Yazoo

Hammersmith Apollo, London - 18 June, 2008


"Fantastic"

Yazoo YazooYazoo (being shy synth knob twiddler Vincent Clarke and large-lunged vocalist Alison Moyet) are one of the finest, if short-lived, UK pop acts ever. For some unjust reason however, they are largely dismissed as just fluffy 80s electro pop. This is probably due to early massive hit singles like Don't Go and Only You being the indellible memory most people of a certain age have of the Essex-born two-piece. These admittedly cracking singles merely hint at the strength of their wider album songwriting. Particularly on the band's more mature and reflective second (and final to date) 1983 album You And Me Both.

The years have been kind to Clarke and Moyet. Both in terms of their appearance (neither look much more than a year older - despite it being more than 20 years since they were last together), and their careers; with Clarke moving on to Erasure with Andy Bell - creating one of the UKs most prolifically successful pop bands in the history of the UK charts. Moyet meanwhile has had a steady and credible solo career, despite taking a number of years off to start and raise a family. But, for me, Yazoo remains the pinnacle of both Clarke's and Moyet's respective careers because they have never bettered the quality and impact of their combined songwriting talents.

Their first few releases (Don't Go was one of the very first songs written by Clarke) are textbook examples of classic synthpop. Jaunty, trad verse, chorus, verse structures, memorable hooklines and lead melodies, singalong choruses, and barely over three minutes long. And they will always be classics and that's fine. But I rarely listen to them because alongside the more considered (if less commercial) album tracks they are too familiar. Add to their chart success the emotional depth and fragile beauty of non-single compositions like Tuesday and Winter Kills from the 1982 debut Upstairs At Eric's, or Softly Over, Mr Blue, Unmarked, or Anyone from the (in many ways) superior second album You And Me Both, and in a mere twenty songs you've got a formidable repertoire that many would give their right arm for.

With Moyet's voice holding both its range and power on her solo tours in the intervening years, and with Vince Clarke only having to apply his two fingered dexterity to a keyboard linked to samples of the original synth sounds, it would have been quite an achievement if they'd actually managed to screw up this return to the live stage. By the time You And Me Both was released Yazoo had already split and before that they'd only ever performed live, astonishingly, 24 times. So even if you, like me, were a fan back then its something of an understatement to say you did well to see them live. I did not, so when I heard about the 'Re-connected Tour' I was frankly ecstatic.

With so much anticipation riding on tonight, this was a remarkably similar experience to seeing OMD perform Architecture and Morality live last year (co-incidentally at the same venue). Praise be then that this delivered in almost equal measure. The renditions were faithful but never restrained, if it felt right to add a few extra electro bubbles here or there, or sprinkle a few additional notes around an existing melody they did. And it always worked. For the die-hards (I include myself here), there were plenty of those original Pro One synth samples and literally every song delivered as a cracking live version of a much-loved friend.

The atmosphere across the evening was one of unbridled fun. The tone rapidly set by Moyet's girly pigtails and tongue-in-cheek dance moves. The two Yazoo albums are both emotional rollercoaster rides so it came as no surprise that it was the same live. All the traumatic (but lovely so) moments were counterbalanced by exhuberant highs thanks in no small part to the singles. It felt a bit like travelling back in time to a school disco that had somehow managed to retain its street cred. The exceptions to the uplifting times were thankfully found where they should be - in the other half of Yazoo's output - the reflective, Yazoopensive and melancholic works.

YazooIt was terrific to hear the experimental I Before E Except After C (a song deemed so expendable that when Upstairs At Eric's was first released on CD the track was simply left off the album!). True to it's hardcore electronic origins, this played entirely autonomously - supposedly from a vintage reel-to-reel pushed to the front and centre stage by Clarke before he and Moyet walked slowly off taking a well-earned break midway through the set.

It seemed an odd choice to bookend the squiggly, high tempo bubblegum of Sweet Thing next to the decidedly downbeat Winter Kills (probably Yazoo's most morose song). But that's what they did. With the crowd like some jittering mass of ADD challenged, sugar-rush high five year olds, Moyet, worried that they would not respect the composition by being quiet, asked for their indugence and as soon as the opening notes signalled what was to follow, in a remarkable acts of mass understanding, the entire venue sat back in their seats and listened in silence to this heart wrenching song unfold. It was genuinely moving.

The pinnacle for me (and, trust me, it's really hard to single one out) was Unmarked. This long-standing favourite of mine was taken to an ethereal plane live with the most astonishing opening synth sounds that were at once faithful to the original album track and staggeringly powerful. I mean, like, unbelievably powerful. It felt like being inside the sound. A chilling live experience that literally brought tears to my eyes. And it wasn't the only time either. The same thing happened on Mr Blue, Tuesday and Anyone. A veritable blub-fest, and a unique and wonderful experience.

There's talk of Clarke and Moyet writing new material as Yazoo. Whilst I'm more than curious to hear the outcome, there are times when it simply isn't possible to improve on what has gone before and it is best not to attempt to repeat the alchemy. I think this is one of them. However, as for the live performance record, the Re-Connected Tour only added a further 28 nights to the previous 24. A paultry 52 gigs for songwriters of the calibre of Yazoo is still criminally low. We don't need the excuse of new material to justify more chances to hear these fantastic songs live; let's just have more of the same. 9/10

Setlist: Nobody's Diary, Bad Connection, Mr. Blue, Good Times, Tuesday, Ode to Boy, Goodbye 70's, Too Pieces, In My Room, Walk Away from Love, I Before E Except After C, Anyone, State Farm, Sweet Thing, Winter Kills, Midnight, Unmarked, Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I), Situation, Don't Go, Only You.

Rob Dyer


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