLife Stadium in August, and I was able to see him do it at the Prudential Center earlier this year [on January 31].
Peters: I got to play with him at the Light of Day concert in New Jersey [at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park on January 18, 2014]. That was a real honor.
Best of NJ: Well, you’re an honorary New Jersey son.
Peters: I think if anyone from New Jersey has been to North Wales, they’ll know where I live there is a bit like Asbury Park! We’re twins, almost!
All photos courtesy Krista Mettler