Support came from the unexpectedly (but nonetheless entertaining) folksy Australian duo Lovers Electric whose plinky plonky toy piano, acoustic guitar and terrific harmonizing vocals proved how much can be achieved with so little. The songs featuring a tiny Casio keyboard (unsurprisingly) went down well and although left-field, it was easy to understand why OMD have granted this young male/female couple the support slot for all the dates on their tour.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark's third album Architecture & Morality is the band's finest (half) hour in a long and successful career. Its leftfield experimentation is as profoundly moving as it is at delivering infectious electronic pop tunes. It is the album I played incessantly when I had my first Walkman in the early 1980s. Few albums have made such a powerful impression on me. So when I read online last year that OMD were reforming, with the original band line-up and touring specifically to perform the Architecture & Morality album in its entirety I was as stunned as I was ecstatic. The band are also currently working their way through a 'All the hits and more' tour, which doesn't really interest me as by the time they released 1984's Junk Culture their edgy electronics had begun their decline into also-ran sappy electro-pap. It's a shame (to say nothing of a distortion of their importance) that they are perhaps better known as purveyors of cleverly crafted and infectiously melodious 80s and 90s pop music than for their Krautrock-inspired forays into electronic soundscapes. Play anything from 1983's Dazzle Ships (the album that nearly killed the band off for being too out-there) to a member of the general public and they're likely to look at you with an expression combining bafflement and disdain in equal measure.
Okay, so we've established this was clearly going to be a landmark gig for DSO in this or any year. They key question was, as ever with this kind of old boys reunion, could they pull it off convincingly or would it simply be a lame imitation of a once great past?
It is with some sense of relief then that I can state, without question, this was one of the finest gigs I have ever been to in over a quarter of a century of gig going. And I've been to a lot of gigs during that time. But I must immediately qualify that. It was never really gonna happen that after playing the album - which totals around 30 minutes - that OMD were going to walk off stage and call it a night. No, what they then did was follow that performance with, in the words of a remarkably youthful-looking if not modest founder member Andy McCluskey, "Twelve hits". Whilst the final hour had it moments for every Enola Gay and Messages we had to endure a Long Long Way and Locomotion. Whilst even I can pass of Tesla Girls as a guilty pleasure too much of the remainder was just plain guilty.
As McCluskey proved when acting as the songwriting svengali for the hit-laden girl 'band' Atomic Kitten, he knows how to write a pop tune or two that the kids will buy. And whilst the odd track here and there of the later OMD material was passable, the overwhelming majority was just more pop fodder for the masses; and in comparison with their first four 'electronic' albums, simply doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. Besides, they deliberately left out early (and better) singles like Red Frame, White Light and Genetic Engineering. So, for the purposes of this review, we can frankly ignore the last hour; after all, I and many others did on the night.
First surprise was that they didn't play the songs in the order in which they appear on the album. There's no law stating that they should play them in the original album order - I'd just kinda assumed they would. So with my ears positively twitching with the anticipation of hearing New Stone Age live for the first time, when the opening notes of the titular moody instrumental Architecture & Morality came blasting (and I do mean blasting) out of the sound system, accompanied by equally moody, stylish black and white images of modernist architecture I was almost frozen by the chill that ran down my neck. It was like physically entering into a Philip Saville photograph with OMD providing the soundtrack.
Instantly, I realised that tonight was going to be more convincing than lame. Two things immediately struck me. First, just how great this music is. It truly is moving stuff. Second, how utterly superb the sound quality was. It was boomingly loud with the bass drum as thumping and powerful as they come, yet this wasn't at the expense of the higher range sounds which whilst remaining absolutely faithful to the original recordings simultaneously sounded punchingly contemporary.
Sealand was up next and the visuals switched to crashing waves. Its vocals coming only late in the song, it was a good five minutes into the set before lead singer McCluskey took to the stage, and when he did he was bathed in roars of approval. When it did come, New Stone Age was a genuine thrill and gave Andy his first chance to display his notorious dance moves as he maniacally pummeled his guitar. Speaking to the seated Apollo auditorium McCluskey said "I forget what the rule is here. I think if enough of you stand up they can't stop you". Those still seated promptly responded and the atmosphere quickly became as electric as the music.
Personal favourite She's Leaving was three minutes of pure indulgence. A beautiful song that demonstrated that McCluskey's voice could ably cope with the varying range challenge that OMD songs sometimes pose. Accurate but not slavish, this performance never faltered from remaining true to the It was clear that the band were delighted at the rapturous reception they were receiving, prompting McCluskey to state "This is not like London - you're being so much fun already!" He was obviously enjoying being back in the limelight. Lighthearted chatting between songs was a welcome touch of honesty rather than irritiating. Of his infamous dancing moves he said: "It's not dignified - it never was!" but he performed them as energetically as ever. There was a slight jibe by McCluskey at Paul Humphreys having cocked up the intro to Tesla Girls the previous three nights (he didn't tonight) and Humphreys sadly remained largely in the sidelines. However, despite McCluskey firmly claiming the lead role there was no evidence of the animosity that caused the two core members to split fighting over the use of the OMD name. And this was the best live sound I've ever heard.
With the album songs completed the remainder took in all stages of the remaining years of their career. The original, sometimes odd, visuals ensured that the attention was usually maintained even if the music often faltered. Imagery included Molly Ringwold (If You Leave), Louise Brooks (Pandora's Box), whilst the weird Altern8 type guy running visuals to Sailing on The Seven Seas were just surreal but cool. In this second phase we did get to hear Messages, Enola Gay, Electricity (natch) and also The Romance of the Telescope so it was far from all bad. Indeed, the first 30 minutes were a triumph - a flawless example of how to revive a band at their height of their power. I had previously seen OMD in Manchester in 1986, but in spite of the intervening twenty one years (!), tonight's performance surpassed that one in every conceivable way.
Afterwards, it dawned on me just how rare and exhilarating it is to hear primal analogue electronic music sounds in a decent sized live venue (Hammersmith Apollo seats approx 3,000). As my mate said, if OMD had walked off stage after simply paying all the songs from Architecture & Morality no-one would have felt shortchanged. The fact that the second evening at the Apollo was being recorded for a DVD release filled me with electricity as in the meantime I will have difficulty waiting to relive what were unquestionably some of the most glorious 30 minutes of my life.
10/10 (for the first 30 minutes only)