Sunday at Los Angeles’s Fonda Theatre, “Weird Al” Yankovic, the Go-Go’s’ Jane Wiedlin, Tenacious D with Sarah Silverman, Deap Vally, and members of Slipknot, Taking Back Sunday, Velvet Revolver, Steel Panther, 5 Seconds of Summer, Filter, and Anthrax came together for “Strange ’80s” — a benefit concert for the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund to help musicians and music business professionals in medical need. All the participating artists had a blast-from-the-past performing hits of the 1980s for a totally awesome cause, but interestingly, the raddest cover choices came from actors who weren’t even alive in the ’80s: Finn Wolfhard, the 14-year-old breakout darling of Netflix’s ’80s-themed Stranger Things, and 20-year-old 13 Reasons Why star Dylan Minnette.
While most of the older artists on the “Strange ’80s” bill favored mainstream hits by the likes of Prince, U2, Journey, John Cougar Mellencamp, and Bon Jovi, Wolfhard went for deeper college-rock cuts — cranking out raw, ramshackle covers of the Pixies’ 1988 Surfer Rosa track “Where Is My Mind?” and New Order’s 1983 Power, Corruption & Lies classic “Age of Consent” with his equally unpolished but enthusiastic coed teenage band, Calpurnia. (Calpurnia also covered Weezer’s “El Scorcho,” which Wolfhard admitted was “cheating,” since that song actually came out in 1996, but since the actor wasn’t even born until 2002, we’ll let that chronological miscalculation slide).
Later, Minnette hit the Fonda stage (which was flanked by wall-size cassette tapes and towering Aqua-Net cans) with his indie-pop buzz band Wallows, charming the crowd with a surprisingly credible cover of the Smiths’ “This Charming Man” and a blistering version of the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.”
Other highlights of this mixtape-inspired greatest-hits revue included Deap Valley’s bluesy garage-rock covers of Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” and Prince’s “Kiss”; Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, Anthrax’s Scott Ian, and Meat Loaf’s powerhouse-vocalist daughter Pearl Aday leading audience sing-alongs of Prince’s “1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy” before banging their heads to Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye”; Tenacious D quarreling with Sarah Silverman over her controversial use of the word “ass” in Huey Lewis and the News’s usually PG-rated “Heart of Rock ’n’ Roll”; and Weird Al delivering surprisingly straightforward and unexpectedly punk-rock renditions of Devo’s “Girl U Want” and Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309.” (Wiedlin, joking that she couldn’t figure out which ’80s cover songs to perform, opted to just do the Go-Go’s’ “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat” with her new band, Elettrodomestico; no one in the audience seemed to mind.)
At the end of the night, after a fake-out intro of USA for Africa’s “We Are the World,” Wolfhard — who also emceed the event — requested that the house band play Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” — and then the sweet child did his best impromptu Axl impression while Sugarcult’s Marko DeSantis and Anberlin’s Stephen Christian hoisted him onto their shoulders.
Side note: The evening’s other finale number was a cover of the Arrows/Joan Jett favorite “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” but considering that Weird Al was in attendance, it was a total missed opportunity that the all-stars didn’t sing “I Love Rocky Road” instead…
The Sweet Relief Musicians Fund was founded in 1993 by singer-songwriter Victoria Williams after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; a benefit compilation organized by her friends and comprising covers of her songs, Sweet Relief, eased her medical debt, thus inspiring her to pay it forward and help other ailing musicians.