Hammersmith Apollo, London - 23 February 2018

"I really bloody love Erasure"

Before I go any further, in the spirit of full disclosure, AA meetings and other such group confessionals, I think I'd better introduce myself. My name is Roi, I've made music under the name Mechanical Cabaret for 20 years, and play keyboards for Killing Joke at their live shows.

And I bloody love Erasure.

There, I've said it. Ever since I saw them performing Who Needs Love Like That on telly in 1985 in fact. I also love the very early 80's Depeche Mode when Vince was with them, which as we know was a very different creature then from what they became… in those halcyon days, all afroth with cheeky synthpop bounciness, Dave Gahan's cool-as-a-cucumber deadpan vocals, punchy electro-disco rhythms, and that beautifully crafted Daniel Miller production. And Yazoo were of course utterly fabulous, too. So I'm what you could call a dyed-in-the-wool Vince Clarke fan I guess.

Fast forward to February 23rd 2018 and I'm standing at the bar at the Apollo with my friend Mike, Erasure's tech/synth assistant and roadie for many years, from their early days in the mid 1980's until the end of the 1990's. He used to be responsible for helping Vince with the setting up and maintenance of Erasure's huge racks of synths and sequencers at their live shows. More on Vince's equipment later - oo-er, obvs - but for now, after queuing at the bar during their opening intro music gambit consisting of the theme from Tales Of The Unexpected, which led straight into classic Erasure track, Oh L'Amour, we've finally been served our drinks in time for the equally excellent Ship Of Fools to begin - better to get to our (very nicely positioned) seats for the show, upstairs and right in the middle. Get in!

Erasure      Erasure   Erasure

The stage set was a fantastic example of stylish Art-Deco minimalism, with neon tubes and spotlights creating stunningly dramatic lighting effects, all stark lines, backlit and flashing, changing colours against the blackness of the otherwise darkened stage area. Very effective indeed, and really helped to set the whole tone of what is now a very much more 'mature' Erasure, as something sleek, polished, and finely honed. Vince was safely ensconced up in the central section about 20 feet up in the air with his little set up of computer, keyboard, light-up tambourine(!) and guitar. The dapperly dressed Andy Bell, replete with many a sequin and even a saucily placed pearl necklace, together with their faithful, glamorous backing singers Judith and Emma Chalmers, and a Cabaret/Liza Minnelli style chair, had free run of the stage area below.

One of things that strikes me about Erasure as I watch them faultlessly run through a varying selection of their songs and 'top pop hits' covering their 33 year long career so far, is that they can come up with some of the most achingly beautiful, phenomenally crafted, thought provoking and downright enjoyable electro-pop songs ever heard. As a songwriting team they are capable of so much true greatness and magic, full of the incandescent power of music, made with love and that unfathomable, mysterious realm of inspiration, where the best sort of things come from - even their saddest songs, forever serve to uplift and illuminate the present, the past and the future all at the same time.

Despite the fact that I must confess a preference for the older songs in general perhaps, the 80's and 90's songs that were part of the soundtrack of my youth, the neat and tidy electronic pop packages that their songs undoubtedly always tend to be, whatever period of theirs you care to choose, are as close to perfection as you can get.

After a salvo of slightly more 'recent' fan favourites, such as Breathe, Mad As We Are and Just A Little Love, we hit Chains Of Love and the crowd really erupts in glorious rapture for the first time since the start of the show. A few more well selected 'later period' tracks then follow, like Sacred, and I Love Saturday, and then it was on to another of their evergreen pop hits that still stands the test of time, Victim Of Love. The hairs shot up on the back of my neck when Phantom Bride started, and everyone else's too I should imagine. They used to open with this song on the Innocents tour in 1988, and it still hits true when they perform it live now, filling the Apollo with palpable electricity in the way that only the best songs can do, as Andy prances and pouts and warbles along wonderfully.

Blue Savannah was met with an ecstatic response from the whole venue, filling the entire place with shimmering blue light, and things really took off from this point! Especially as next, they played a cunningly conceived version of Atomic by Blondie, very likely to be prompted by Andy being a life-long and massive Debbie Harry fan, as indeed am I. It almost sounded curiously like it could have been written as a semi-instrumental Erasure song in the first place, in fact. Drama! and Stop! followed, a double exclamation mark based double-whammy, and utterly deliriously joyful to behold they were too.

Erasure      Erasure   Erasure

Also worthy of mentioning in the last few songs of the night, was the welcome inclusion of the sublime Always, before the set came to a conclusion with their ever popular single which really broke Erasure into the mainstream in 1986, Sometimes. They briefly leave the stage in time-honoured showbiz fashion, and the come back for somewhat disappointingly just the one encore, albeit of possibly their finest moment, and practically their theme tune nowadays, the adorable A Little Respect. Vince escaping his crow's nest, takes his acoustic guitar with him and joins Andy and the girls at the front of the stage for this song, united again at last. When the song is over, and they all join hands to take their bows, I'm left feeling rather bereft and want it all to happen again right now please.

What a splendiferous show. If you like them, even just a bit, look just go and see them on this tour if you haven't already done so... I for one would be more than happy to go along for another night of their exquisitely extravagant electropop, and you never know how long a band is going to keep going do you?

I really bloody love Erasure. 8/10

Setlist: Tales of the Unexpected (Ron Grainer cover), Oh L'Amour, Ship of Fools, Breathe, Mad As We Are, Just a Little Love, In My Arms, Chains of Love, Sacred, Sweet Summer Loving, I Love Saturday, Victim of Love, Phantom Bride, World Be Gone, Who Needs Love Like That, Take Me Out of Myself, Blue Savannah, Atomic (Blondie cover), Drama!, Stop!, Love You to the Sky, Always, Here I Go Impossible Again, Sometimes Encore: A Little Respect

A footnote, and a warning: unashamed Synth-geek issues exploration coming up... now

So, that equipment thing I mentioned earlier. Long gone are the days when an Erasure show came with racks full of lovely hardware technological wonders like the Sequential Prophet VS, Oberheim Xpander, or BBC B Microcomputer running UMI software in the 1980's. No more do we see Vince trundling about the stage in his Little Tank, packed to the rafters with Roland MC-4 sequencers, a Minimoog, Jupiter 8, and all sorts of other wonderful old analogue synths like he did in the 1990's, either. Sadly (for me, at any rate) a lethal potential combination of practicality, financial constraints, reliability, and, just possibly, also easiness/laziness(?) has led to Vince opting for a rather more modest live rig since those days, consisting of little more than a Macbook and a controller keyboard. Oh yes, and he played on his acoustic guitar at times too, with a little help on one song from his nephew this evening. Cute.

I miss seeing all that lovely musical hardware pumping out their songs, whilst Vince fiddled and twiddled around with the controls. It seemed so much more interesting and exciting to me than the computer/keyboard thing that we all tend to do so much of these days - and I include myself in that damning critique. Because that's exactly what I use when I play live keyboards for Killing Joke (well, x2 in fact, which makes me twice as bad a culprit probably). It's just so very practical, and obviously much easier than lugging around massive old Oberheims and samplers and the like. However, when I play Mechanical Cabaret live shows, my synth-wizard Steve Bellamy always brings at least one small-ish 3 octave analogue synth to play and program live, such as his Moog Rogue, as well as a Korg R3 digital synth and an EMU Emulator 4 rackmount sampler, both with memories, for specific signature sounds. Just saying, like: small things like this CAN be done, even in a minimal sort of way, but it makes the whole thing more 'live' and a bit more interesting, well, certainly to my mind or ears or eyes, anyway.

Kick It.
Do you like 'clicky' kick drums or roundy thumpy ones? Most of Vince 'n Andy's kick drums have gone all roundy and thumpy these days it seems. Fine. Thing is, sometimes though, you want the track to sound a bit more like the record you know and love, rather than, I dunno, almost 'an interpretation' of it, like someone else did a complete remix version of it. And some of those songs had clicky kicks, and now they don't and just oh blooming well sort it out Vincent; nuff said. Aaaand relax...

Ok, I've finished complaining now.
I totally understand why he has decided to downsize since those days of necessity in the 80's and electronic excess in the 90's, I really do. But, it seems far, far less interesting to observe such an undynamic and understimulating spectacle in this respect, at least from my perspective as a music and synth-obsessed nutcase. Oh well, misty-eyed moan over. At least he's playing *something* on his keyboard eh? Unlike in Vince's Yazoo days, when he took his new-found musical automation situation to hilarious extremes, and was more likely to be sporting a glass of wine and a fag on stage whilst his machines did all the work!

Review: Roi Robertson
Tanya Raftery (taken at the Birmingham gig on 11 February)