[continued from last post]
At 8:15 I went outside to meet Darlene, who was buying the two extra tickets I had for sale [as seen on this blogpost]. We made the swap and she and her companion got tickets to a sold out show for less than cover. Life should always be this good! I had a nagging feeling right about then that I needed that “Punishment Of Luxury” keychain I had seen earlier at the merch table, so I picked one up. My keyring is a plain, boring loop. Far better that it should be enameled steel with the POL artwork! I showed my wife and she asked “did you get me a keychain?! I needed a new one!” And with that I went back to the merch table for one more time.
At 9:30 sharp the lights began to come alive and the “Punishment Of Luxury” overture began playing on the PA, blending snatches of “Art Eats Art” and “La Mitrailleuse” from the new album into a mood setter, then the band walked calmly onstage and performed the best song they have written since reforming. “Ghost Star,” as seen above, threw a gauntlet that would be extremely difficult to top, right up front.
The stunning, six minute wonder blended the classic, cinematic soundscapes of a song like “Stanlow” with the bucolic beauty of Kraftwerk’s finest moment as a sequencer pattern as on “Europe Endless” lent filigree and a contrapuntal, underlying leap of joy to the otherwise somber composition. McCluskey’s emotional delivery milked the lyrics of every drop of pathos and impact. I weep just thinking about it in retrospect and we have my wife to thank for the video above that proves to me that I was not imagining things. I was in the palm of their hands.
Then, they took the honorable, difficult path, and played the other six minute song on their excellent “Punishment Of Luxury” album. “Isotype” was another roots check song with a soaring melody from the [vintage] Kraftwerk melodic playbook that those guys are not too interested in pursuing in the last 35 years. Of course, only OMD would write a song about a German-designed graphic, pictographical system of information graphics! It’s wonderful to hear this band, hobbled by fealty to commercialism for so many years in the 80-90s be truthful to their natures! All served on a beautiful technopop platter.
With a dozen minutes spent exploring the expansive breadth of their new album, the next song was an established OMD classic, the always welcome “Messages,” their first hit single from 1980. They always perform the beautifully arranged 10″ single version, thankfully. Its intro buildup remains potent after nearly 40 years. Then, the even more upbeat “Tesla Girls” boosted the energy levels even further. This had been an expertly constructed arc of music beginning with the melancholic “Ghost Star” and ending with the ebullience of “Tesla Girls.”
The night’s only dip into the “History Of Modern” era came next with “History Of Modern Part 1,” which has been a song that they played in each of the last three shows I have seen since 2011. That they played it at the last opening set for the Barenaked Ladies in 2016 perhaps indicates that it has attained classic status with not just me, but the masses as well. A lovely pure pop deep cut from “Punishment Of Luxury” followed as “One More Time” was next in the setlist. OMD had released three singles from “Punishment Of Luxury;” “Isotype,” the title track, and “What Have We Done,” but just last month, the band let a swell extended [3:50] remix of this one by Fotonovela slip out as a discount DL-only single at the usual online music stores making this, technically, the fourth single from the album. It’s certainly single worthy material with great pop hooks and a swooping synth attack from Mr. Humphries.
After six songs, it was time for Paul Humphreys to take the lead for the still winsome “Forever Live + Die.” The differences in the OMD dynamic are never so clearly delineated than when the retiring Mr. Humphreys sings lead instead of the exuberant McCluskey. This single remains a high point from the uneven “Pacific Age” album and it was in retrospect, a good thing that OMD managed a US hit with one of Paul’s songs. It was a much better followup to the tepid “If You Leave” which, ironically, was the next song in the set. I was glad to hear it come this early in the set. Affording it end of set status is giving it too much power for my taste. But Paul didn’t get too much of a break behind his synth as he was called back out front for the still sumptuous “Souvenir,” a song I will never tire of. Of course, this meant that the nearly ironclad “Architecture + Morality” suite, as I refer to it, would follow next.
And it did. Ever since reforming, the band have performed all three singles from that classic album in the order of release with “Joan Of Arc” and “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans]” following “Souvenir” as night follows day. It boggles my mind to think that all three of these songs filled the UK top ten for a six month period when such things were possible in this fallen world. The profoundly stirring “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans]” never fails to get the endorphins flowing with its thunderous tattoos of drums, this time courtesy of Stuart Kershaw as the flashing strobes caught the dervish McCluskey in mid twitch throughout. I could not foresee what would come next.
As the waves of fevered applause filled the venue to the sight of the exultant McCluskey, the stage lights dimmed and a mix of “Time Zones,” “The Right Side,” and “Decimal” played on the PA for about 90 seconds. Where was this going? Where I least expected it, when the band reconvened at the front of the stage, in the style of Kraftwerk’s 1981 “Computerworld” style with each member and a single instrument/handheld keyboard [okay, MIDI controller – it’s no longer 1981…] as they began to play the night’s incredible deepcut as seen below.
Mother McCree! I never imagined I’d be hearing this one, and never in this fashion. The song made for four straight tracks from “Architecture + Morality” in a discrete mini-set that amazed and delighted. Technically, yes, it appeared on the “Dazzle Ships” album, but I still think of it first as the earlier B-side to “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans].” This was completely and utterly brilliant! Watching and hearing Mr. Kershaw relentlessly striking the 344 beats of this song was mesmerizing. The song itself? Heartbreaking.
It remained for the concert to flow into more commercial climes for its climax, but at least we had already gotten “If You Leave” out of the way; a good sign. Paul returned to the mic for the melancholic lilt of “What Have We Done” from “Punishment Of Luxury.” The song had been inspired by the experience of putting his dog down [the lyrics refer to this, particularly in verses three and four] but it resonates much further than that seed of inspiration. Having this followed by the facile “So In Love” didn’t do the latter any favors, but it was OMD’s first US top 30 hit, and at least they did it without a hit movie to hitch it to.
“Locomotion” was a weak moment from “Junk Culture,” but it still sounded good in the context of this live set, sounding better than ever for some reason this evening. Then they dropped a zinger in the home stretch with the excellent title track to “Punishment Of Luxury” kicking the energy levels way up with its “hey-hey-hey” hook [cribbed from Van Halen, I swear…!] This one sported some some muscular substance amid the last two pop trifles and it still had enough hooks for a bait and tackle shop. Was there ever an OMD song that could inspire fist-pumping like this one?
The only song that remained in the set from the Phase II [Andy only] period was the Glitteresque “Sailing On The Seven Seas.” Then the relentless Roland rhythm box announced that “Enola Gay” was taking off to end the set. Fortunately this song constitutes the last thing possible to bombing. Bass in hand, McCluskey blew through it, stopping only for the terrifying middle eight where the instruments dropped out for the rhythm box and the shockwave drum slams from Mr. Kershaw. Then the song ended with the band stopping playing to leave the rhythm box still chugging away as the band left the stage for… oh about a minute before playing the encore.
Two more American hits followed with “Dreaming” and Paul’s hit “Secret” providing a little pop froth and a chance to sit down for a few before the still dynamic “Electricity” brought the evening to a close and my wife and I back to our feet. Maybe drummer Kershaw was hitting the drums a little more vehemently this evening? As we roared our approval, the gent in front of me reflected on his first OMD concert ever. It’s important to remember that every concert is some fan’s first one. For my experience, concert number five was another fine dip into the waters of OMD, tinted this time with five of the best tracks from the their outstanding new album. Sure, sure. Maybe “Art Eats Art” or “As We open, So We Close” might have been gilding the lily, but I would not have balked at the inclusion of those. The only bone of contention I really had was that no material from the “English Electric” album was in evidence. I had missed that tour since it bypassed the Southeast entirely in 2013. The last opening set in 2016 I saw was also bereft, leaving an EE void in my life. Sigh.
The night’s sound by the infamous “Charles “Chicky” Reeves was pretty much flawless following the blurry murk of the opening act, thank goodness! The sound was clear and punchy with plenty of dynamic range and no overmodulation. As ever, when communing with the gods, earplugs are to be only used as a last resort. When seeing a core collection act like OMD [or last year’s King Crimson], the fact was that earplugs were not necessary by means of the band’s taste and intelligence. And organs shifting with every kick drum were simply not possible.
The setlist this evening was well-considered and in the aftermath, I was impressed with the ratio of perfunctory pop with more substantial tracks from their career.
OMD | Center Stage Setlist | Atlanta, April 10th, 2018
- POL Overture
- Ghost Star
- Tesla Girls
- History of Modern Part 1
- One More Time
- Forever Live And Die
- If You Leave
- Joan Of Arc
- Maid Of Orleans
- Time Zones/Right Side/Decimal Interlude
- Of All The Things We’ve Made
- What Have We Done
- So In Love
- Punishment Of Luxury
- Enola Gay
There were only five lightweight songs here that allowed me to have a seat break. I’ll give “Locomotion” a pass this evening as it sounded right in the set. Is it me, or are the proportions of chaff to wheat in OMD’s set reducing over time? It just may be that with frequent [but not too frequent] US touring, and the band moving from strength to strength on their new studio albums [made in their own good sweet time with no label pressures] that the band has managed to wrangle a late in the game creative renaissance and have the audience to show for it? They played Atlanta for the third time [actually bedroom community Alpharetta on the Barenaked Ladies 2016 Summer tour of 2016] since reforming in 2006 and sold out a medium sized venue. Also consider that their new album hit #3 on Billboard’s Independent chart as well as #4 in the main British album charts. Not too shabby for a bunch of old dudes with bad knees. It could just be that their better material is gaining an edge on their mushy middle period in the mid 80s. At this rate, the next time they step onto US stages could see songs like “So In Love” and “Dreaming” taking the fall for something far better. I think they are up for it. This band clearly know how to serve up a fantastic show that is increasingly playing to their substantial strengths.
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