Live-Music-Hall, Cologne, Germany
18th April 2011
The Human League, (We Are) Performance
THE HUMAN LEAGUE, legendary and groundbreaking Synth Pop pioneers of the 1980s, made their live reunion a couple of years ago and proved that their are still a force to be reckoned with. In winter 2007, they returned to the road with a pretty unusual concept: the ‘Dare!’ tour, named after THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s most critically acclaimed and most successful album from 1981! As unorthodox it is to focus a tour an 26 year old album, the fans truly looked forward to this special event.
(We Are) Performance
The Manchester-based band (WE ARE) PERFORMANCE is singer Joe Stretch, guitarist Laura Marsde, and Joe Cross (keyboards, production). Well, the band name PERFORMANCE is not just a bit odd but also not exactly SEO (search engine optimized). I had a some difficulties to find more info on this trio from Manchester when searching the web but anyway, I guess when the band was founded about ten years ago such things probably weren't as crucial as they are today. (WE ARE) PERFORMANCE, actually the band's full name, produce synth-driven British Pop music. Vocalist Joe Stretch is also an internationally published novelist while Joe Cross and Laura Marsden are also members of the band KISS IN CITIES. Over the last two years (WE ARE) PERFORMANCE have written and recorded their second album, 'Red Brick Heart', as well as signing a new record deal. http://www.weareperformance.co.uk / http://www.myspace.com/weareperformance
Music & Performance
The Live Music Hall wasn't full yet and people were still coming (or going outside again to have a smoke) when (WE ARE) PERFORMANCE started their show. With a video screen in the middle the band delivered a relaxed, unagitated but pretty catchy set of quite accessible tunes. Call it Pop if you like! In fact, (WE ARE) PERFORMANCE is the kind of Pop you would love to hear on the radio if today's station weren't so obsessed with casting show victims and generic throw-away crap. Even though the stage presence of the band was not too spectacular the music was entertaining enough and last but not least it suited the main act very well. No surprise that HUMAN LEAGUE's audience was pretty appreciative for (WE ARE) PERFORMANCE! In return the band paid tribute to their German audience by having a little speech in German. A nice opener which warms up the audience well and whose music is quite appealing to fans of the headlining act - there's actually not much more you could ask for!
Total: 7.8 / 10
The Human League
The core members of THE HUMAN LEAGUE are since the early 1980s Joanne Catherall (vocals), Susan Ann Sulley (vocals) and of course mastermind Philip Oakey. Since their live reunion in 2007 the band is completed on tour by Rob Barton (percussion, drums), David Beevers (engineering), Nic Burke (keys, guitars), and Neil Sutton (synthesizer). The history of THE HUMAN LEAGUE can really be divided into two: When the band started in the late 1970s it was an all-male quartet producing pioneering electronic music outside the then Rock-dominated mainstream. The original line-up consisted of Philip Oakey, Philip Adrian Wright, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig-Marsh. Ware and Craig-Marsh left HUMAN LEAGUE in 1980 after a few minor hits, including a certain song called ‘Being Boiled’, to form HEAVEN 17. Oakey teamed up with two female backing singers, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley, and this became the second incarnation of THE HUMAN LEAGUE, and the new line-up soon had major hits like ‘Sound Of The Crowd’ and ‘Love Action’, which were the build-up for THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s million-selling and influential album ‘Dare!’, released in October 1981. The success was crowned with the release of the third single off the album, ‘Don’t You Want Me’, which stayed eight weeks in the pole position of the UK charts in winter 1981/82 and is still one of the big 1980s Pop classics.
In the late 1980s THE HUMAN LEAGUE watered their trademark synth sound a bit by including American R&B elements, and while this change of style generated a few more hits it meant the decline of their success in the long run. Eventually THE HUMAN LEAGUE lost their record deal and were out of focus for the mainstream for quite a while. The band's answer was to go back to their Synth Pop roots with ‘Heart Like A Wheel’ (1990) and ‘Tell me When’ (1995), and to turn into a hard-working tour monster. This is particularly true for the last few years, as THE HUMAN LEAGUE refrained from releasing new music after the massive flop of their 2001 album ‘Secrets’ but kept on touring the world with practically no breaks. With the album ‘Credo’ THE HUMAN LEAGUE eventually released new music this year and of course - surprise, surprise! - they did not hesitate to present the new album on yet another tour! http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk / https://www.facebook.com/thehumanleague
Music & Performance
When I saw THE HUMAN LEAGUE live the last time - on their tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their essential ‘Dare!’ album, by the way - it became clear that this band still has quite something to offer as a live act. Phil Oakey and staff do know how to put on a brilliant Pop show! And Pop is the very word, even when some of their early songs are still played at New Wave clubs, THE HUMAN LEAGUE are 100% pure Pop, and their show in Cologne left no doubt about this. The stage was designed in white, including the backing band's outfit and even the drum and keyboard racks, and in the back there was a huge LED screen as a backdrop. A very glamorous sight, underlined by the classy evening gowns of the two ladies.
The opener of the new album ‘Credo’ was also the opener of the night, and while Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley did the lead vocals here, Phil Oakey delivered the backing vocals, hiding his face with a hood far down. With ‘Open Your Heart’, the singers switched the roles, and one thing is sure: These three singers have some stunning voices! THE HUMAN LEAGUE is a band which insists that they would have "an embarrassing lack of talent" but in fact their vocals put any casting show winner to shame. Because they do not only have great voices but also style and character! In the 1980s many critics saw the band as superficial bubblegum Pop but when you hear catchy tunes from the past like ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ or the political lyrics of ‘The Lebanon’ you know that there was always more to THE HUMAN LEAGUE than just an image and what you could see on the surface. The new material neatly goes with the old glories, albeit sounding a bit clubbier than the hits from the past. So no problem to place a 1979 classic as ‘Empire State Human’ between two tracks off the latest album, with Oakey making the quick remark “This was from our last album, the next one is from our first!”. His two side-kicks take the chance to change their clothes while Oakey performs ‘Empire State Human’ alone to return for an enthusiastic rendition of HUMAN LEAGUE's latest single hit ‘Night People’. In a different world this song would be the club anthem of the year, but in this world perhaps only 40-somethings agree. Anyway, THE HUMAN LEAGUE just go on with a touching performance of the ballad ‘Human’ to their 2001 single ‘All I Ever Wanted’ to the most successful single of the year 1981, ‘Don't You Want Me’.
Meanwhile the backing musicians left their keyboard racks to join the singers at the front with keytars hanging from their necks. Playing as much live as possible instead of just going through the motions to the sounds of a playback is THE HUMAN LEAGUE's policy. Their clean and hygienic Electro-Pop is the antithesis to dirty Rock’n’Roll but live on stage THE HUMAN LEAGUE breathe a new life into their synthesized melodies, making 25-year old tunes and new grooves sounding very sanguine and vivid. To the regret of some fans, THE HUMAN LEAGUE refused to play their early anthem ‘Being Boiled’ but with a three-song encore completed by ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ there was not much left to ask for. The title of this very last song of the night was kind of the secret motto of this great concert evening - no surprise that this catchy tune is a classic show closer of THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Only problem: It left a desire for more! Can't wait for this ever-touring ensemble visiting a city near me again!
01. Never Let Me Go
02. Open Your Heart
03. Tell Me When
04. Sound Of The Crowd
05. Heart Like A Wheel
06. The Lebanon
08. Empire State Human
09. Night People
11. Love Action
12. All I Ever Wanted
14. Mirror Man
15. Don't You Want Me
17. Electric Shock
18. Together In Electric Dreams
Total: 9.2 / 10
All pictures by Daniela Vorndran (http://www.vorndranphotography.com / http://www.black-cat-net.de/ / www.myspace.com/vorndranphotography / www.facebook.com/blackcatnet)