I have to say that one of the benefits of the Covid-19 lockdown and lack of live concerts were the streaming solutions that popped up to sate the market demand. While viewing a concert on streaming was a distant second to actually experiencing live music, it’s infinitely higher on the enjoyment scale than not seeing or hearing anything at all.
I can’t help but think that when live shows open up again with tours and the like, that streaming options might be a valid way of further monetizing the gigs that happen on a more regular basis. A streaming ticket for a gig at $20 [this show streamed live for $23 and for 30 days with extras at $30] might be a fraction of the live seat in the venue, but the potential is there for so many more eyeballs to experience the shows that way. After all, the infrastructure has now been established to do this with some regularity.
This show featured Midge Ure with what he calls Band Electronica. His three man band who play with him on his UK/European gigs. Cole Stacy on bass/synths. Joseph O’Keefe on synths/violin. And Russell Field on drums/loops. The show kicked off with a bang. The Phil Lynott synth-banger “Yellow Pearl” with Midge playing an instrumental version since most of his audience would possibly recognize it as the theme from “Top of The Pops” where the driving electro-rocker was the theme for several years in the early 80s. I would have been game for Ure to gave given the lyrics a go, but perhaps out of respect for his absent friend he opted for letting the music speak for itself. And the words it spoke were stirring and eloquent!
I can never get enough of “Yellow Pearl” and find it to be the acme of Midge Ure’s career outside of Ultravox and Visage. It showed him steeped in the sound of Krautrock and bringing it to the English shores as David Bowie had done a few years earlier. This track is always pure excitement and the flanged bass synths and arpeggiators soared over the motorik electric drums that had Mr. Field playing a Roland kit for this show with a heavy emphasis on a notably synthetic sound.
The tantalizingly brief speedrush of “Yellow Pearl” segued right into the song I had been waiting to hear live forever, when the Visage portion of the show began. Ure started at side one, track one with the electric title track to the “Visage” album; my favorite song from the album from day one. Ure had moved from his synth rig to the trusty guitar to give the propulsive track the requisite rock crunch. As Ure had stated whenever he had a platform, by 1980 he and Rusty Egan were more interested in fusing rock energy with electronics which ultimately led to the Visage project.
Hearing it played live, reminded us of how it had taken place in an era when there wasn’t even MIDI to make it all simpler. Ure sounded like he was holding back his vocals to occupy a similar space in the music that Steve Strange had when originally making this music. So this wasn’t a case of Ure belting it out 40 years later but trying to fit within the original parameters of the music. An in a contrary move, the song ended with a new coda instead of seguing into the next track. The drums and guitar dropped out to let the synths lave the last word. Ending on a very similar note to… Tubeway Army’s “Me! I Disconnect From You!” Color me surprised [and delighted].
And the next track was still “Blocks On Blocks.” Just like the Visage album. This was one of the tracks that lent itself to live, rock band playback most readily. Ure, was starting to warm up vocally and it was interesting hearing him sings the lyrics as it was much easier to discern what he was singing, even though the song still had a touch of vocoder as on the original. The middle eight was every bit as muscular as on the album thought the sound design on the synths was a bit more aggressive. The track still segued into the next song, the rousing instrumental, “The Dancer.” The orchestral stabs were a little polite but the guitar of Ure managed to fill in admirably for the missing sax of John McGeoch.
Next came a shocker. An expanded, re-arranged take on the first Visage recording. The cover of “In The Year 2525!” The original track as released on the “Fade To Grey” singles collection was a little tentative, but by now, it’s been re-imagined as the ultimate version of the Visage cover version. Ure was really hitting his stride vocally by this point and the extended intro and coda gave the track more gravitas.
The sound of children heralded the single “Mind Of A Toy” and the stripped back sound gave the spotlight to Mr. Stacy’s bass guitar. The next song was a ringer in the Visage set that had me startled. It ended up being “Glorious,” the song that Ure had performed on the Rusty Egan solo album of a few years back. While the song featured something close to the typical Ure lyric of his mature period, the music was pulsating electronica that sounded pretty great to me. Well, it was co-written between Ure with Chris Payne and Rusty Egan. I’m glad their chemistry hasn’t faded over time. The song ended with a drum solo breakdown that made sense considering that Egan had been drumming for the Visage set during the earliest legs of this original tour.
Then a drumbox loop paved the way for a surprisingly irreverent take on the classic “Fade To Grey.” With soft synths, there is every capacity for the artist to sample their master tapes and replicate the sound design of a cut down to the last detail. Usually OMD opt for this method as they are convinced that their fans won’t have it any other way. Myself, I prefer letting the song and sound design breathe a little. I appreciate some variation, otherwise we could all be in playback hell. And Midge Ure obviously sees things this way as well.
The main riff hook to “Fade To Grey” was played here with a different sounding patch that made it come a little closer to the sound of the Datura version with a hint of the rave. Ure’s was really cutting loose vocally here, and Cole Stacy offered the subtle backing vocals. I liked the new coda solo by Mr. O’Keefe as well, which led into a new cold ending for the song. That ended the Visage portion of the show and we’d gotten about half of the album as well as a few unscheduled treats. The only omission that I was perhaps missing was the berserker electronic fury of “Malpaso Man,” which, forty years later, is shaping up to be a surprise favorite. But maybe that was too much energy to get put into this song arc.
When the “metal beat” of a CR-78 faded up we knew it was time for the “Vienna” portion of the set. This would be a first as I’ve never heard the album played in full before on any other occasions. I was interested in seeing how this band would differ from recordings I had of the reconstituted Ultravox leaning heavily on this material from their 2009 concert I had in full on CD/DVD. With “Astradyne,” what was served was a classic take on the distinctive instrumental. The sound design stuck very close to the original template. The reverbed piano leads and violin solo paid fealty to the time-honored original recording, but the drum fills by Field dared to step outside of the Warren Cann rhythmic blueprint for the occasional flight of fancy.
I liked the differences in “New Europeans” with a clean hard sound to the arrangement with less of the atmosphere that Conny Plank had invested the song with. The tattoos of snare that Field was daring to place into the song were subtle, but appreciated. And over it all, Ure managed to really emote on his lead vocals that had hit hitting the highest notes of the evening thus far.
The middle eight had the lighting design for the show, which was almost completely into the blue spectrum for most of the show shift dramatically to red as Ure’s vocal lacked the filtering on the original album production for less of the remote distance of that version. O’Keefe’s piano solo on the coda synched perfectly with the last gank of Ure’s guitar for the famous cold ending.
Next: …Promises Kept