Sunday, October 9, 2011

OMD concert review: Anaheim

Photo by Kelly Swift
A version of my review originally appeared at

Toward the end of a spectacular House of Blues concert in Anaheim on Thursday, Andy McCluskey (pictured, left) sang the “Locomotion” line, “I can’t stand still.” Truer words couldn’t have come from mouth.
Over the course of a 100-minute set, the lanky lead vocalist/bassist/keyboardist for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was energy personified, jumping around the stage, doing interpretive dances and constantly connecting with enthusiastic fans. 
The pioneering Liverpool electro-pop quartet, also known as OMD, initially formed in 1978. They notched a dozen top 20 U.K. singles (a handful crossed over to our pop and dance charts), plus several gold or platinum albums there before ending in 1996.
Four years ago, the original lineup reunited for the first time in 19 years to tour England and Germany . A gig at London ’s Hammersmith Apollo was documented on the fine Architecture & Morality & More DVD+CD (Eagle Vision). 
McCluskey said at the time that the band got back together because he felt they were often overlooked among some of the ‘80s new wave era’s flashier acts like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club. The early Kraftwerk-inspired OMD records were highly experimental, using tape recorded sounds, drum machines and synths like few others.
The sold out O.C. show encompassed all periods of OMD, including last year’s exceptional comeback effort History of Modern (Bright Antenna), which reconnected their old sound in a modern way. New concert collection Live in Berlin came out earlier this week and is available via iTunes or Another studio album is also in the works.
Ominous instrumental “Dazzle Ships” launched the proceedings. Then McCluskey, singer/keyboardist Paul Humphries, keyboardist Martin Cooper and drummer Malcolm Holmes delved into the placid “Stanlow,” off 1980’s Organisation. 
Noting some bewildered looks from casual fans in front of the stage, McCluskey said, “don’t look scared. We said when we came back, we’d play weird stuff and party songs” (a reference to two equally impressive March shows at the Music Box in LA).
The latter was fulfilled through the upbeat and sprightly keyboard sounds of “Messages” and an ebullient “Tesla Girls.” Humphreys’ lush synth work anchored the heavenly “She’s Leaving,” an early highlight. Kicking the intensity level up several notches, the title track from Modern got both McCluskey and the fans amped up. 
“If You Leave,” OMD’s big hit from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, saw Cooper do an actual (not triggered or sampled); McCluskey handled that emotional vocals and final high note admirably. Humphreys gave his musical partner a much needed breather by taking the reigns on a stately “(Forever) Live and Die” and floating-in-the-clouds vibe of “Souvenir.” There was some annoying chatter among concertgoers during the subdued ballad “Statues,” but everyone’s attention returned for “Green,” another new percolating song where McCluskey went into the crowd. 
Afterward the lead singer – always quick with a quip – said to Humphreys, “I’ve got to stop doing that. It’s supposed to be a touching song about mental illness, but always turns into a” [grope fest]. 
Never losing steam, the band revved up for infectious current single “Sister Mary Says.” The 52-year-old McCluskey got yet another onstage workout in (sure beats the gym; among ‘80s frontmen, he rivals Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan) and urged people in the upper level at House of Blues on their feet.
A giddy “Locomotion” brought back memories of the first time I heard OMD on the 1980s Graham Dean-hosted, syndicated British radio chart countdown program “Rock Over London.” The dance party continued with set closer “Enola Gay.”
Featured among the encores was the uplifting “Walking on the Milky Way” (McCluskey ad-libbed the telling line “sometimes you can recreate your youth at Disneyland”), propulsive Humphreys sung “Secret” and concluding where it all began – the quick-paced first OMD single released on Factory Records, “Electricity.”
It was an apt description for the show as well.

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