You could feel the “electricity” in the air long before you heard the song of the same name when Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or OMD, played a headlining show at The Fillmore Charlotte recently. OMD thrilled the very full house to its core as the quintessential English synthpoppers hit the second of four solo shows in a break from opening for The B-52s.
The B-52s are sweeping the country on a farewell tour to mark the band’s 40th anniversary, and they’ve brought along OMD and California new wavers Berlin as openers. While The B-52s idled over the last weekend, OMD frontman Andy McCluskey and company jumped into a mini-tour, stopping in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the second of four headlining shows. Given that OMD also have been celebrating a 40th anniversary, the US headlining shows provide a very welcome opportunity to see a full OMD set in all of its synth glory, and the quartet posts the third of the four headlining shows tonight, Sept. 3, in Nashville.
In Charlotte on Aug. 31, OMD satisfied absolutely starstruck admirers with a 22-song set that fell equally across the entire span of OMD’s output, drawing three songs from the outstanding Architecture & Morality (1981) and another three from the terrific Junk Culture (1984) but also two songs from their very latest, The Punishment of Luxury (2017), and the extremely welcome title track of History of Modern (2010).
Highlights came early and consistently. The audience squealed when Andy brought out his bass for “Messages” early in the set. But that was prelude for Junk Culture’s “Tesla Girls,” in my opinion, as Andy stormed the front of the stage, swinging that bass low and holding his head high for the jaunty chorus. A prerecorded track sang the “no no no” of the refrain, but the female-heavy audience, particularly in the front row, met that call with a response of “yes yes yes” — a totally clever routine that invited crowd participation. I don’t recall the call-and-response for Tesla Girls in any other OMD show, and I’ve seen a few since the band reunited 12 years ago, but it was a very welcome development!
Stream Junk Culture by OMD on Spotify:
As much as I could write a book about Mr. McCluskey, he is only half the brains of OMD — and the bright and congenial Mr. Paul Humphreys constitutes the other half. Paul played vibrantly, and he beamed earnestly as the audience ate up every one of his synthpop singles and asked for another. Paul took lead vocals on several fan-favorite tracks of course, including notably “Forever (Live and Die)” from The Pacific Age (1986) at one third through the set and “Secret” from Crush (1985) in the encore.
The enduring Crush, OMD’s sixth studio album, featured again when the band later performed “So in Love,” a romantic snare much adored by those in attendance. The song took on a “new romantic” aura indeed as the very professional Martin Cooper rose from his synthesizer to play sax on the number. When Martin played that saxophone, the room swooned, and the workmanlike synthesist smiled broadly in reply to the crowd’s reaction.
At the back of the stage, the super sharp Stuart Kershaw filled the room with the percussion integral to so many snappy OMD tunes. Is he man or machine? It’s a question for futurist-leaning Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to assess in song one day when looking at their drummer, who’s a total charmer in person but looks like he could kick those drums all day on stage.
The drums soared during the second half of the set for the must-hear pair of songs inspired by Joan of Arc — “Joan of Arc” and “Maid of Orleans” — and into a few of my personal favorites, “Talking Loud and Clear” and “Walking on the Milk Way” (a song that delightfully continues to enjoy a long life live). OMD closed the set on “Enola Gay,” perhaps their most popular and powerful song, and the entire show on “Electricity,” their oldest and fastest song. Fast or no, you could find a very happy crowd dancing the night away at The Fillmore Charlotte on Saturday. The venue came very close to selling out (and that’s nearly 2,000 people)!
As OMD prepare to release a 40th anniversary box set, titled Souvenir after the memorable song from the incomparable Architecture & Morality album, the band in fact released a strong new single, “Don’t Go.” They aren’t playing the new number on this tour, however, as they haven’t rehearsed it, as Andy told us after the show.
Find all OMD tour dates on the band’s website. OMD arrive in DC on Sept. 17 to open The B-52s at The Anthem. The B-52s? OMD? Berlin? You cannot afford to miss that show!
Here are some pictures of OMD performing at The Fillmore Charlotte on Aug. 31, 2019. Check out Andy’s famously ungainly dancing! All photos courtesy of Mickey McCarter.