Friday night in Lakeview, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark relied on more than mere nostalgia during a set spanning their career on stage at the Vic Theatre…
“The end of this year is our 40th anniversary!” proclaimed singer, bassist and OMD co-founder Andy McCluskey. “I’ll let you in on a secret: you dance like nobody’s watching. It’s worked for me.”
It worked Friday night too. Reformed since 2006, OMD currently includes bassist, keyboard player, singer and songwriter McCluskey, keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter Paul Humphreys, keyboard and saxophonist Martin Cooper (who joined the group in 1981) and drummer since 1991 Stuart Kershaw.
“This feels good tonight!” exclaimed McCluskey early in Friday night’s performance in observation of the raucous Vic Theatre crowd.
Maybe it was an early start to the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, or maybe it was in appreciation of the synthpop quartet’s first Chicago appearance in five years, but Friday night’s crowd was great from go and remained so throughout, leaving the band several moments in which it was necessary to take an extended pause between songs until things calmed down.
“There’s going to be new songs... and there’s definitely going to be old songs!” said the frontman, further revving up the already excited crowd. “And dancing is compulsive!’ he demanded.
Despite an 80s soundtrack hit and more, OMD has eschewed the typical embrace of nostalgia that defines many of their contemporaries in America. Since reforming in 2006, the UK electronic outfit has worked briskly, releasing new material in 2010 (History of Modern), 2013 (English Electric) and just this past September (The Punishment of Luxury).
“I’ll give you a clue: when I put the bass on, it’s an old song,” said McCluskey, strapping on a guitar early, as the band moved from “Isotope” to “Messages,” from their 1980 self-titled debut, third in the Vic set, the dueling keyboards of Humphreys and Cooper propelling the performance.
When not on bass, McCluskey stuck closely to his dancing credo, spastically stalking the stage throughout. Nowhere was that dancing on better display than during “Ghost Star” to open the show.
The sparse arrangement of the brand new track put the focus squarely on McCluskey’s still powerful baritone. At 58, it’s a voice that’s lost little of the luster that fueled that of the group’s 80s heyday. The opening track also exposed the Vic crowd to a ridiculously powerful light show that would’ve remained a sonic ocular focus in a venue twice the twice size.
From 1986’s The Pacific Age, “(Forever) Live and Die” slowed things down midway through Friday night’s performance. “Occasionally, we accidentally write a love song,” joked McCluskey of a performance which saw him and Humphreys swap roles, Humphreys taking center stage for a lead vocal, to the delight of the crowd, while McCluskey moved to the keyboards.
Humphreys later sang lead on the brand new “What Have We Done.” From the group’s 2017 studio effort The Punishment of Luxury, the new track acted as a great example of the way in which new OMD music interweaves with the group’s 80s hits seamlessly throughout the setlist.
Taking the pace down a notch with the ballad set the stage for an electrifying performance of the group’s biggest American hit.
“A little over thirty years ago, we got a call from a guy who I believe was in Chicago,” said McCluskey, working the crowd with a reference to screenwriter, director and longtime Chicago area resident John Hughes.
Hughes wrote the 1986 “brat pack” vehicle Pretty In Pink, which prominently featured OMD’s “If You Leave” both in the film and on the soundtrack. “If You Leave” was written specifically for the film and remains a highlight during it’s final scene.
It’s the highest charting Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark single in America, having reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the spring of 1986, a highlight on one of the decade’s finest new wave compilations.
Cooper delivered the cut’s trademark saxophone solo and a lengthy standing ovation followed the performance. It was more of the same from the crowd shortly thereafter following a strobe driven take of “Joan of Arc.”
A thirty minute performance from Milwaukee electro pop outfit GGOOLLDD opened the show.
Friday night the group performed as a five piece with guitar, bass, drums and keyboards backing entertaining frontwoman Margaret Butler.
Late in the set, Butler danced in a sort of cape/dress that lit up, a display every bit as artful as GGOOLLDD's music.
Butler joined in on keyboards at the end of “The Way That I Feel.” The combination of keys and bass powered the track, while a buzzsaw guitar cut through the chorus, conjuring up images of The Cure in the live setting. It doubled as the quintet’s most uptempo number.
From their latest EP, December’s Teeth, keyboards and guitar put an atmospheric bent on a set closing rendition of “Undercovers.”
The group worked in lyrical reference’s to Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” during a set which closed as Butler sat on the edge of the stage playfully engaging fans up front. She wound up kicking and writhing before lying down on the stage entirely.
“OMD is next. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them but you should stick around,” she joked. “They’re actually a great f---ing band.”
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
- Photos courtesy of Philamonjaro Studio. Visit online at http://www.philamonjaro.com/