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On the face of it, I had to admit that the band had some cheek to release two live albums drawing from the same vintage album period within two years. One can also surmise that with the limited run of the Museum of Liverpool “Dazzle Ships” concert under their belts, the band sensed that the demand might be there for their stoutest fans to support something bigger than 550 a night in a space not designed for a concert over two nights. With that in mind, they booked the Royal Albert Hall for a full concert of “Dazzle Ships” – along with “Architecture + Morality,” for good measure, in a legendary venue with 11 times that capacity.
The live album of the previous year had half of “Dazzle Ships,” but this one contained the full album live, or as in the cases of the title track, “Radio Prague,” and “ABC Auto Industry,” playback. The little sound collages that gave the album its prickly backbone would never be the stuff of live performance, so better that they were dispensed with right up front as on this album. As if to atone for the material that could not be played live, the band surprisingly brought the devastating “International” out as their first live performance of the show. And my head shakes in disbelief that OMD never played this, their most powerful song ever, until the last few years. McCluskey had no problem nailing the emotional intensity necessary to put this one across.
The band next debuted a song never played live after that; the stunning “Silent Running.” What did I just write about shaking my head in disbelief? I like the conceit of playing a classic album while reorganizing the running order as OMD were wont to do. Placing these two emotional heavy hitters together in a set made for a wallop the album didn’t pack. The Kraftwerk vs Beatles mutation of “This is Helena,” was another song never played live, but this one was actually played as a band, even though it didn’t have McCluskey singing on it.
As the band began the intro to “Genetic Engineering” the crowd let out some roar to which McCluskey quipped “only you lot would cheer for this song… thank you!” With “Genetic Engineering” being rarely played, it’s weird to hear it in two live versions released a year apart. Even so, when they followed that with “Telegraph,” a song I had never heard live but had always inordinately loved, I was even more entranced. McCluskey managed to sing it well, though he left out the falsetto shrieks of the title in the instrumental middle eight. I can’t understand why such a perfect technopop song hadn’t gotten the respect and public airing, that it had deserved. If I had to pick a favorite OMD single as exemplifying their sound and traits to the max, it would have to be this one. Even the video was their best effort in that difficult area.
“Would you like to do some more dancing to 1980s cold war geopolitical songs?” – Andy McCluskey
“Yeaaaaaaah!” – unknown band member
“Still… I believe the Cold War’s coming back again…” – Andy McCluskey
With that energy peak still cresting, the morotik beats of “Radio Waves” heralded one of the all time best missed single the band ever let slip though their fingers. The pacing of the show had been intriguing. They opened with the cut-up sound collage, took a detour into the emotionally melancholy heart of the album before moving on to the peak energy level material that climaxed with the ebullient “Radio Waves.” The only song thus far that I had been able to see them perform live. Thank goodness.
The first half of the show ended as their new mashup of “Time Zones,” “Please Remain Seated,” “Decimal,” “History Of Modern [Parts III, IV]” and the melody of “The Right Side” played before the closing “Of All The Things We’ve Made.” Though it had veered all over the map as compared the the album it was taken from, the concert that night ended the same way as the album; with the plaintive melancholy of the song that had originally been a B-side to “Joan Of Arc [Maid Of Orleans]” single in 1981.
They then played one of the two B-sides from the period with “4-Neu,” before letting the audience know that since the first album played was brief, they would follow it with some tracks from their debut album that they didn’t normally play live. Yes, even I heard the shouts of “Red Frame/White Light” from guys in the audience, but that [sadly] didn’t happen. Instead “Julia’s Song” got a robust run through and then the awesome “Almost” got an airing. Perhaps leapfrogging even “Red Frame/White Light” in its desirability. I can’t say I have ever heard this one live before. Only after that did they play the foundational “Messages” before leaving the audience for a break before beginning the second set of the night’s show.
Next: …A+M Once More