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