Monday, October 3, 2011

Erasure concert review: Hollywood

Mute Records
A version of my review originally appeared at

More than four years have passed since Erasure last toured. Over that time period, music mastermind (and Depeche Mode founder) Vince Clarke reunited with Alison Moyet for a well-received 2008 Yaz tour and live album. Meanwhile, singer Andy Bell put out his second solo release, the dance-leaning “Non-Stop,” and had a minor club hit.

“Tomorrow’s World,” Erasure’s first studio effort in four years on Mute Records, is due out Oct. 11. The veteran synth-pop duo modernized its sound with younger fellow Englishman Frankmusik, AKA Vincent Frank, handling production. Most of the nine tracks are upbeat and gravitate toward nightclubs, with less immediate pop hooks.

Inside the sold out Hollywood Palladium show on Saturday, the stage set comprised three silver metal gargoyles (one hid Clarke’s synth/computer setup), two large leaning metal cages (perhaps representing burned out building shells) and a backdrop that looked like a flower-shaped wind turbine.

Clad in matching red sparkling dress jackets, Clarke and Bell (the singer sported a Trojan warrior-type hat) plus two female backing vocalists launched the 90-minute set with a rarity: billowy slow build ballad “Sono Luminus,” off 1995’s self-titled CD.

Next, the luxurious “Always” went down a storm. Before “When I Start to Break It All Down” - the first of five new songs that received polite reactions from the crowd - Bell said some of the recording happened nearby, where Frankmusik's studio is based. “Blue Savannah,” with its alluring piano flourishes and frolicsome synths, found Bell merrily sashaying across the stage (he'd repeat it later).

The singer’s deep sonorous timbre and audience participation on “Drama,” helped the tune live up to its title. “You’ve Got to Save Me Right Now” built into a frenzied fervor, yet seemed disjointed though. Most songs (even the midtempo, slower ones) contained boosted, club-ready rhythm tracks that were ill-fitting at times.

But it wasn’t too detrimental since Bell’s dynamic, nearly operatic range can cut through almost anything and the backing vocal support added welcome depth. Despite touring the States for a month, the flamboyant frontman showed no signs of fatigue.

Quieter selections, where synths bubbled under the surface, tended to fare best. The lush “Breathe” was a prime example. Others included a tender, stripped-down “Alien” (from 2000’s ill-fated “Loveboat”) that found the performers  seated onstage and Clarke on acoustic guitar. Then there was the gentle “Hideaway,” about a gay teen coming out to his parents - still poignant after 24 years.

Following the forceful frenzy of “Love to Hate You,” the new Hi-NRG dance/pop vibe in “A Whole Lotta Love” could've given Lady Gaga a run for the money. Signature Erasure hit single “Chains of Love” was freshened up by the ladies’ vocal intro and a subtle synth sound tweaks by Clarke. He returned to acoustic guitar as the ‘80s dance party kicked into high gear for a loose ‘n’ limber “Sometimes,” heightened by Bell’s rich delivery.

A stained glass image appeared on the backdrop, as Clarke let Bell trigger the opening notes of “Oh L’Amour” amid the encores, and Bell wailed with abandon like all those decades hadn’t passed. Erasure remains in a league all their own.

Warming up the crowd in Hollywood was electronic dance whiz Frankmusik, whose sophomore album “Do it in the AM” dropped last week on Cherrytree/Interscope. A dance chart success in the U.K. and Ireland, he has done remixes for Gaga, Pet Shop Boys, Nelly Furtado, collaborated with Far East Movement (they return the favor on the “AM” title track) and acclaimed British electro-pop sensation Ellie Goulding.

Performing with a live drummer, female keyboardist/backing vocalist and his logo in red neon, Frank’s enthusiasm during the fun and loud 35-minute set was contagious. The thumping “No Bueno” mashup included brief snippets of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?”

Moving straight into each song with barely a pause, he jumped around the stage and tried to get the audience engaged, but it was a fruitless endeavor. The pulsating “Brake Lights” inserted more snippets (The Trammps, Phil Collins & Philip Bailey), as did the dramatic “Struck By Lightning” (Kings of Leon).

The soulful “Wrecking Ball” had a Eurythmics vibe. Frank was then joined onstage by LA singer Colette Carr, who reprised her appearance on the bouncy “No I.D.” from his album. Finally, the hedonistic “AM” found him engaging in some quick raps.

Setlist: Erasure, Hollywood Palladium, Oct. 1, 2011
Main set: Sono Luminus/Always/When I Start to Break it All
Down/Blue Savannah/Fill Us With Fire/Breathe of Life/Drama/You’ve Got to Save
Me/Ship of Fools/Chorus/Breathe/Victim of Love/Alien/Hideaway/Love to Hate
You/I Lose Myself/A Whole Lotta Love/Chains of Love/Sometimes/A Little Respect
Encore: Oh L’Amour/Stop!

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