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BENT NIGHTS Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
by Vern Hester
2018-04-03

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Not long ago, a friend who is half my age ( roughly 25 ) asked me, "When were the good old days?"

By the current trickle of long-dormant bands hitting the road recently ( Hall and Oates as well as Adam Ant last year, with Howard Jones and The Thompson Twins popping up this year ), that golden era would be the 1980s. Although many of us in the LGBTQ community who survived that period may think otherwise ( what with the AIDS crisis, a senile and conservative president who refused to acknowledge it, and the lack of legal protections for LGBTQs ), the period also had its pleasures—especially on the dance floor.

There were upfront million-selling queer artists ( Boy George of Culture Club ), straight artists who pushed gender and sexuality with a fury ( Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, Prince and Madonna ) and a tsunami of androgynous angel-faced smartly coiffed Brit boys with pleasing voices, an endless stream of yummy radio singles and the pouty, slightly wounded look that Davy Jones used so effectively with The Monkees 15 years earlier. You could take your pick since, on the surface, they all looked the same: Spandau Ballet, ABC, Duran Duran, Wham! ( featuring then-closeted George Michael ), Rick Astley, Nik Kershaw and, bringing up the rear, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark ( known as OMD ).

Regardless of all those warm and fuzzy feelings, pure nostalgia couldn't explain the explosive celebration and dancing that greeted OMD's Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys when they played The Vic Theater on March 16 in front of a long-sold-out house. The band hadn't played Chicago in five years and, yes, there is the recently released The Punishment of Luxury ( on 100% Records ), but that's still not it. The fact that McCluskey and Humphreys had a knack for creating unfussy synth pop that worked on the dance floor, on the radio and on arena stages—with an emphasis on melody and unobtrusive production—helped. They also showed a disciplined hand with the rouge and eyeliner ( unlike Simon LeBon, Adam Ant and the guys in Spandau Ballet, which, in hindsight, made them look like bitchy hetero-brats ) that allowed them to not age but mellow gracefully. The reality is that McCluskey and Humphreys have a virtually indestructible formula that includes all of that, and then some.

"The Punishment of Luxury" is a surprisingly ( for OMD ) meaty, almost bile-tinged swipe at the filthy rich with McCluskey singing "Lazy girl, dirty boy, surrounded by your broken toys ... and you don't know how to make the pain just go away ... HEY! HEY! HEY," like Billy Sunday on a rampage. The animated video is even funnier and could be viewed as a slap to Donald Trump, with its cartoon exploding Botox lips, cash-stuffed panties on strippers, and the words "luxury first" and "comply" flashing like traffic lights. The very fact that the song has been given a sleek production and an insanely catchy hook makes it obvious..."The Punishment of Luxury" sounds incredibly luxurious. "What Have We Done" is OMD at its most elegant, melodious and lush—and it's on a par with late period Roxy Music. On an amusing note, "HaHaHa" sounds like lounge music for androids with its discombobulated female voice mechanically repeating the words "mindless plagiarism" and "repetition" over a bed of pings and beeps.

If the album manages to smoothly bring the music of the 1980s into the present without a wrinkle, the show at The Vic managed to pull off the same trick on a larger scale. Opening with "Ghost Star," I was stunned to see and hear McCluskey in the flesh as he came out shaking every muscle he had with a rather cool athleticism. I don't know if its his diet, Pilates, herbal supplements or Satanism; although he looked like he's edging through middle age, he moved with the inexhaustible energy of a 20-year-old. Add to that the fact that his voice was just as smooth and graceful as it was nearly 40 years ago ( no, he did not stint on the long notes during the ballads ), and you have a front man who guided his show toward the unreal.

The kicker, of course, was that this show was designed to please, with a hearty helping of the new CD ( "Isotype," "One More Time," "What Have We Done," "The Punishment of Luxury" ) with bits from every OMD album excepting the 2013 English Electric. Of course, there were the hits ( "If You Leave" "Tesla Girls," "Enola Gay" ) with plenty of fan favorites on the side ( "Messages," "Maid of New Orleans," "History of the Modern," "So In Love" ) with McCluskey and Humphreys treating the set list without faked fanfare and having the time of their lives with everyone in the room. ( McCluskey encouraged everyone to "Dance like no one is watching..." ) I still found it incredibly funny to watch him dance his ass off like the Energizer Bunny for almost half the show while doing those cool things with his hands. As someone who had been on the fence with OMD for ages, I have to admit that they surprised and delighted me in a way I hadn't expected.

Heads up: Tickets for Erasure's shows at The Chicago Theater on July 27-28 are still available. Also, it was announced last week that Chicago matriarch and friend to the community Mavis Staples will close the 2018 edition of The Chicago Blues Festival on June 10.


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