One of the advantages of seeing a long known act live, is that one has the chance to hear the artist talk in-between songs, some times imparting new insights about their material. It was news to me to hear Ure sardonically make an oblique reference to what was obviously our election season before explaining his meaning behind “Beneath A Spielberg Sky,” from his “Move Me” album of 2000. Not being a Spielberg fan, I’d assumed it was referring to the director’s sappy romanticism. The title alone, blocked my attention. Ure said that he and Chris Cross, who directed many of Ultravox’s videos, used that phrase as a code for foreshadowing dark events about to happen. Apparently, the director used stormclouds as a metaphor. Who knew?
With one relatively recent song played, the set now featured the newest song we’d hear this evening. Ure sarcastically commented that with everyone grooving nostalgically to a set filled with well-burnished gems from the past, the point that everyone dreads s when the singer says “now here’s a new one” after which he said just that much. “Become” was sampled online on the release of his last album, “Fragile,” and it did not inspire at that time. Here tonight, it benefitted not only from my enjoyment of the very different Visage version of the song on their last album “Demons To Diamonds,” but also from the fact that tonight, the rendition of the number was radically superior to the twee synthpop version on “Fragile.” While the music bed on the original was not inspiring, it was Ure’s singing on the album version that I had the most problems with. It was Ure’s recent penchant for singing in an ill-suited, strained vocal style that ultimately did him no favors. This was certainly not a problem this evening.
Tonight, he sang the tune with his normal gusto, giving it a new life and making it sound as good as the Visage version was. The sturdier backing that BC Taylor and Tony Solis added to the performance didn’t hurt either. Banishing the soft synth loops also added much to the song, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for it tonight. The addition of Ure’s guitar was also a huge stepforward for the song. I could even detect some “Passing Strangers” DNA in his approach on the playing. Delightful!
Next, it was time for some”Quartet” love with the anthemic “Hymn” getting a rendition. Here it was stripped of Billy Currie’s pomp and circumstance and was an instance of “less is more” triumphing. It became something far less ponderous minus any synths. I was enjoying this leaner, stripped back approach to Ultravox, even though it was my first exposure to this material live. Truth be told, I’ve listened to live renditions that were more in line with the album versions of these songs for over 30 years. It was fresh hearing them done in a different way that still managed to rock.
After “Hymn,” the evening’s dip into the iconic “Rage In Eden” album would be “The Voice.” This one featured Ure leaning heavily on his synth and the audience really got into singing along, as the video below proves. I could hardly believe that I was finally hearing music from this album 35 years after the fact.
The reliance on keyboards would reach a climax following that when the iconic title track to “Vienna” was played with both Ure and Solis leaning heavily on their rigs. But most of all, Ure leaned heavily on his lungs. At one point, before launching into a song, Ure quipped that if he had a time machine the one thing he would do would be to go back in time and ask his youthful self not to write the songs in the keys that he chose then. “Who knew I’d still be singing these songs forty years later?”
But he has seasoned his instrument plenty in the intervening years. While he has lost some high end, he’s gained immense power and control to compensate… and then some. Having heard the Ure of the early 80s on live recordings, there’s no question who I’d rather be hearing this night. “Vienna” is still the melodramatic tour de force that’s its been for the last 36 years. Hearing it is still a spine-tingling moment – even after hundreds of plays; especially when Ure is standing less than ten feet in front of us giving it loads.
Next: …It quickly passes, time goes, time goes by too soon