The 1980s came to life on Sunday as one of that decades most beloved bands stopped by Portland’s Wonder Ballroom during an international tour to support their latest album English Electric.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, affectionately called OMD, put on a stellar performance and gave us reason to believe that music is not dead and perhaps a resurgence in 80s new wave music is just around the corner. OMD’s “classic lineup” (the term now used to differentiate what is considered to be a band’s authentic core members from the revolving door of members over the years) proved to be just as fresh today as they were 30 years ago.
Certainly, singer/bassist Andy McCluskey, keyboardist/singer Paul Humphreys, keyboardist/saxophonist Martin Cooper and drummer Malcolm Holmes no longer look the part of 80s new wavers but the substance, music and even dance moves were all present and accounted for.
Smash hits and what sounds to be a solid new album (English Electric is not available until Tuesday) showcased an astonishing youthful McCluskey vocal. His tone with that slight British drawl was ripped from the band’s albums and his pitch was spot on. At 53 years young, the man has lost neither his voice nor his groove. Humphrey’s, who sometimes shares vocal duties, shined on “Secrets.”
Admitting his dancing was a tad ridiculous, McCluskey nonetheless entertained the near sold-out house crowd of probably 700 with some funky self-hugging moves that proved to be almost hypnotic to watch. He worked himself into a drench during “Maid of Orleans” with fantastic strobe lighting effects and by the end McCluskey was in a pant.
OMD’s penchant for keyboard/synth pop is evident the second the band takes the stage – no guitars. Their latest single “Metroland” which opened the 21-song set, save for “Decimal” which the band walked on stage to and was simply a recording, shows the band embracing their roots and charting new territory with its near epic seven-plus minute long discourse.
OMD struck gold in the United States with 1986’s “If You Leave” an anthem of sorts for love-sick teenagers of the day. Despite their popularity and a host of other hit singles McCluskey admitted in a recent interview that America thinks of them as a one-hit wonder. On Sunday, McCluskey introduced the “Pretty in Pink” hymn as a song everyone in the room likely danced to at their prom.
With fellow 80s power pop group Depeche Mode embarking on an arena tour this summer it’s almost shocking to see such a talented and very nostalgic band like OMD headlining small ballrooms. Perhaps their rise in the United States fell short after the current line up split in 1988 only to reunite in 2006. The band released History of Modern in 2010. Additionally, what’s rather annoying is touring English Electric, the band’s 12th album, before it’s even released. “Metroland” has been available on the band’s website for some time but as for the rest of the album the audience heard it for the first time Sunday.
Die-hards here in the states, OMD holds on to a much popular following in Europe, may be the only ones to hear the new album but here’s the thing – put OMD on any pop station today, tout them as a new British invasion and no one will ever remember Gotye. “Joan of Arc,” “Enola Gay” and “So in Love” stand the test of time and would you believe the nearly 40-year old “Electricity” OMD’s oldest song which they closed the evening with, sounded just as fresh and relevant as it did so many decades ago.
McCluskey promised to be back just as he promised 18 months ago, though he said, probably not as quick. Let’s just hope for their sake and music lovers everywhere they can step out of a small NE Portland venue and get on a stage where they belong.
OMD Portland Setlist (Wonder Ballroom):
- Radio Waves
- History of Modern (Part 1)
- (Forever) Live and Die
- If You Leave
- Night Café
- Joan of Arc
- Maid of Orleans
- Our System
- Kissing the Machine
- So in Love
- Sister Mary Says
- Sailing on the Seven Seas
- Enola Gay
- Walking on the Milky Way