"This was meant to be the epitaph for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Evidently it isn't."
So said an overwhelmed Andy McCluskey, lead singer of OMD, as he introduced the song "Walking on the Milky Way" to a Hammersmith Apollo full-house that, from first note to last, roared the re-formed band on to a performance on Friday night that must have been one of the most electrifying they have ever given.
Billed as a complete performance of the synth pop quartet's seminal 1981 album "Architecture and Morality", front of house notices stated that OMD's set would commence at 9:15. That may have been when McCluskey started singing, but it was a full ten minutes earlier when the title track cut across the expectant hubbub. As the eerie instrumental began to fade percussionist Malcolm Holmes, keyboardist Martin Cooper and group co-leader Paul Humphreys were cheered on stage and Holmes began the steady double drum strike that announces "Sealand", the end of side one of the original vinyl disc. McCluskey, to his own acclamation, joined them to sing the elegiac closing melody lines with great vocal assurance. The singer reminded the crowd that, as far as he knew, the rule was if they all stood there was nothing that could be done about it. Thirty seconds later the whole auditorium was on its feet and stayed there throughout.
The big three singles were kept in reserve as the band delivered the remaining album tracks with such measured confidence and polish you'd think they'd never been away. Humphreys took over vocals for breakthrough hit Souvenir before McCluskey returned to bring the faithful the pair of songs devoted to Joan of Arc that they had been waiting eighteen years to hear again. The frontman took a small line-fluff in the middle of the first of these in his stride and by the strobe-soaked climax of Maid Of Orleans the ecstatic intensity in the room was quasi-religious. That rare and elsuive bond between artist and audience held magical sway for the rest of the night.
An integral part of the show's success was the stunning range of visuals provided in a constant stream on a state of the art screen across the back of the stage. During "The Beginning and the End" it displayed myriad descending threads reminiscent of early eighties nuclear war simulations, bringing into focus the political edge to their output that set OMD apart from many in the electronic music genre of their day and later images portraying Cuba, the Soviet Union and a man trying to run in an anti-chemical bodysuit also harked back to that. As the final notes of the album's closing number died away, McCluskey addressed himself to the "several dozen journalists" present and, buoyed by the reception afforded the band, invited them to leave if they wanted to and write about the "great cultural experience they'd had". Continuing as if delivering the parish notices he explained to those remaining behind that, as the band had been away a long time, it was only fair that they should now move on and play "twelve hit singles in a row".
"Messages" from their first, eponymous album began the mass karaoke session and McCluskey's stage persona, which could betray a touch of the Michael Barrymores if it wasn't working, reached out for the whole theatre and held it comfortably as the band strode through lighter hits such as "Tesla Girls", "Forever Live and Die", "If You Leave" and even the post-Humphreys "Sailing on the Seven Seas". Many punters seemed to know all the words even to that, but die-hard fans of the group's spikier early oeuvre will have been a little disappointed to have only had iconic set closer "Enola Gay" and encore "Electricity" added to the list of pre-Architecture and Morality numbers.
"Red Frame / White Light" and, indeed, the entire of 1983 follow-up album "Dazzle Ships" except final encore "Romance of the Telescope" (which was originally a B-side to Maid Of Orleans) will have to wait for another time, but there was no doubt as the four men grinned, embraced each other and saluted their delighted supporters that any thoughts of returning to managing Atomic Kitten or writing hits for other people will need to be put on the back burner for a while. There's a Saturday night show to do, and then a brief trip to continental Europe before the band comes back for more dates in Blighty in June.
The cult of OMD is on the march. Unbelievers welcome.
Picture of the statue of Joan of Arc in Notre Dame, Paris via paige_eliz's Flickr stream.