In 2018, it can be hard to remember that now “classic” 80s bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were once on the cutting edge, because today their songs (at least the most popular ones) are so ingrained in our consciousness that it’s possible to take them for granted as if they’ve always been there. In 1980 when the band released their first, self-titled album, though, no one had heard anything quite like them. The music was synth-based and strongly electronic (even futuristic at the time) and drew heavily from ground laid by artists such as Kraftwerk, but kept a more human side in the crooning vocals of frontman Andy McCluskey. The band went on to record music that would play a huge role in creating and influencing the entire genre of synth pop. By the mid-80s, however, they had gone more mainstream, peaking with a massive hit in the song “If You Leave” from the soundtrack to Pretty In Pink, which brought the group to a wider audience but in the process lost much of their uniqueness. Band members left until the group was down to just McClusky going it alone, until he retired the project entirely in 1996. When the band reunited with all of its original members in 2005, they made the wise decision to go back to their roots, focusing less on pop hits and more on the sounds that had made them distinctive. The band released The Punishment of Luxury, their third album since reforming, last year, and it is every bit an OMD classic in the making. The move has paid off with their audience as well, and they opened their US tour with a sold-out show at the 9:30 Club last Tuesday.
The band started the evening with two tracks from the new album, “Ghost Star” and “Isotype.” Both tracks are quintessential OMD, but those in the audience who had come for the classics didn’t have to wait long as the band immediately jumped all the way back to the first record with “Messages” and then to 1984’s Junk Culture with “Tesla Girls.” The set continued like this for the whole evening, going back and forth between newer songs like “History of Modern (Part 1)” from 2010’s History of Modern and “One More Time” from The Punishment of Luxury, to “Joan of Arc” from 1981’s Architecture & Morality and “(Forever) Live and Die” from 1986’s The Pacific Age. For the most part McClusky ruled the front of the stage, switching between playing bass guitar and the distinctive dancing for which he is known, while the other band members – keyboardist and singer Paul Humphreys, keyboardist and saxophonist Martin Cooper, and drummer Stuart Kershaw – were tied to their instruments at the back of the stage. Mid-set, however, they all came forward and joined McClusky for a stripped-down rendition of “Of All the Things We’ve Made” from 1983’s Dazzle Ships. And “If You Leave”? Yeah, they played that one too, though they placed it at a mid-set which downplayed its significance quite a bit. The actual honor of closing the set went instead to “Enola Gay” from 1980’s Organisation.
The band closed off the set with a three-song encore, including their 1988 single “Dreaming,” “Secret” from 1985’s Crush, and their very first single from 1979, “Electricity.”
The show was opened by Milwaukee-based electropop band GGOOLLDD, whose most recent EP Teeth was released last year.