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Live Music Hall, Cologne, Germany
17th December 2007

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 a 26 year old album, the fans truly looked forward to this special event.


The duo ONETWO is Claudia Brücken of former PROPAGANDA-fame, and Paul Humphries of OMD. So the support slot for THE HUMAN LEAGUE offered two 1980s legends in itself. /

Both ORCHESTRAL MANOEVRES IN THE DARK aka OMD and PROPAGANDA were leading acts of the new Synth pop wave in the first half of the 1980s, and both gained worldwide chart success. PROPAGANDA even managed as one of the few German bands (they were hailing from Düsseldorf) to have major success in the UK, where they still have a cult following. Brücken and Humphreys, who are not only musical partners but also a couple, formed their mutual project ONETWO in 2004 in London. With a lot of awareness for their personal musical history they create electronic pop music which sounds fresh and contemporary. Brücken and Humphreys share the vocal duties but the distinct voice of Claudia Brücken carries most of the songs, and is surely one of the key elements of ONETWO. ONETWO’s released one album so far, ‘Instead’, released in 2007 and only preceded by an EP and the single ‘Cloud 9’. After a support tour with ERASURE and numerous headline gigs, ONETWO had the chance to present their new music to old, new and soon-to-be fans as special guests on THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s “Dare!” tour.

There was only little space in front of the huge curtain granted for ONETWO but they actually do not need much space. Claudia Brücken was of course in the centre, framed by Humphreys on the right behind his keyboard rack and a guest musician, on keys and guitars, on the left. ONETWO do not rely on spectacular effects, they simply present their music and have faith that this will be enough to convince the audience. Humphreys, who has the aura of an elder statesman of Pop, introduces most of the songs with a few words while Brücken smiles shyly. But when she opens her mouth to sing you are just stunned. She simply has one of the most distinctive female voices in Pop, and live on stage she’s just as great as in studio recordings. Before the show I wondered if ONETWO’s rather mellow, mid-tempo songs will work live, but they did. But Brücken and Humphreys know what people expect and threw in a few tunes from their respective musical pasts.

OMD’s ‘Messages’ received a warm welcome, and the biggest cheer, a big roar actually, got PROPAGANDA’s ‘Duell’. They also performed a song by Billy Mackenzie, which ONETWO prepared for a special tribute show in London earlier this year. Among the songs from ‘Instead’ were ‘Signals’, the German-languaged and very KRAFTWERK-ish ‘Kein Anschluss’ and of course the single ‘Cloud 9’, by the way co-written by Martin Gore of DEPECHE MODE.

Music: 7
Performance: 7
Sound: 8
Light: 5
Total: 6.7


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 HUMAN LEAGUE started in the late 1970s as an all-male quartet in Sheffield, UK. Because of their interest in electronic engineering and computer technology they decided to create music a bit left of the root and explore the possibilities of the new synthesizer technology of the times, which was finally affordable for non-millionaires at this time. The original line-up consisted of Philip Oakey, Ian Craig-Marsh, Martyn Ware and Philip Adrian Wright, who was initially only responsible for the visuals of the band. Ware and Craig-Marsh left the band in 1980 after a few minor hits, including a certain song called ‘Being Boiled’, too form HEAVEN 17. Oakey hired two female backing singers and this became the formation of HUMAN LEAGUE as most people know them, as the new line-up soon had major hits like ‘Sound Of The Crowd’ and ‘Love Action’, which were the build-up for 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’ 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, as much as the album ‘Dare!’ is considered as one of the key moments in Pop music by some critics.

The remaining decade had more hits from THE HUMAN LEAGUE in store, like the political ‘The Lebanon’, the ballad ‘Human’, or ‘Together in Electric Dreams’. However, along the years THE HUMAN LEAGUE lost their direction a bit, making albums with American R&B producers and staring more and more into the American mainstream. Many old fans felt alienated by the style changes and the success became lower. During the 1990s THE HUMAN LEAGUE turned back to their Synth pop roots but only had two minor hits with ‘Heart Like A Wheel’ (1990) and ‘Tell me When’ (1995). Significantly, THE HUMAN LEAGUE released between 1988 and 2003 only three proper studio albums but a total of six Best Of compilations.

Since 2001, after the big flop of the ‘Secrets’ album, the band’s focus turned from recording to touring. And this was quite obviously the right decision, as sold-out club shows in Europe, the US and Australia prove. But THE HUMAN LEAGUE are not a band who had their day and try to cash in a bit more by playing gigs wherever they would be not chased away. Quite likely anyone who had the privilege to witness “The League”, as fans call them, live on stage will say that THE HUMAN LEAGUE is one of the best synthesized live acts around! And the show at the Live Music Hall in Cologne proved this once more. Touring in celebration of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s best and most popular album two and half decades after its release turned out to be one of the best ideas a band had in 2007. The curtains were still closed when the first sounds resounded but there was no long intro, the curtains dropped and – it was breathtaking! Truly the things that (Synth pop) dreams are made of! The sound was crystal clear, the lights sharp and bright (no blurry spotlights, only most effectively used and multi-shaped laser lights!), the videos and images on the huge screens were stunning, and seeing seven musicians performing vintage Synth pop performing 100% live was simply impressive. THE HUMAN LEAGUE do not rely on backing tapes and such, they insist of playing everything live. They have engineer David Beevers on stage with two Apple Macintosh computers on stage to control and manipulate the sequences live, instead of relying on pre-recorded material. A blast!

THE HUMAN LEAGUE has been always a band who put a lot of weight on the visual aspects, including fashion; so no casual wear for the band, rather some sort of subtle corporate design for their clothes. Oakey had a long black coat, dark sunglasses, black hand-gloves. He just stands there, hardly moving and hardly being moved by the music seemingly, simply performing his vocal duties. Any youngster craving for coolness should watch this 52-year-old gentleman - who, by the way, looks easily twenty years younger than that. The two “girls”, these days of course rather ladies but as Oakey in excellent shape, were a bit more in favour of glamour with their fancy dresses, while the rest of the band chose plain but stylish black and white clothing. THE HUMAN LEAGUE performed their legendary ‘Dare!’ album in exactly the same running order as on the original studio release. What could fail with many other albums in a live context is just perfect in this case, as ‘Dare!’ starts with three single hits, continues with darker and more experimental album tracks like ‘Do Or Die’, ‘I Am The Law’ or the fantastic ‘Seconds’, which lead to the climax with another two major hits, ‘Love Action’ and - of course! – ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

The band did not perform remixed or updated versions of the songs, they were sticking pretty close to the originals although the songs surely did sound differently as everything was performed live. The music was as much 1981 as it was 2007, so to speak, as all the songs can stand the test of time. Oakey’s voice was just amazing - album quality, I’d say. That is, his live voice is just as good as in the original recordings, and it was very notably sung live, not just miming. How many 50-somethings who started a career three decades ago can claim this? Well, I experienced a few of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s contemporaries who prefer to rely on playback these days because their voices would be messed up by now. Oakey, on the other hand, can claim perfection when it comes to his singing. But Catherall and Sulley deserve honourable mentions too, their voices matured in the best sense of the word. Sulley even received spontaneous extra applause during ‘Don’t You Want Me’ when she began her first solo part. Stunning!

After all the iconic songs from ‘Dare!’ an interlude followed, an instrumental played by the band while Oakey, Catherall and Sulley left the stage. This nicely separated the ‘Dare!’ tracks from the rest of the set and, a factor not to be underestimated, gave the three singers the chance to redress for the second part of the show. And this second part was a best of selection of HUMAN LEAGUE’s post-‘Dare!’ era. The guitar-driven ‘The Lebanon’ is still among the band’s strongest tunes, and ‘All I Ever Wanted’ from 2001’s ‘Secrets’ album finally gets the respect it deserves. One song that seems to be unavoidable at HUMAN LEAGUE live shows is ‘Human’, a rather cheesy ballad from the band’s Soul-ish mainstream period of the late 1980s. Before I suspected this being a low point for me personally, as I’m not too keen THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s material from this era, but live it worked and was indeed a quite touching moment. After this ballad the band focussed again on the more danceable stuff, including their two hits from the 1990s, and their classic ‘Mirror Man’ with the entire band at the front of the stage.

One essential song was still missing (although die-hard fans would argue that it would be more than just one), but there’s one song which laid the foundation of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s glory. But Oakey & Co. saved the legendary ‘Being Boiled’ for the encore. Although I wished they had performed it with a bit more punch (one of the very few complaints about this gig) it was a pleasure to hear this song live three decades after its initial release. ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ completed the encore, and the title was - together with the very first song of the night - the secret motto of this great concert evening. It was almost anything a true Synth pop-heart could ever ask for!

01. The Things That Dreams Are Made Of
02. Open Your Heart
03. The Sound of the Crowd
04. Darkness
05. Do or Die
06. Get Carter
07. I Am the Law
08. Seconds
09. Love Action (I Believe In Love)
10. Don't You Want Me
11. Hard Times
12. The Lebanon
13. All I Ever Wanted
14. Human
15. Heart like A Wheel
16. Tell Me When
17. (Keep Feeling) Fascination
18. Mirror Man
19. Being Boiled
20. Together In Electric Dreams

Music: 8
Performance: 10
Sound: 10
Light: 10
Total:  9.2

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