Home Live Review Live Review: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark @ House of Blues Anaheim — 11/19/23

Live Review: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark @ House of Blues Anaheim — 11/19/23

Live Review: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark @ House of Blues Anaheim — 11/19/23
OMD perform at House of Blues Anaheim on Nov. 19, 2023. (Photo by Mickey McCarter)

English synthpop greats Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark recently were the toast of the inaugural Darker Waves Festival in sunny Southern California, where they presented 10 of their very best singles to the gratification of swarming attendees ready to dance. With a one-two punch, the quartet followed that day with an engrossing evening that spotlighted the shifting nuances of their sound for the raucous clamor of a sold-out show at the House of Blues in Anaheim.

Upon the announcement of Darker Waves Festival, a sold-out affair including roughly 38,000 concert goers hungry for 33 bands, OMD already were a buzzworthy name on the bill. On Nov. 18, the men from Liverpool exceeded high expectations, blowing their massive audience away with a pounding set that began with “Electricity” (1979), their very first single, and included standouts “Tesla Girls” (1984), “(Forever) Live and Die” (1986), “If You Leave” (appropriate given they wrote it for John Hughes not too far from the fairgrounds), and closer “Enola Gay” (1980), perhaps the greatest song ever recorded.

I was quite pleased with the inclusion of “History of Modern” (2011), the title track of OMD’s 2010 comeback album, a wondrous record that recaptured the cinematic scope of the band’s classic tunes. Although not an “’80s track,” the Darker Waves audience snapped it up and impressed frontman Andy McCluskey by dancing with abandon to “a song about the end of the universe.”

Watch the official music video for “History of Modern (Part 1)” by OMD on YouTube:

OMD’s Darker Waves set was universally embraced on Facebook with raves touting the band as “relentless,” “passionate,” “amazing,” “enjoyable,” and “should’ve been a headliner!”

To follow up that phenomenal performance, OMD headlined their own show the following night, packing at least 2,200 people into the House of Blues Anaheim for a sold-out concert that fully explored the band’s range.

Early in the 20-song set, OMD made the world premiere live performance of “Bauhaus Staircase,” the title track of their 14th studio album. OMD released this clever album of irresistible dance tracks on Oct. 27, only a few weeks prior to the Darker Waves Festival, and so it was very gratifying to hear it represented in a USA concert performance so soon after its publication. On Nov. 19, the House of Blues Anaheim crowd was a quite feisty, and the new song really hooked them with its cascading synth melodies and McCluskey’s emotive delivery of the lyrics.

Watch a live performance of “Bauhaus Staircase” by OMD on Later… with Jools Holland on YouTube:

OMD later performed “Don’t Go,” a definitive torch song with the band’s traditional elegance, which also appears on the Bauhaus Staircase record. The single originally appeared on Souvenir: The Singles Collection 1979-2019, and it saw an initial release only months prior to the 2020 pandemic lockdowns. It’s a powerful song, and I am pleased that OMD gave it a bit more love with its inclusion here rather than allowing the lockdown days to sweep it away.

It has long been the stated goal of OMD to introduce an evolution into their music and to not simply make the same album twice. In their 21st century return to the pop charts, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, our founding duo and principal songwriters, have done just that with remarkable success. The Anaheim concert served as a showcase for this growth, particularly with the early presentation of tracks from The Punishment of Luxury (2017), OMD’s thoughtful 13th studio album. Show opener “Isotype” has become a concert favorite since its introduction and “The Punishment of Luxury,” performed at about the two-thirds mark, provided a meta-insightful review of the intersection of art, commerce, and music — not only incorporating McCluskey’s love of painting (such as that for which it was named, Giovanni Segantini: 1891) but also thoughtfully combining OMD-style hooks with a fresh approach to lyrical craft.

Bauhaus Staircase then continued to open fresh musical ground for OMD to tread, and it was very refreshing to witness another painting (Oskar Schlemmer: 1932) inspire musical greatness once again.

OMD also loaded a number of other great tunes into the House of Blues show — “Messages” (1980) early, “Joan of Arc” (1981) and “Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)” (1982) at the midpoints, and “Sailing on the Seven Seas” (1991) toward the end. The two-song encore consisted of “Secret” (1985) and “Electricity.”

Watch the official music video for “Sailing on the Seven Seas” by OMD on YouTube:

The band it must be said were all in top form and in high spirits. McCluskey was positively chuffed at the enthusiastic fervor for OMD and he poured his excitement into his “dad dancing.” Paul Humphreys sounded great on his vocal turns for “(Forever) Live and Die” and “Secret” — oh and “Souvenir” — otherwise he stood beaming from his synthesizers. And the regal synthesist Martin Cooper took everything in with an air of satisfied accomplishment while drummer Stuart Kershaw dependably and deftly drove every song home.

OMD have hinted they may soon retire from extensive touring, and they have plans to visit the USA again in 2024. You should avail yourself of every opportunity to see one the world’s smartest and most capable bands while you can.

Here are a few shots of OMD performing at House of Blues Anaheim on Nov. 19, 2023.




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