OMD - Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships Live - Royal Albert Hall, London 09/05/16

OMD – Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships Live – Royal Albert Hall, London 09/05/16

Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships, from 1981 and 1983 respectively, are the commercial polar opposites in Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s catalogue.  Their third and fourth albums, the former boasted three Top 5 singles, while the latter had just the one Top 40 hit and was a brave move away from their established radio-friendly pop.

Nonetheless, over the years, Dazzle Ships has revealed itself to be an experimental masterpiece and a true favourite of many an OMD connoisseur.  Due to the uncommercial nature of many of its tracks, a lot of the songs from the album rarely or never appear in live shows and therefore there is a huge demand to see the record performed in its entirety here at a filled-to-capacity Royal Albert Hall.

OMD, though, have thrown out the rule book of ‘full album’ gigs as the show starts not with Dazzle Ships’ opener ‘Radio Prague’, but instead with its almost-title track ‘Dazzle Ships, Parts II, III & VII’.  ‘ABC Auto Industry’ sees the four band members with a semaphore flag each and not touching any instruments.  So far, so rock’n’roll; mentors Kraftwerk would be proud.  The album continues in random order, with the applause long and loud after each track, there is a true sense of ‘Never thought I’d see this’ in the air.  Singer Andy McCluskey jokes that the songs certainly didn’t go down this well in  1983.

‘Silent Running’ and ‘This Is Helena’ are played for the first time ever – they didn’t even feature in a special Dazzle Ships show at the Museum Of Liverpool 18 months ago.  McCluskey hasn’t even picked up his usual bass guitar yet, instead playing electric guitar on several of the tracks.  The hit ‘Genetic Engineering’, surely one of the most inventive and unusual singles ever to reach the Top 20, is received rapturously, as is its follow-up, ‘Telegraph’, while ‘Time Zones’, a track originally made up purely of speaking clock recordings in different languages, has elements of 2013’s ‘Please Remain Seated’, which is ironic given that large sections of the audience spend the entire show on their feet.

A truly unexpected ‘4-Neu’ (B-side of ‘Genetic Engineeing’) is followed by three even more unexpected tracks from 1980’s eponymous debut: ‘Julia’s Song’,‘Almost’ and live staple ‘Messages’ before a break in proceedings for the band to prepare for the second full album of the night.

Another curveball arrives when the band begin the Architecture & Morality set, after an intro of the title track, with its final song, the elegiac ‘Sealand’.  Again, the album is represented with its songs in a different order, with the three huge hits gathered together towards the end.  Paul Humphreys takes over lead vocals for a majestic ‘Souvenir’, while McCluskey returns to the spotlight again for the Joan Of Arc’ and ‘Maid Of Orleans’, before ‘The Beginning and the End’ brings this section of the show to a close.  But wait: There is still time to throw in a euphoric version of debut single ‘Electricity’ and a stomping ‘Enola Gay’ before the band, completed by original keyboard player/multi-instrumentalist Martin Cooper and stand-in drummer Stu Kershaw (original drummer Malcolm Holmes has sadly been unwell of late) leave the stage.  McCluskey explains that Kershaw had to learn two-thirds of the songs from scratch for the show; he does an excellent job on an extremely varied and challenging set.

The band return to play the night’s only post-1983 track, ‘History Of Modern Part I’ (from 2010’s ‘comeback’ album), and a truly momentous closer, the ‘missing track’ from the earlier Dazzle Ships set, the stately ‘The Romance of the Telescope’.  It works so well as a closing track and sends a very appreciative audience home happy.

OMD arguably don’t get the plaudits they deserve for the commercial risks that they took, especially in the early 1980s.  Another live ‘special’ showcasing the first two albums would be more than welcome.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.