Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD)
Albert Hall, London - 15 March 2022
had the crackers. Now here's the cheese!"
attending an OMD gig is
roughly equal amounts of pleasure and cringing embarrassment.
finest OMD are a brilliant live act. In part because they have some
of the finest back catalogue of electronic music ever to come out of
the UK. In part because they (usually) manage to create compelling
live renditions of their recorded output. Often faithful to the
original sounds, by way of sampling from the original recordings, or
adding a contemporary spin on material that actually adds a
worthwhile dimension, rather than ruin the essence of the original
If OMD are
simply touring with a general selection of their extensive
repertoire then I don’t bother going to see them these days.
Promoting a good new album, or doing something a little different
and more interesting (which, thankfully, they do on a pretty regular
basis), then they’ll have my attention.
And so it was with this second of two nights at the impressive and
steeped in history venue of the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Labelled "Atmospheric Set & Greatest Hits", this second date was
added due to demand. The only two nights with this repertoire. So a
rare opportunity indeed.
marketing put it thus: "Set to be a totally unique night for all
OMD fans, the evening will see them perform two stunning sets.
Opening with the more atmospheric soundscapes of Stanlow, Statues,
and Ghost Star and a handful of rarities that commemorate their
beginning 40 years ago. Also many rarely played tracks taken from
their debut album Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark."
The two gigs
should have taken place in September 2020 (their actual 40th
anniversary) but were postponed due to the Covid19 pandemic.
on backing track) Atomic Ranch from their in-parts superb
2013 album English Electric, opened proceedings.
Thunderously playing out to its accompanying promo video, spread
across three screens at the back of the stage. At less than
two-minutes it was used as the intro before the band walked on to
take up their four positions.
'atmospheric' half of the evening genuinely got underway with that
much-loved sonic poem to Stanlow - an oil refinery where
frontman Andy McCluskey's father and sister once worked. Lyrically
and musically as moving as it ever was, and McCluskey’s vocal
delivery on it was simply flawless. The impacting thud of that huge
bass drum instantly took me back to 2007 and seeing OMD
perform on their four-date comeback tour of their seminal Architecture
and Morality album.
the roller coaster. We’re playing some weird shit tonight."
said McCluskey before launching into Pretending To See The Future,
the closing track to their 1980 debut album Orchestral Manoeuvres in
the Dark. This was apparently the first time they’d played this live
since 1984. A rare treat indeed.
Up next one of
my favourite OMD singles Messages. And already the
predominantly middle-aged audience were up, the celebratory party
rapidly in full swing. Red Frame/White Light followed by the
haunting Julia’s Song. So far, the ‘atmospheric’ half of the
evening was living up to one's hopes.
oddly, we then got Isotype from their most recent album The
Punishment Of Luxury (2017). Not that I dislike it, not at all
(it was impressive) but it's more an example of their contemporary
electronic pop with a memorable hook, that what I'd call
diversion was only temporary, and a breathtaking trilogy comprising
Time Zones, Statues and Almost gave us ten of the
finest minutes of the entire event. For these all four members came
to the front of the stage, equally spaced apart, Kraftwerk style. Paul Humphries and Martin
Cooper at either end with a small keyboard. In the middle, McCluskey
on vocals and bass, and drummer Stuart Kershaw with a six pad drum
set. All four dressed top to bottom in black. Each lit by a single
white spot light. Hearing and seeing them perform Almost (the
b-side to their seminal Electricity single) is precisely
why I will continue to see OMD live.
another brief detour into (not very 'atmospheric') electronic pop
with The Punishment Of Luxury, but rounded out the first
hour set with Bunker Soldiers (first time live since 2010)
and Electricity, which McCluskey’s estimates they’ve played
more than 2,000 times live. A fine end to another exceptionally fine
50 minutes of OMD live.
opportunity of the evening was surely when they came to the lyrics
in Bunker Soldiers: "Waves of people in strange
directions. It's no use talking, there's no decisions. They gave
up houses to be refugees." and the hall wasn’t bathed in blue
and yellow in tribute to those who were suffering and dying in
Putin’s war currently raging in Ukraine.
A half hour
break enabled the oldies to take a comfort break, stretch their
legs, nip outside for a smoke and top up on drinks. My friend and I
remained seated in our balcony seats that were slap bang in the
centre of the hall looking directly at the stage. It was far off but
that did not matter. The view from here was perfect. Not least
because being so far back and so high up meant we got the full
intended effect of the spectacular light show, which extended right
up into the arches on the uppermost gallery level.
half (billed as the 'greatest hits') was inevitably more workmanlike
for me. When returning to the stage, I could barely believe it when
McCluskey openly admitted "You’ve had the crackers, now here’s
the cheese!" As disappointingly true as that was, you’ve got
to give credit to the man who wrote most of the stuff that followed
for admitting the truth. Doesn’t make sitting through some of it any
more enjoyable though.
Still, it all
began just dandy. With the video for Please Remain Seated
playing depicting people sitting in their seats at a Chinese airport
while the now seemingly prophetic lyrics boomed out: "May I have
your attention, please? The future that you anticipated has been
cancelled. Please remain seated and wait for further instructions."
Ghost Star, though dating from 2017’s The Punishment of
Luxury album, is as fine an 'atmospheric' song as they’ve
ever written. Souvenir, Joan of Arc, Joan of Arc (Maid of
Orleans), and Enola Gay are all legitimate hits and
absolutely some of OMD’s greatest.
I do miss
(orignal drummer) Malcolm Holmes' drumming. He was at once thumping
and sprightly. Kershaw by comparison feels sluggish and thudding at
times. Although on (Forever) Live and Die I did wonder if
the slightly slower tempo was to enable Paul Humphries to hit all
the vocal notes.
proud he was to have managed to play the three notes on the song,
Andy McCluskey said afterwards: "That's three more than Andy
Fletcher has played in the last 40 years… Shit, did that come out
of my mouth?" But that’s just classic McCluskey live banter. A
few songs later and he turned his uncontrollable wit on himself: "I'm
still trying to shift the Christmas pounds before Easter starts.",
before touching hands to the mature women dancing in the aisles at
happily die without ever hearing much of the remainder again, with
two notable exceptions. The magnificent Our System, a nod to
NASA’s Voyager probe from 2013’s English Electric, and its
vintage precursor The Romance of The Telescope, the sublime
b-side to the Joan of Arc single in 1981, introduced by
McCluskey as "Our favourite going home song".
I’m clearly in
the minority in my opinions of OMD, since 99% of the audience here
were jumping up and down, waving their arms and generally going
bonkers throughout it all. And yet, how utterly sublime Orchestral
Manoeuvres In The Dark can be if they so choose. And how utterly
cringe-worthy if the mood so takes them. But wherever you sit on the
OMD affection spectrum, there’s no denying the unfettered joy that
is unleashed when they perform live, and that they can justifiably
claim to have given us some of the finest electronic pop music ever
created. 10/10 in parts. 5/10 in parts. 8/10 overall
(Atmospheric) Atomic Ranch, Stanlow, Pretending to See the
Future, (first time since 1984), Messages, Red
Frame/White Light, Julia's Song, Isotype, Time Zones, Statues,
Almost, The Punishment of Luxury, Bunker Soldiers (first time
live since 2010), Electricity
Hits) Please Remain Seated, Ghost Star, History of Modern (Part
1), (Forever) Live and Die, If You Leave, Souvenir, Joan of Arc,
Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans), Our System (first time live
since 2013), So in Love, Sailing on the Seven Seas, Enola Gay
(Encore) Walking on the Milky Way, The Romance of the Telescope
Photos: Rob Dyer