HOWARD JONES Live at Indigo2

Featuring Human’s Lib and Dream Into Action

HOWARD JONES is often thought of as the one man musical mastermind of synth-pop but when looked at fully, he’s so much more than that.

Howard Jones has been around since the early part of electronic music. One can argue he was a pioneer of the synths, the first “one man act” to emerge onto the scene and help fortify the ability, variety and importance of synthesized music. From the beginning, he came out with the bouncy and uplifting ‘New Song’ from his ground-breaking debut album Human’s Lib and followed it up with the ever wondering ‘What Is Love?’.

But not stopping there, he had even more success with his sophomore effort of Dream Into Action that spawned the hits ‘Look Mama’, the uplifting ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, ‘No One Is To Blame’ and the philosophical ‘Life In One Day’.

Many a year has passed since those songs first graced the airwaves but on Saturday, November 6th at the London Indigo2, you wouldn’t have known it. This was the setting for the recreation of those two albums that sparked our ears and hearts to the plinkering sounds of keys. And having had the honor to talk to HoJo earlier this year about this exact concert, I definitely was among the most excited in the crowd,anxiously waiting to see what he had so enthusiastically described to me to come to fruition.

There was no opening act, the stage and show was owned solely by Mr. Jones himself and at 8pm sharp, the lights went down and the sound of the crowd swelled up. Opening with Automaton, he hit the ground running. Before us lay the ever familiar layout of half circled synths but a bit more scarce since he now had the help of Robbie Bronnimann (and also the updated look of a Mac) Having gotten licensing permission from Warner Brothers for all his old recordings, the reproduction was amazing. As Howard sang into his ear strapped face mic, it was easy to see this was going to be a special night.

Visuals were a definite importance and we were introduced to a variety, starting with a futuristic looking Howard behind the man himself. Choosing to perform Dream Into Action in its entirety before Human’s Lib, ‘Why Look For The Key’ came next along with a few others filled with brightly colored graphical backdrops before the first special guest was brought out. It would make sense to include the people who had a good amount of influence and measure during the making and success of the first two albums and so, in HoJo’s words “it is a total privilege and pleasure to invite him onto the stage tonight and play along with one of my favorite songs… Mr. Rupert Hine” came walking out. They launched into ‘Look Mama’, and Rupert did his magic on the keys, often looking over to Howard with a huge and seemingly proud grin on his face. It was like a teacher being called back by a former student to a reunion, so very sweet.

Cheers filled the room as he waved goodbye and it was back to HoJo. Filling in space while setting up for the next song, he gave sincere thanks to the crowd and announced how very much he was enjoying doing all these old songs. No surprise there!

A few more tracks from the album brought us to the next special guest; this time the ever entertaining, Jed Hollie. With the sounds of Bounce Right Back starting in the background, he slinked onto the stage in a long trench coat and, with HoJo throwing on his own jacket and coming in for the fun, launched into an acting dance of playful, mysterious satire that saw Jed helping HoJo apply dark sunglasses and then together mime dance moves of the synchronized robotic nature. It was hilarious, though Howard had to eventually return to his keys, leaving Jed to continue on his own. He was extremely limber and agile and one could easily see how he had been an amazing addition to HoJo’s shows back in the day.

Finishing the set with a three punch round, we saw ‘Life In One Day’ given a very gospel-like ending with Howard harmonizing soulfully with back up singers Lizzie Deane and John Gibbons, followed by ‘Like To Get To Know You Well’, and ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ which was really enlivened by saxophonist Rob Hughes, before the stage emptied out and we were allowed an intermission to sort out our heads and come down off our high for a breather.

But before long, the lights went down again and we heard the wonderfully thrilling ‘China Dance’, a great way to start the second half. It was followed up by ‘Conditioning’ and it was obvious that this album was going to go down as well as DIA. Often Howard would sing into his mic with his eyes closed in pleasure, almost as if he was being transported back to the ’80s. He truly was fully enjoying this trip down memory lane and we were all too happy to walk it with him.

Probably the coolest graphics for this second half belonged to ‘Equality’ where we saw the faces of two totally different cultured men eventually meld into one. Quite fitting for the song’s intentions.

As mentioned earlier, both albums had a number of hits that would expectedly bring great singalongs but when ‘Hide And Seek’ was performed amidst a soft luminous blue glow, the voices joined in and what ensued was probably the most tender yet goose bumping evoked moment when, not even prompted, we took over the song, strongest in the sentimental chorus.

Possibly the funniest moment was when Howard had to revise a few of the lyrics of title track ‘Human’s Lib’ and laughingly apologize for the “go to bed with a hundred woman or men” part. It just showed his relaxed, humorous side that was prevalent through out the evening. He was quite comfortable in all, especially since, unlike the ’80s, he obviously had more reliable equipment this time around!

The show came to a glorious end when, announcing he only had one song left it finished how HoJo’s career started. ‘New Song’ saw him out front and center, Yamaha strapped over his shoulder and joyfully playing with the youthfulness never really gone or forgotten. I doubt there was a single person not dancing and clapping in unison to the infectious tune! But too short for our tastes, it was quickly over and the band gathered into one for the farewell bow. But before they could take it, Howard was presented with a massive bouquet of flowers, his face glowing with joy. It was the perfect ending to a night that had had so much anticipation, preparation, and energy… ..or was it?

We weren’t ready to let things end but seeing as how there were no more stones left unturned in terms of music, were we going to get an encore? If we all had our ways we were and the claps, cheers and poundings continued until a pleasantly surprised and moved Howard came out to enlighten us with an acoustic version of ‘New Song’, marked only with him and his Yamaha. Brilliant!

And then it truly was over but for someone who’s first concert ever was Howard Jones but during his third album, this was a moment to be remembered as I’m sure anyone in that crowd would agree

Text and photos by Lori Tarchala
23rd November 2010

OMD + VILLA NAH Live At Brighton Dome

To a city by the sea

It has been three years since OMD last played at the Brighton Dome. In 2007 the reunited original quartet of Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes were in the midst of the second leg of a magical tour that would see them perform their seminal Architecture and Morality album in its entirety, plus a fairly comprehensive selection of hit singles.

Fast-forward to 2010 and the presence of that career-defining album continues to permeate much of the opening show’s set on the History Of Modern tour. Singer Andy McCluskey has even gone so far as to boldly proclaim that the accompanying new album as his best collection of songs since this hugely creative period in OMD’s history.

Admittedly the reviews of the new album have generally been favourable and, whilst it’s unlikely that OMD will enjoy the kind of career renaissance that Gary Numan enjoyed a decade ago, the new opus certainly ticks many boxes, even if it doesn’t quite hit the heights of yore. Interestingly enough, the last time that McCluskey toured with new OMD material was with Numan as support on the Liberator tour in 1993.

So where do OMD fit in amongst the resurged electronic acts in 2010? Their influence is certainly prevalent amongst a new breed of synthpop stars such as La Roux and Little Boots, while there are two other significant acts with a definite McCluskey and Humphreys DNA imprint that could signify a changing of the guard in the near future. The first of these is brilliant Brighton band, Mirrors, who are providing the support in European territories, and whose suit-clad presence in the audience has been noted.

Elsewhere, Villa Nah, the duo from Finland, provide the support on the UK leg of the tour, having previously been commissioned to remix OMD’s ‘If You Want It’ single. Showcasing tracks from their critically acclaimed debut album Origin,

Juho Paolosmaa and Tomi Hyypp¡ certainly wear their Synth Britannia influences on their sleeves. ‘Remains of Love’ has a Numan-esque feel to it, while ‘Some Kind of Dream’ is the sound of A Flock Of Seagulls segueing into OMD. They also air a new track, ‘Lights Out’, which hints at some early Blancmange. While some of the influences are obvious, these are channelled into something fresh and inspiring, and their sparse yet inventive melodies go down well with the south coast crowd. The Helsinki two-piece also seem genuinely surprised and touched when stand-out tracks ‘like Ways to Be’ are recognised, and it’s a shame that their set isn’t longer.

For OMD it is an evening of mixed fortunes. Following the career-referencing instrumental track ‘History Of Modern (Parts III and IV)’ the quartet launch into the first of several new tracks: the Simon Cowell-scolding ‘New Babies: New Toys’, with McCluskey aggressively hitting the notes on his Fender bass in tandem with an acerbic vocal.

Set stalwart ‘Messages’ follows, with Holmes crucially missing his cue at the start. The band are clearly under-rehearsed and displaying some opening show nerves, but the on-stage problems (including forgotten lyrics and the failure of the visuals) don’t detract from what is a very enjoyable show.

Arguably the new album is a hit-and-miss affair, but thankfully it is the gems that grace the set tonight. ‘History Of Modern (Part I)’ continues to solidify its reputation as a modern OMD classic with its acutely observed lyrics and memorable synth refrain, even if it threatens to morph into ‘Ring The Bells’ by James at times.

The beautiful ‘New Holy Ground’, which sounds like the missing link betweenDazzle Ships‘ ‘Silent Running’ and brilliant B-side ‘The Avenue’, arrives after the rapturously-received ‘Maid Of Orleans’ with metronomic footsteps eerily reverberating around the historic arena. And this is followed by ‘Green’, a mid-90s track steeped in yearning melancholia that has been rescued from the vaults by Humphreys. Forthcoming single ‘Sister Marie Says’, and close relative of ‘Enola Gay’, sounds great in a live setting, with Holmes, the sadly under-used drummer on the new album, giving the track some added bite.

The 23-track set contains few surprises and is loaded with the hit singles that most audiences have come to expect in recent years. However, there is one notable exception: For the first time in the best part of 30 years, they dust off ‘Bunker Soldiers’ from their debut album. For someone who never saw OMD in their heyday, it is a real treat.

The biggest disappointment of the night is reserved for the encore when they pair clunky single ‘If You Want It’ with ‘Electricity’, but largely the show has been a triumph in the face of technical adversity – “We’ve still had a f*cking good time!” declares a defiant McCluskey towards the end.

By Barry Page
6th November 2010