Sunday, 14 December 2008

Together in Electric Dreams

On Tuesday, with Claire to the Hammersmith Apollo for the "Steel City Tour" by the trio of Sheffield bands from my own youth comprising Heaven 17, ABC and - of course - the Human League.

Inevitably, H17 opened, and although they proved my long-standing suspicion that I only knew a few of their tracks, there was a pleasingly nostalgic generic familiarity to the rest of their 40 minute set. Although they lacked Carol Kenyon's vocals on Temptation, Billie Godfrey was a more than adequate stand-in, ably assisted by Me'sha Bryan.

ABC, on the other hand, had more familiar tracks, but they were never a group that registered much on my radar during the 1980s. There's nothing technically wrong with likes of Poison Arrow and The Look of Love, and Martyn Fry remains an accomplished performer, but our patience was stretched a bit by his 50 minutes on stage, which wasn't helped by the 40 minutes beforehand that it took to set-up after H17 had finished.

Although quite a few people left after ABC's set, the auditorium seemed to refill during the next 30 minute stage-change, and there was a palpable air of restless expectation before the Human League's performance began with a gloriously sustained lead-in to Seconds, as the curtains that had been the rather plain backdrop to the previous two bands dropped to show the impressive set.

Even though the League were on stage for over an hour - including encores - the sad aspect of having to share such a tour with other bands is that their set couldn't be as extensive as their solo tour in 2004. We got the old favourites like Love Action, Don't You Want Me? and Mirror Man, as well as the early more experimental Being Boiled and Empire State Human, but their later work was represented only by Tell Me When. This was a big disappointment, given that Susan Anne Sulley had a bad throat during the London leg of the 2004 tour, and so we didn't get One Man in My Heart. It would also have been great to hear live my all time favourite League track, Stay With Me Tonight, the stop-gap single between the Octopus and Secrets albums.

As is often said about the League, every new single they have can hardly be described as a "come-back," since they've never really been again, but they have also kept pace with the time. The Secrets album in 2001 included All I Ever Wanted, which could certainly hold its own amongst contemporary dance music, but wasn't given the chance due to poor marketing and the (unconnected) collapse of the group's record company.

Even with these caveats, though, an unmissable event, the tickets for which were a very welcome birthday present from Claire and her mother.

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