Tuesday 27 November 2007

Human League, Royal Concert Hall

Tonight the soulless Concert Hall. We are off to the 30th anniversary of the Human League and the 25th ish anniversary of their classic album Dare.

Support is by a band called OneTwo who I had never heard of, which is surprising as its basically Paul Humphreys of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Claudia Bruecken of Propaganda. Their competent if a little dull set consists of mostly tracks from their album 'Instead', but they also play Orchestral Manoeuvres classic 'Messages', although not as well as the band themselves did it earlier this year and they finish with Propaganda's 'Duel'. They are very well received by the crowd, despite Claudia's appalling dancing.

Another track they played was a cover of 'Club Country' by the Associates. This was done as a tribute to Billy MacKenzie who would have been 50 this year had he not committed suicide in 1997. MacKenzie who was already suffering with depression, overdosed on prescription drugs in his father's garden shed, after the death of his mother.

So to the main event and a huge backdrop of half the original Dare cover, of the three surviving members, covers the stage. Phil Oakey comes on stage, looking more and more like Christopher Walken in manner and dress, each time I see him. They launch straight into Dare, in its entity and in order. The problem is, it's immediately an anticlimax because the first three tracks of the album are well known live favourites anyway so the occasion doesn't really happen until 'Darkness' is played. Now had they thrown in a few pre-Dare rarities first then that would have whipped up the expectation straight away. How about opening with something like 'Girls And Boys' which was the first League Mark 2 single anyway.

'Do or Die' is my favourite track off Dare and I haven't heard them play this since the Hysteria tour in err.. 1985 was it? but tonight it falls a little flat. It doesn't help that they seem to prolong the instrumental bit in the middle and Phil and the girls disappear off stage for no apparent reason.

It’s side two of the vinyl that makes the night. The three tracks that merge together on record, the brief 'Get Carter' (that Phil milks for all its worth), the fantastically haunting 'I Am The Law' and a sensational 'Seconds', with great graphics. For the first time they crank the bass up and you can feel the walls of the auditorium throb. You want them to stop right there, rewind and do all three of them again. Brilliant.

Throughout the crowd are very static (standing but barely dancing) and very quiet, none of which is helped by the staid venue. The bands last three visits to Nottingham have all been to Rock City, so it seems an odd decision to downgrade to the Concert Hall this time. I only saw the last of the Rock City gigs in December 2005 but the atmosphere was fantasic. People's attitudes are different at places like Rock City, tonight you get the impression that people have nipped out to grab a concert in the gap between Coronation Street and their evening cocoa and they'll be really pissed off if they're not back in time for the Ten O'clock News.

'Love Action' and 'Don't You Want Me' round off Dare and then we get a totally instrumental Hard Times, purely so the gang can do a clothing change. Then we have a run through of some of the hits starting with the Lebanon and finishing with 'Fascination' and 'Mirror Man'. Regrettably there are no surprises.

The encore starts with a storming 'Being Boiled' and concludes with the immensely annoying 'Together in Electric Dreams'. Which is not even a Human League track but they always play it.

Oakey's voice was excellent throughout and the band weren't bad but still an awful lot was on tape but the three best tracks of the night were by miles 'I Am The Law', 'Seconds' and 'Being Boiled', unfortuantely non of them feature the girls. Who were their usual dancing, singing slightly off-key, selves with numerous costume changes. Perhaps too late for a career move but time to go solo Phil?

The problem with playing your classic album first, as I discovered with Orchestral Manoeuvres this year, is that whatever you play next is going to be an anti-climax. Also, although I thought it would, playing the album in order doesn't work either because there's no surprise, everyone knows what's coming next. What both bands should have done for a retro-tour like this is play it as if it really was the Dare tour (or the Architecture & Morality Tour) e.g. play what you would have played in 1982 on that original tour. Which in the Leagues case would have meant drawing on stuff from 'Travelogue' and 'Reproduction'. They could possibly get away with a few tracks that were close to that period e.g. 'Fascination', 'Mirror Man' and why do they never play the wonderful 'Love You Too Much'? It just doesn't seem right when you mix in stuff from twenty years later. Just my opinion.

In 2005 they did a greatest hits set, is there any point in doing the same thing every year? Go on surprise us. Just because 'Dare' sold millions doesn't make it a classic album, it's a classic album simply because it is! If you see what I mean. 'Travelogue' is a classic too, now there's a thought...

Go on Phil do it, 'Dare' To Be different, I can see it now...

'A crow and a baby had an affair...'

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