Fantastic words by William Alberque
Fantastic photos by Jeff Martin
I went to New York to see Nick Cave and Brian Eno’s favorite new chanteuse, Anna Calvi on Wednesday. Since it was a mid-week show, I added in OMD at Terminal 5 – just to fill out the week, you understand. Cruelly, Calvi canceled the show a few days before claiming a hand injury (likely story – I’m bitter).
So, with the burden of carrying the week shifting to the aged electro-poppers, I was ready for a mid-tempo evening of sluggish nostalgia. Instead, as I type this, I am reveling in the awe of having seen them twice in a week, after racing back to DC to catch them at the 930 Club. What was a reluctant addition to my week became a highlight.
Let me be clear, OMD delivered a hell of a lot more than I expected. And I count myself as a fanatic – one who adored their early output and extraordinary b-sides (download: Sacred Heart, 4-Neu, 66 & Fading, Annex) tapping out during the Pacific Age. Original members Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphries, Martin Cooper, and Malcolm Holmes seemed genuinely bemused at and, eventually, deliriously grateful for, the hero’s welcome the sold out crowd in NYC and intensely crowded 930 Club gigs gave them during their first US tour since Bush Senior was in the White House (they broke up in 1989).
Fabricius played a solid set of charming electropop on both nights, though in NYC, she was accompanied by some sort of magical light and music box (no, seriously), all the while painted head to toe in gold glittery paint.
Unfortunately, the light box did not make the trip to DC, and instead of the gold paint, went with a more muted Bat for Lashes-meets-Seventh Tree Goldfrapp-style owl shawl dress and feather in the hair. On both occasions, she had the super-creepy-yet-cool set of 14 white balloons behind her, with projections onto each of a white light for most of the show, occasionally transforming into wolves heads.
Fabricius is a gracious singer and exciting presence on stage, telling us how excited she was for her first DC show (no such luck in NYC – she played CMJ last year). Her voice is a perfect blend of Lykke Li and Emiliana Torrini (another singer/model with a liltingly beautiful Scandinavian accent), and, though I didn’t recognize most of her set, each song has obvious crossover pop potential, with the underpinning of solid writing.
One remarkable thing about her sets is the fantastic sequencing between slow-building songs of soaring vocals and tighter, more directed dance tracks. “White Nights” and “Son of a Gun” are the standouts, both accompanied by the balloons. What I mean is, in the intro to both songs, the white lights in the center changed to images of her own face. Quickly, you come to realize they’re not stills, they’re video of her face, her head swaying slightly to the beat. Then, in the middle of the song, they sing the backup lines. That’s right, singing balloon head backup singers. Wild. After Nights, she introduced the balloons, saying “each has a shrunken head inside it.” Riiiight.
Fabricius made time at both shows to meet her fans and chat until OMD went on, autographing copies of her new album – a nice touch, but one that I’m sure won’t last once she becomes the star she so richly deserves to be.
In NYC, I spent a few minutes gawping at her beauty back at the merch table, but tore myself away to head for the Terminal 5 balcony for the best view of the side of the stage. At 930, I had to forgo the pleasure and stay put on the floor (ease of access to the bar factored in both decisions).
I had heard OMD would not be playing anything from my favorite record of theirs, Dazzle Ships, darkening my mood after the Scandinavian high of Oh Land. I expected OMD to take the stage, walk through a greatest hits set, and trudge off, pocketing the cash. Oh, but I was wrong.
My first surprise is how astoundingly good Andy McClusky and Paul Humphries voices sound. Their vocals, always an (gladly) acquired taste, haven’t changed a lick, with Paul sounding angelic and Andy more yelping and desperate. Andy set the tone for both nights, attacking his bass and dancing like a madman. A sparkling rendition of “Messages” was an early delight in the set, and I gleefully bounced up and down to their storming romp through Dazzle Ships’ vastly underrated rocker, “Radio Waves.”
Andy laughs that the reception (wildly enthusiastic, cheering, shouting, singing along) demonstrates that 23 years was far too long to wait to play the United States. He’s right, but there were still more delights to come.
Andy is the heart and soul of the show, throwing himself with pure abandon into each song, dancing like a madman and roundly abusing his bass guitar through the faster moments of “Enola Gay,” “Radio Waves,” “Tesla Girls,” and “Electricity.” He does his level best to keep the crowd’s energy up through new songs like the excellent “Sister Marie Says” and “If You Want It” – and the stellar, storming “History of Modern (Part I)” – a song that sits comfortably beside their best. They even snuck the instrumental/cut-up “Parts III and IV” in there, too, reminding me again of why Dazzle Ships, with its snippets of radio transmissions, industrial noise, and tape loops interspersed among the pop tunes was one of the most avant garde pop albums of all time.
Andy jokingly introduces “If You Leave” as “the song that ruined us as a group” and in NYC, followed this with a promise that the next time they come back to the States, they’ll deliver a set packed with rarities (to the extremely loud delight of the fanatics up front).
“Souvenir” melts hearts all around, but they follow with “Joan of Arc,” Andy doing his best Peter Hook impression on bass before the noisy intro of “Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans).” Confused? Well, one of the strangest and most anti-commercial decisions the band ever made was to release two Joan of Arc-named singles and place them back-to-back on the album “Architecture and Morality.” And they had two of the best sets of cover art of all time – Foster, right? – many of Peter Saville’s masterworks were for OMD. I was in raptures.
I should mention the crowd –some aged nostalgics there for the prom tunes, and then a visibly distinct group of obscurant fanatics, both younger and older. Nostalgics and fanatics were the easiest groups to identify – with nostalgics going weak-kneed at “Locomotion,” “So in Love” and “If You Leave,” the fanatics bursting their lungs dancing and shouting during a frenetic run through of “Enola Gay” and the joyous raptures during the encore of “Electricity.”
There were moments of mid-tempo trudge, to be sure, but Paul’s beautiful delivery on “Souvenir” leavened some of the deader wood from their post-Pacific Age career, and, to be fair, comprised a small percentage of what was otherwise an on-target night for the group. Andy apologized for bringing miserable English weather to DC, but said he’d leaven it with some sunshine songs. He introduced “Sailing on the Seven Seas” telling us not to worry if we didn’t recognize it, because it’s brilliant. His enthusiasm is infectious, and, even though I think it a minor song in their canon, I couldn’t help but love it.
Exhilarated, Andy was profuse in his thanks both nights, (finally) introducing keyboardist/saxophonist (and co-writer of Souvenir) Martin Cooper – though not drummer Malcolm Holmes – and, promising to return soon, let us out into the cool night air in NYC and the rain and misery in DC.
So, sorry, this review was a bit scattershot, and not terribly well-structured (are they ever? – sarcasm ed), but, like an excited puppy pissing all over the carpet, I couldn’t help myself. Come see them next time they come through.