Erasure / Vic 20

Hammersmith Apollo, London - 30 May, 2003

"Retro-inspired entertainment with a large dose of kitsch and sleaze"

I decided to go to this gig on a whim. I must have been in a frivolous mood since I'd stopped buying Erasure stuff after the debut album. Still, I saw them a few times in the early 80s. An appearance at the Marquee club (only their second gig ever) was particularly memorable. Since then, they've risen to top-of-the-charts global stardom and, more lately, their star has been in decline with their last album Love Boat barely emerging in the UK. I was slightly taken aback with the 26 ticket price but told myself (firmly) it would be good fun. And for the most part it was.

Having caught Vic 20 before and getting somewhat worn down by their irrepressible tweeness at last year's Mute Irregular #9 event, I was cautious. But I have to say that not only were they perfect support to Erasure (the homage to Vince Clarke was apparent from the get go last time), they got a sizable proportion of the Apollo audience warmed up nicely, and they were less grating this time around. I did have slight concerns that they might have squeezed me into mindless submission with their Casio VL Tone tactics, but I'm pretty sure that some of the newer material shows a noticeable progression.

Thankfully, the tempo on many of these has eased off a little and although there was plenty of cute ass bobbing and cheesy smiles from the feminine half of this duo, these more thoughtful pieces were quite engaging at times. But, let's not loose sight of the fact that they were both wearing US air force uniforms (hmm nice!) and most of the songs were about texting your friends (I kid you not!) and the like there's little fear that Vic 20 will be giving Nick Cave a run for his money for a while yet.

Come Erasure, and the first point of reassurance was Andy Bell s voice. I'd caught them on a Top of The Pops 2 special a few weeks previously when Bell was performing some live vocals. Apart from the alarmingly heroin-chic look of his panda eyes, his voice was pretty dreadful. Tonight, however, he was on top form and as impressive as ever I've heard him. The stage was set up nicely as a cross between a Victorian boudoir and a 1950s semi complete with back wall, lamps, furniture and doors which opened to the backstage area by which they entered and left the stage. True to camp form, Bell walked on wearing full Victorian garb (a lady s of course!). Even though I'm well used to seeing very little in the way of live music being performed at the type of gigs DSO covers, even I was surprised at just how little live music there was on some of the tracks. Since Andy Bell sings (supported by two well-chosen female backing vocalists) and nothing more, it is left to just Vince Clarke to provide the live music. On one song I counted just three live notes from a synthesizer! And on at least one other there was barely audible infrequent strumming on an acoustic guitar. All the rest was on a backing track.

But the technicalities of exactly how Erasure achieved their huge hi NRG sound were irrelevant on a night like this. The audience was a peculiar mixture of young, middle-aged and older, straight and gay; but all shared a sense of fun and as long as Erasure delivered the hits everyone would be happy. And the hits came thick and fast. Everything from the first album to the last - it was great to hear some of the early stuff live again after so many years, only the largely ill judged covers from their latest album Other People's Songs failed to sustain the interest or enthusiasm. Otherwise this was an evening of indulgent entertainment. From the on-stage costume changes to the sing-along audience, this was a gathering of like-minded folk in their element. For me, it made for a diverting change from the usual gig circuit but I still don't expect to buy another Erasure release or spend another twenty six quid to see them live. But there's no denying they put on a great show.

Rob Dyer