If you are head over heals in love with a woman, and you don’t know what to say to her, you might take your cue from Andy McCluskey, a bouncy dynamo of a man at age 54, when he sings “Sailing on the Seven Seas”:
Because I’m so in awe of you/That I don’t know what to do/And I’m sailing on the seven seas so blue
If you wish she were closer, and you still don’t know what to say, Paul Humphreys, a vibrant virtuoso of the keyboards, might have some words he could lend you from “(Forever) Live and Die”:
I never know, I never know why/You make me wanna cry
Together, the two men form the core of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, which washed passionate lyrics in waves of unparalleled synthpop at the 9:30 Club on Saturday, July 13. More than ably joined by drummer Malcolm Holmes and keyboardist Martin Cooper, McCluskey and Humphreys used the canvas of the stage to paint sounds so lush and bright that they transported the nearly sold-out room from lovelorn daydreams to the edge of the galaxy in perfectly arranged four-minute odysseys.
It was just perfect. So perfect.
For OMD, the journey began with the release of “Electricity” as a single on Factory Records in 1979 and continued with McCluskey alone through the album Universal in 1996. The entire band reformed after 10 years and released the excellent History of Modern in 2010 and the sublime English Electric last spring. The 21-song set list spanned the entirety of their career, notably skipping Dazzle Ships, the band’s groundbreaking fourth album but representing the buoyant Junk Culture that followed with favorites “Tesla Girls” and “Locomotion.” The new songs, including luxuriously textured singles like “Metroland” and “Dresden,” floated seamlessly along with the classics, such as “Joan of Arc” and “Maid of New Orleans” (in succession!).
The dulcet notes of each song were presented by an ever-kinetic Mr. McCluskey, who bounded along the stage, often stopping to writhe and twist in his own unique dance. The good-natured Mr. Humphreys watched from his keyboards, waiting to give his songwriting partner an occasional break from singing duties with a much more relaxed but still affecting performance. Humphreys later told my friend Ben that the band takes care to preserve the “soul” of the classic songs, recognizing that the original arrangements have a powerful effect on people who attach a special meaning to them, particularly if they are rooted in a specific time in the listener’s life.
The brilliance of these new wave pioneers remains undulled and arguably they are better performers than ever. I’ve seen the band four times since they reunited, and its members seem to have returned this year with a renewed sense of purpose and a greater sense of themselves with two new albums recently under their belt. English Electric not only managed to extend the OMD catalog but it built on the band’s sound in an intelligent way. Every admirer of OMD I know has been positively astonished by the band’s vitality, remarkably undiminished after all this time.
This show without a doubt wins my vote for best concert of the year so far. You absolutely must check them out on any of the short run of dates they have on this North American tour, which lands at Terminal 5 in New York City on Wednesday.
Diamond Rings, Canadian John O’Regan and his live band, were perfect openers. O’Regan hails from a long line of terrific new wave and synthpop innovators in Toronto, which has birthed bands from Martha and the Muffins to Metric. Diamond Rings’ taste for flamboyance and Annie Lennox-style androgyny give him the trappings of a retro band, but he’s too talented to simply ape bands that came before him.
He impressed with a number of songs from his new album, Free Dimensional, which was made for dancing. The upbeat “Stand My Ground” and the peaceful “It’s Just Me” are musical declarations for being yourself and having a good time while doing so. He becomes lovelorn as well on songs like “A to Z” and “Day and Night,” which may depict longing in a somewhat formulaic manner (alphabetically and numerically respectively) but do so with personality and panache.
O’Regan brought a lot of positive energy and charisma to his set, which made me hope we hear some more from him soon.