Andy McCluskey moved like a man possessed. As frontman for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Andy danced up a storm during a sold-out show at 9:30 Club on Tuesday. And with that distinctive dancing, Andy threw wide his arms, hugged himself, and generally windmilled around the stage frenetically.
From the very first moment OMD stepped on stage, our 9:30 Club audience knew it was a special night. The four men from Liverpool were in high spirits, and the electricity throughout the audience was palpable.
The show began with two of the very best songs from the new album, The Punishment of Luxury, released Sept. 1 by 100% Records subsidiary White Noise — “Ghost Star” and “Isotype.” The DC audience readily embraced the new music, which carries the OMD sonic DNA. For the third song, Andy picked up his bass, which he famously plays upside down as he learned to play it left-handed, and announced, “You know it’s an old song when I pick up the bass!”
To the delight of the audience, that song was “Messages,” from the self-titled debut album by OMD released in 1980. Of course, the show was replete with the classic OMD songs, including the quirky “Tesla Girls,” the lovelorn “Joan of Arc,” the peppy “Locomotion, and the dramatic “Enola Gay,” which closed the main set.
Along the way, there were pleasant surprises, most notably “Of All the Things We’ve Made” from the triumphant Dazzle Ships, the 1983 album once consigned as a commercial failure but now viewed as a shining jewel in the OMD musical catalog. For the song, synthesist Paul Humphreys, keyboardist Martin Cooper, and drummer Stuart Kershaw joined Andy at the lip of the stage as the quartet arrayed themselves in the manner of their heroes Kraftwerk. Paul, Andy’s coolly sanguine songwriting partner, commanded an Akai mini keyboard, as did Martin, while Stuart struck a single snare. Such an arrangement makes OMD fans positively giddy, and we remained high on haute electronica while OMD rolled into the next number.
That number — “What Have We Done” — was another pleasing selection from The Punishment of Luxury, and the first new
song single to feature Paul on lead vocals in more than 30 years. (Paul sang the outstanding “Stay With Me” on English Electric — h/t reader Shawn Kelley). Paul’s gentle voice was a pleasing compliment to Andy’s commanding baritone — and Paul cheered the audience immensely with his signature songs, “(Forever) Live and Die” from The Pacific Age (1986), “Souvenir” from beloved Architecture & Morality, and “Secret,” which appeared in the encore, from Crush (1985).
This being the first show on a sweeping tour of North America, OMD of course were obligated to perform “If You Leave,” the song that certainly made them known in the United States when they contributed it to the soundtrack of Pretty in Pink. “We sold our souls to Hollywood!” Andy declared, eliciting a gentlemanly smirk from Paul. But the truth is that OMD did it their way, and “If You Leave” is a delightfully OMD song, full of romantic yearning and dramatic synths. A little later, OMD fulfilled our hopes and dreams a bit more with their US hit “So in Love,” part of which Andy crooned to the front row generally and to a member of my concert buddy group, Chrissy, specifically. She was positively swooning.
Toward the end of the set, OMD performed the title track to The Punishment of Luxury, and the audience sang along, particularly to the catchy shout-along chorus “Hey! Hey! Hey!” The warm reception to the new song surely thrilled Andy, Paul, Martin, and Stuart, but even they likely weren’t prepared for what happened after “last song” “Enola Gay.” The band walked off stage, and a thundering chant of “O-M-D” arose throughout 9:30 Club as every person in the room whole-heartedly recalled the band to the stage for more cerebral discourse in song on the nature of love, life, and learning.
In addition to “Secret,” the OMD encore included the yearning of “Dreaming” and the daring of “Electricity,” their first and still perhaps their most enthralling song. The audience embraced Andy’s advice to dance with wild abandon and we matched his enthusiasm with our own charmingly awkward twists and turns.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are very simply one of the most ingenious bands ever to play a stage, and their unique blend of new wave theatrics with intellectual lyrics and sophisticated instrumentation produce a potent elixir that proves irresistible for discerning concert aficionados.
OMD return to the stage tonight, March 9, in Boston, and they will be in the United States through an April 14 date in Fort Lauderdale. Heed my advice: Go see this amazing show wherever it may land closest to you. You’ll find yourself dancing without a care in the world along with Andy’s endearing if ungainly moves.
Here are some pictures of OMD performing at 9:30 Club on March 6, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of Paivi Salonen.