“I promise we won’t leave it ANOTHER 31 years before we play here again,” says Andy McCluskey, referring to OMD‘s last visit to De Montfort Hall back in 1986.
“I doubt we’ll even be here in 31 years,” rebukes his longtime partner in crime, Paul Humphreys.
“I will“, replies Andy, “I might be just a skeleton by then, being controlled merely by strings, but you know what? I’ll still be dancing like a madman!”
And I totally believe that. Some 26 years ago, when I was but a ‘yoof’, I had attended Manchester’s ‘Cities In The Park’ festival, as a huge fan of The Wonder Stuff. Immediately before the Stuffies came on though, OMD were due to play. I liked the band but I wasn’t really expecting them to be much cop live, anticipating that they would be standing motionless behind their synthesisers for the duration of their stay. How wrong I was, as the band more formally known as Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark proceeded to deliver one of the most impassioned, energetic sets I had ever seen. Quite simply, they blew me away.
Tonight was different, of course, because I already knew how exhilarating they are as a live entity, but hold up, no, they still blew me away, because tonight… well, tonight they were even better!
Now, I don’t know if I’m going a bit mutton in my old age, but since covering Squeeze at this very venue only a matter of days ago, I can hear roughly bugger all of the pre-show mixtapes above the crowd noise. Not that the latter were too loud or anything, but I’m sincerely hoping that said tapes were just being aired on a much lower level tonight! Thankfully this evening’s support, Ireland’s Tiny Magnetic Pets, laid this particular fear to rest with their Saint Etienne tinged, largely alluring fusion of pop and lizard lounge jazz. While I will give credit for what was essentially a nicely polished coffee table sound, I would have to say the opposite for the utterly nauseating lighting, which was snapping relentlessly on the one and three like a speed-addled paparazzo. I was far from the only one forced to look away, hide underneath my coat or basically nuzzle in the crevices of whatever strangers passed by in front of me as they made their way to their seats. This was a shame, for it detracted from what was otherwise a fine warm-up act.
No such issues with the main event, of course, whose light show was spectacular, green strobes initially partially hiding McCluskey, arms crossed and clutched close to his chest over his shoulders, giving the impression of an almost Godlike figure. Brief snippets of ‘Art Eats Art‘ and ‘La Mitrailleuse‘ from the latest album play teasingly, before we’re off and away with the much-lauded ‘Ghost Star‘ from said long-player, followed by instant classic ‘Isotype‘, and McCluskey is cutting some jerky, animated shapes reminiscent of a demented chicken trying desperately to escape from the battery farm. “New ones and old ones tonight,” he says, and the band launch into the ebullient ‘Messages‘, which sets the tone for the rest of the show. Rarely have I seen an act so effortlessly win their audience over in such a short space of time, to the extent that the whole place is awash with arms aloft and mouthing every word, not just to the older classics, but also to ones that probably feel like they were written a couple of days ago on the back of a fag packet to Messrs McCluskey and Humphreys.
Around a quarter of the way into the set, we get the quite astonishing trilogy of ‘Souvenir‘, ‘Maid Of Orleans‘ and ‘Joan Of Arc‘, which is rightly met with tumultuous applause, so fervent that McCluskey himself is forced to reciprocate by clapping the audience. He did actually seem genuinely bewildered by the love being shown tonight, and if ever there was something that shows the dexterity of the man, he informs us towards the end of the show that he was told, at 6:30pm today, that he has septic tonsillitis, but clearly didn’t want to let his fans down, and as a result, there is never any suggestion that this little setback is going to result in anyone doing anything by halves. Pretty much all of the well-known classics are given a dusting down, bar ‘Talking Loud And Clear‘ and ‘Pandora’s Box‘, and allegedly there was a fan vote for ‘The New Stone Age‘ to be played for the first time on this tour (“We haven’t practised this in ages, so if it’s great, we’ll be geniuses, and if it’s shit, well, it’s your own fault!“), which turns out to be rather splendid. Plus, the onstage banter between the pair of them (the whole band, even) makes you root for them, as they come across as some of the nicest guys in the business.
So, nearly 40 years on, OMD have seemingly lost none of that capacity to surprise. They certainly caught our writer Tim Russell by surprise, who rates The Punishment Of Luxury as amongst the best albums of the year. For my money, he’s spot on with that assessment. Album of the year? It’s up there. Gig of the year? Absolutely.
PHOTO CREDITS: Paul Reno.