The Human League/Trademark

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London - 14 December 2004

"Measured on the entertainment scale this was a definite 9/10"

[Human League ticket]Trademark

My second chance to witness synth poppers Trademark. Early I Start Counting and OMD are still my main personal checkpoints of reference, but such comparisons are to do these three lads a disservice. For they are very much their own outfit, irrespective of their influences. Most remarkably, excluding a couple of the newer songs, most of their set sounds like it could have been lifted directly from a 1981 gig.

This isn't retro electro (a la Ladytron) this is just 80s electronic music pure and simple. It just happens to have been timeshifted to the present day. And its simplicity that gives Trademark much of [Trademark]their edge. With the emphasis on melody, very English vocal lines, and a well measured amount of self-deprecating humour, there's a great deal to like about this impressive band. Even the partisan audience of fourty-somethings here to worship at the altar of the League seemed to enjoy every moment of the set. A joy from start to finish.

The Human League

I only own the first two Human League albums on CD, plus the compilation of material from its predecessor The Future. I do have other stuff on vinyl from the Dare period - but that's it. Yet, as a result of those first two albums, The Human League remain one of the most important electronic music acts of all time. It also demonstrates the limits of my affection for this legendary UK act. Therefore, tonight could have been just one big mistake, since only one original member remains and they've been releasing material in the intervening twenty years. Nevertheless, having read favourable reviews of their last tour which repeatedly mentioned, a) not only how good they still were but, b) that (crucially for me) seminal early tracks like Empire State Human and their first single Being Boiled were still very much part of the repertoire, I decided to risk the 50 for a couple of tickets. [The Human League]

The verdict? Worth it alone to hear a brilliant rendition of the aforementioned debut single.

It's true that much of the night felt a bit like having gatecrashed a private hen night, gay club, or hardcore fan-only event (I've never see just SO MUCH hand clapping and arm waving), but there were a lot of plus points. Phil Oakey's voice is as strong and impressive as ever it was (even if his 'dancing' looked oddly nervous), Susan and Jo added a air of glamour (with several costume changes) if not much in the way of decent vocals (but, hey, did they ever?), and many of the sounds were either pitch perfectly accurate copies of the originals or were simply sampled from the source tapes - sending the appropriate shivers down one's spine. Perhaps most surprisingly for me was, barring just two, that I knew every song. Okay most came from Dare onward but it couldn't have been much beyond as I simply wouldn't have known them. And like Duran Duran earlier this year, it was previously uninteresting songs that worked well live. Here it was The Lebanon - a song I really didn't like when it was released. It was basically a night of 80s hits, and even I wouldn't deny the guilty pleasure in hearing undeniable classics like Don't You Want Me Baby?. But it was Empire State Human and especially a superbly authentic rendition of Being Boiled that put me in rapture. The mood for these clearly set after Susan and Jo disappeared for ten minutes leaving just Oakey and the competent backing band on stage.

[The Human League - Oakey performs "Empire State Human"]It was also good to see that they hadn't lost their edge entirely with a stream of damning statistics about the war on Iraq (e.g. the USA has 10,000 nuclear weapons compared to Iraq's 0 - yes, that's 'zero') scrolling behind them. Low point was probably a cover by the two girls (still can't help calling them that!) of Dub Be Good To Me - a track they said made them travel to the Minneapolis to work with producer Jimmy Jam in 1986. But this was more than offset by material from the first three albums.

Oakey said that Reproduction (the first Human League album that took just two weeks to record - "with weekends off") might soon be remastered by original member and Heaven 17 founder Martyn Ware. I look forward to that. Measured on the entertainment scale this was a definite 9/10. In terms of quality the result was certainly lower simply because of the song choices. Sure, I'd love to have seen them in 1980, but even if I never get to see The Human League again, I will forever carry indelible memories of Being Boiled with me.

Rob Dyer