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Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham. 21st November, 2017
21/11/17Tonight we’re at Symphony Hall, for a night of classic electronic pop from Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (or OMD, or even if you were there in the 1980’s, OMITD), with their Birmingham show as part of ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ Tour in support of their 13th studio release and first top five album since 1991.
Formed in 1978 by Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys from various local Wirral (Liverpool) groups, OMD debuted as a two piece band at the legendary Eric’s Club in Liverpool. Completing the line up (as they had no drummer at this time) was Winston (a TEAC 4 track tape recorder named after Orwell’s ‘1984’ antihero). Their debut single was released on the Factory Records label in 1979, leading to a support slot with Gary Numan riding high on his first major British tour, and success followed with the release of their debut album Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark in 1980 with single success for ‘Messages’.
Success followed throughout the 1980’s on both sides of the Atlantic, and even a ‘Hollywood Moment’ where ‘If You Leave’ was included on the soundtrack to the movie ‘Pretty In Pink’ which featured a raft of British artists including The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, The Smiths and others. A break-up in 1989 saw McCluskey continue alone with the OMD name, releasing three albums during the 1990’s until 1996 when OMD was retired. The band reformed in 2006 with the ‘classic’ line up of Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphries, Malcolm (Mal) Holmes and Martin Cooper. Holmes left the band in 2013 and was replaced by Stuart Kershaw on Drums. The Punishment of Luxury is their third studio album since reuniting.
Support for this evening is Dublin’s ‘Tiny Magnetic Pets’ formed in 2009 by Paula Gilmer (vocals), Sean Quinn (Keyboards) and Eugene Somers (Percussion), their name coming from a Japanese toy, and their sound heavily influenced by ‘Krautrock’, including Kraftwerk, Classic electropop and of course, Bowie. Championed by the likes of Rusty Egan (Rich Kids, Visage etc) and Neu!’s Michael Rother, they are grabbing some attention in the electronic scene. Opening with All Yesterday’s Tomorrows’ the band play a short set of rather beautiful electronica, ranging from shimmering synth pop to the Germanic. Gilmer’s breathy vocals complement the motorik beats and synths through their set, with some clearly visible influences of Kraftwerk, New Order, and even Editors’ single ‘Papillon’ on ‘We Shine’. Their current album ‘Deluxe/Debris’ is out on Happy Robots Records.
Just after 9:00, the lights go down and the intro music starts with “Art Eats Art’ and dry ice fills the stage, the stage set, fairly stripped back with three risers toward the back of the stage for the two sets of keyboards and drums, and a folding black screen behind each. Cooper, Kershaw and Humphries take their places and as the mist clears McCluskey appears and moves toward the front of the stage to sing ‘Ghost Star’ which starts slowly and builds to a crescendo of clapping, and of course McCluskey’s (Stuart Maconie dubbed ‘Trainee Teacher’) dancing. McCluskey addresses the audience ‘..its good to be back here.. there will be old songs, and there will be new songs and there will be dancing..’ As ‘Isotype’ (a Kraftwerk influenced track from the new album) begins, the crowd are up on their feet and away. McCluskey stands on a monitor and flails his arms around, and gets the crowd clapping along. Out comes the bass and we’re into ‘Messages’ as McCluskey dances around with the bass, playing to each area in the hall, a very engaging performer. ‘You did bring your dancing shoes!… YES!!!!)’
‘Lets see your hands’ as ‘Tesla Girls’ sampled vocal opens the track, McCluskey leading the audience in more clapping. Such is the energy of his performance, he’s already sweating.. its like watching an electronic aerobics workout on the stage, but the audience are joining in too. As the track closes, the bass is lifted high. ‘Yes??… Yes?? encouraging further cheering from the audience. ‘The good news is the bass stops.. Resistance is futile.. follow me’ as we go into ‘History of Modern’ and its catchy synth opening takes hold. Next up we get ‘One More Time’ a song about ‘having your heart broken’.
Prior to the start of the show, out in the lobby a notice board gave fans the chance to vote for a song from three choices, ‘Radio Waves’, ‘She’s Leaving’ and ‘The New Stone Age’ at OMD’s website. ‘Now then, this is democracy at work. If you paid attention there was a vote… you are the only people on the whole tour to choose this song. You’re special!’ McCluskey continues, ‘unfortunately we don’t know how to play it.. if it’s s***, it’s your fault, if its good, its because we’re geniuses’ From the ‘experimental album’ ‘Dazzle Ships we get a great rendition of ‘Radio Waves’.
Humphries takes the vocals for ‘Forever Live and Die’ as McCluskey takes over the keyboards, and works the crowd in a much gentler, but equally effective way. Humphreys remains centre stage for ‘Souvenir’ before returning to his keyboards for ‘Joan of Arc’s opening salvo of feedback and McCluskey getting his groove back on. McCluskey drops the ball on this track, much to the hilarity of the band members, but quickly recovers. ‘It’s been years since I f***** this up’. ‘Maid of Orleans’ follows with more crazy dancing and the strobe lighting in full effect, showing the hyper-energetic McCluskey’s dancing in a series of freeze-frames as he moves around the stage. As the crowd cheers at the end of the track, he takes a moment to get his breath back.
‘Time Zones’, an instrumental gives chance for a brief rest whilst the stage is rearranged to bring the band in a line (a la Kraftwerk) at the front of the stage for ‘Of All The Things We Made’ and ‘What Have We Done’, two much slower songs from the new album. As the stage is quickly cleared again McCluskey is chatting again ‘Abandon all pretence of culture and do some mindless dancing…..That time is now!’ and we’re into the poppy ‘So In Love’ with Cooper’s lush sax solo getting huge cheers from the audience and more dance moves from McCluskey. ‘Locomotion’ comes next, with more working of the crowd by McCluskey, with a bunch of flowers left on stage for him. ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ follows, and then ‘Sailing on The Seven Seas’ and a ‘last chance to dance’ as ‘Enola Gay’ explodes into life and closes the set. As the synth beat runs to a close on autopilot, the band come out to the front of stage for lots of hugs, handshakes and cheers.
The band return for an encore, opening with ‘Walking on The Milky Way’ and ‘If You Leave’ (from ‘Pretty In Pink’), closing with ‘It wouldn’t be an OMD gig if we didn’t do it…it’s the fastest song we’ve got, but it’s the last one and I’m gonna go for it…. I’m fit, can you keep up?’ McCluskey challenges the audience and closes the show with ‘Electricity’.
For an hour and forty minutes, OMD put on a great show of classic electronic tunes from the last thirty-odd years and a lot of newer ones too, which sounded superb in Symphony Hall, with its wonderful (but sometimes unforgiving) acoustics. McCluskey’s energy is astounding, at 58 he’s throwing himself around the stage ‘like no-ones watching’ for most of the set and managing to maintain his vocals while doing so, and engaging with the whole audience as he goes. The tour closes tomorrow in Gateshead, before heading across the Channel to Europe for more dates.
History of the Modern (Part 1)
One More Time
Radio Waves (Audience Vote)
(Forever) Live and Die
Joan of Arc
Maid of Orleans
Time Zones/Of All The Things We Made
What Have We Done
So In Love
The Punishment Of Luxury
Sailing the Seven Seas
Walking on the Milky Way
If You Leave
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 
Architecture & Morality 
Dazzle Ships 
Junk Culture 
The Pacific Age 
Sugar Tax 
History of Modern 
English Electric 
The Punishment of Luxury