Sigh. I try to live the Google-free life but it’s a tough and miserly row to hoe. Against my expectations, I was not doing landscaping work on Saturday afternoon and was thus able to catch the OMD “Live From Your Sofa” online event as it went down. If you missed it, I’ve heard that it will be on YouTube for the next few days. It was an interesting portrait of this Core Collection band at the 40 year point of their history. But not all of it was modern.
Of course I definitely had an interest in seeing the band perform the first song, the incomparable “Stanlow.” Long my favorite OMD song (for about 40 years) and hardly in danger of losing that cachet, it was something that I’d never seen before live or on video. I’m pleased to see that the band recognize its emotive power is second to none if they will open a 40 year tour with it. Watching the band perform this I could not get Kraftwerk and the passing of Florian Schneider out of my mind. The four figures still on the darkened stage brought their progenitors to the forefront. Seeing Paul Humphreys standing at his keyboard got me a little misty eyed. Then the propulsive “Isotype” from their latest album, “Punishment Of Luxury” had even closer musical ties to the clean, modern techno pop of the Düsseldorf foursome, but the way that the band approached the song emotionally was of a vastly different tact. As much as OMD take from the Kraftwerk template, they are still their own band.
The rest of the first set dove into their bucket of hit singles that showed their enviable strengths at writing songs with unique points of view starting with their first British hit, the durable “Messages.” Then came a torrent of eclectic hits beginning with the wit of “Tesla Girls” and continuing through to the trilogy of hits that “Architecture + Morality” issued at some sort of peak synergy of artistic and commercial success that every band wished would happen to them.
Then the intermission that had been cut from the program happened and the band came back onstage for another pair of deep cut classics with the heartbreaking “Statues” followed by their first b-side, “Almost.” One has to love the fealty that OMD pay to their artistic essence. And how fortunate for them that singe written barely bout of their teens were so mature and timeless. Which made the rest of the second set disappointing in comparison. Following “Almost” they played a new song from their “Souvenir” greatest hits collection that, believe it or not, I had not heard yet. “Don’t Go” was on shaky ground in that the title was taken from a refrain from “So In Love;” hardly one of their finest hours from the “play-to-the-market” regrettable section of their career. Musically a bit better than that, but the gist of the song was solidly in their wheelhouse of their post-“Dazzle Ships” write-hits-or-die era. That they actually followed it with “So In Love” was a poor decision which did “Don’t Go” absolutely no favors. Then only “Punishment Of Luxury” and the venerable classic “Enola Gay” managed to help us make it through the trip of “Dreaming,” “Sailing On The Seven Seas,” and “Locomotion.” The latter a single that I liked at first only to come to loathe in the 21st century.
The encore was problematic. That this band played a show in England for their 40th anniversary and then encored with their biggest American hit, the sappy “If You Leave” (which was not a hit in England) showed poor judgement. Then to follow that with the solo Andy era song of “Pandora’s Box” which sounded not a bit like OMD in spite of having that name on the sleeve was disappointing. Then the show closed as they all do, with their cheeky re-write of Kraftwerk’s “Radioactivity,” which we all know and love as “Electricity.”
There was so much right to be enjoyed by this band who are making excellent modern records with none of the songwriting compromises that marred their mid period. And yet that material, which admittedly gave the band a second lease on life following the commercially disastrous (but artistically wondrous) “Dazzle Ships” album still is included in their sets. Hearing it is jarring next to the superb early hit material and the music they have released in the last decade. I really wish after three strong albums that they would “Do a Bowie” and after these anniversary shows simply table songs like “Locomotion” or “Dreaming.” They have served their purpose. They prolonged the commercial life of the band but were the cause of its breakup in 1988. So their cost must be questioned. I’d love to see those hits swept under the carpet of history. The band would seem so much stronger without them. And only American audiences care about those songs in the first place. I’d even go as far as suggesting that deep cuts from “Crush” or “Pacific Age” might fly with me. And any OMD material written without Paul Humphrey should also be tabled.
Regarding the presentation of this show, I really loved the single camera p.o.v. with a single setup from the lighting desk capturing everything at a reasonable framing. Sure, sure. Sometimes Andy wandered out of shot but the lack of “direction” and gratuitous jimmyjib swoops and thousands of split second cuts made this a pleasure to watch. Like at a real concert, I could “direct” my eyes wherever I wanted to in watching it. I wish more concert home videos were like that.
On the other hand, the formula of an OMD concert is showing its age. Open with a song or two (not obvious hits) and then follow it with “Messages.” End the first set with “Souvenir,” “Joan Of Arc,” and “Maid Of Orleans.” End the second set with “Enola Gay.” Final encore – “Electricity.” That should change. It’s too rote.
Another interesting aspect to this streaming concert was the “virtual merch table.” The band were going to table their summer gigs due to covid-19 but widely thought to make the new merch still available. A glance there revealed that the classic 1981 enamel badges had been remanufactured anew! That was great but my eyes were transfixed on the stunning “Maid Of Orleans” t-shirt that commanded my finger to click the button. £25 (U$ 32) and with shipping from the UK not exactly cheap but I really wanted that one. And when my wife entered and saw it she asked if I was going to buy that. “I’d love to,” I retorted and she said “you should,” so seconds later I was into it to the amount of $41 and change. And no regrets there. Better still, I mentioned to her that I regretted missing that lovely gold foil on red PiL short of a few years back. Then I went to PiL’s web store and it was there for a third time, now cheaper and with US shipping, so I bought that one yesterday too. Scratching a sartorial itch I’d had for a couple of years.
The OMD concert will be up on their YouTube page for at least a few days so if you care to partake then have at it, but quickly. And if that shirt calls to you like it did to me, then click that button below!
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