An ’80s revival with Aquanett
Lakeport Opera House opened in June 2021 after a $1 million renovation, the first of three restored performance spaces in Laconia. The Colonial Theatre and Recycled Percussion’s The CAKE followed later.
“We have the opportunity to turn this part of New Hampshire into a musical hub,” Opera House owner Scott Everett said at the time.
Now in its second season, the 220-seat room is making good on that promise. A packed calendar of events has included Zac Brown Band’s Clay Cook, hitmaker Taylor Dayne and a bevy of tribute acts. Last July the ’80s-centric Aquanett played such a strong show that they were asked to return only two months later. They’ll appear again on Friday, Sept. 9.
The southern New England sextet has been mining the MTV era for over two decades. In a recent phone interview, Matt Macri, who joined Aquanett on bass three years after it formed in 1999, called the effort a labor of love. In the words of a song on their setlist, “it ain’t nothin’ but a good time.”
“We very sincerely enjoy playing this music, and it doesn’t feel like a job,” he said. “We acknowledge that it is a job and we take it very seriously from the business standpoint, but it’s just flat-out fun to do.”
Aquanett started at a time when conventional wisdom held that ’80s rock was passé, replaced by grunge and pretty much anything without bombast and big hair.
“Super heavy metal was the flavor of the moment,” Macri recalled, “so I thought it was kind of daring to do … nobody was really acknowledging that music anymore.”
A teenager in that decade, Macri was a big fan of the music, including a lot of acts that aren’t on Aquanett’s set list. “The stuff I like is a little bit more obscure,” he said. “I like digging a little deeper [and] we don’t get to do those kinds of things. But once in a while we’ll pull out a deeper cut that people will recognize, and that’s always fun.”
The band has seen a few lineup changes over the years. Two founding members remain, guitarist Dave Ward and keyboard player Rick Thompson, and drummer Ed Dupont is a near original. “He joined about 10 months in,” Macri said. Dupont took over for someone who “saw that it was going to explode and knew he wouldn’t be able to handle the rigors.”
Guitarist Michael Abdow came on board in 2008, but the biggest shift happened when Tina Valenti became lead vocalist and the group went from male to female fronted. However, apart from adding more Pat Benatar, Quarterflash and Scandal material to their shows, “the adjustment was very smooth,” Macri said.
“Because she very obviously had what it took to front the band … she handled all the songs with absolutely no problem at all. We said, ‘Where have you been all this time?’ No, it didn’t matter what gender we chose as the singer; it only mattered that the person could handle it, and she could.”
Some tribute acts have written their own homage-like songs, but not Aquanett.
“We all do our own things when time allows, and but as far as the band goes, this is just what we’re all about,” Macri said. Abdow, for example, plays in the band Fates Warning, and recently released his own album, Heart Signal, and Macri does solo gigs as a singer and guitarist.
The group has a varied schedule. Recent gigs included a campground and an all-day SunFest with other tribute acts from their home area. Macri recalled playing an upstate New York show called Harley Rendezvous. “It was pretty outrageous, because for that one weekend every summer bikers took over this resort area and they did whatever they wanted,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “I won’t go into the details.”
The group was surprised by the elegant Laconia opera house when they arrived for their first show there, and are excited to return.
“We’re past the point of dive bars, but we play anywhere we’re wanted,” Macri said. “This place wanted us, and holy cow, it’s very nice.”
Most gratifying was the response they got playing for a crowd so far from their home base.
“We went over really well [even though] we didn’t have any of our local fans there,” Macri said. “It was strictly for brand new folks that hadn’t heard us before and it went fantastic. We were very pleasantly surprised, and from what I understand they were glad that it went so well too. Obviously — they booked us again.”
When: Friday, Sept. 9, 8 p.m.
Where: Lakeport Opera House, 781 Union Ave., Laconia
Tickets: $25 and up at etix.com
Featured photo: Aquanett. Courtesy photo.