Saturday, 8 December 2007

See things you thought you'd never ever see...

The Human League @ Hammersmith Apollo, London, Dec 1st 2007

My friend texted me just as I arrived at the Hammersmith Apollo last Saturday night for the Human League gig: "We're in the upstairs bar and it's full of old farts". Nice. I thought. Stands to reason though. The League have been going in various formats for 30 years and in recognition of the feat, the breakthrough album Dare! from 26 years ago was performed in its entirety, in track order. That's a lot of time passed if you were a spotty 12 year old like me when it became the album of a generation. I wracked my brain to try to think of something to make this gig report 'current' but then realised there's no need. Dare!'s influence on pop music is so deep it's timeless. And it sounds just as fresh, glossy and glamorous as ever.

The Apollo was packed to the rafters and as the opening handclaps of The Things That Dreams Are Made Of began, the place went into uproar. Everyone danced like Jo and Susanne: dancing babies with hands flailing in the air. The image of Phil and the two girls either side is an iconic image and the set behind projected equally iconic images illustrating the clinical lyrics of Dare!.

Open Your Heart sounded monolithic tonight. It's sequenced pop was perfectly suited to a massive hall. And it it's always a pleasure to hear the line "Make a shroud pulling comb through a backwash frame/Find the copies in a carbon mount pass around" (!) from Sound of the Crowd sung live by the man himself. Darkness is apparently one of Phil's favourite League tracks as he said to eeveryone:"I've always loved that song and it's great to be able to perform it tonight".

Do or Die
, with its infectious latin rhythms, was followed by the bleak monophonic theme to the film Get Carter (a very Oakey idea for the album originally). The booming I Am the Law together with still excellent Seconds keeps up the bleak part of Dare! but then we're back into hands in the air. Love Action fulfills Oakey's 1981 wish for The Human League to be ABBA with synthesisers, and of course I always sing loudest at the "But this is Phil talking" line.

The climax of the first half, the 'button', was Don't You Want Me; the last track on the album. Put out as a single in time for Christmas 1981, it was not a popular choice as far as the band were concerned who thought three hit singles were more than enough. Of course it went on to become one of the biggest-selling singles EVER. "Shows you what we knew!" Jo Catherall said later in interviews. And the crowd tonight knew every word. Smiles and drinks aloft, especially when Susanne stepped up to sing her 'reply'.

The second half was a greatest hits extravaganza starting with The Lebanon ("And where there used to be some shops!" hahahaha) which sounded strangely uplifting. The rest of the Hysteria was ignored (no Life On Your Own or Louise, slight boo) but Mirror Man sounded lush, Human simply lovely and (Keep Feeling) Fascination as fresh as ever. The encore was Oakey's solo effort Together in Electric Dreams, now firmly entrenched in the Leagues canon. The whole hall seemed to be bouncing en masse, and even the stage intruder lifting poor Susanne and swinging her around seemed in keeping with the feel-good moment.

It was a truly special event, as equal in affection and warmth as Marc Almond's 50th birthday concert in July this year. Phil Oakey was outstanding. The voice and its lusty croon is intact and stronger than ever. Pitch perfect, he had a massive 'who knew' energy, running about the stage weaving in and out of the girls. And, of course, without the girls it wouldn't be The Human League.

Open Your Heart (Afront remix) - The Human League (zShare)

Fab live pics courtesy of DAVE KNIGHT via Electronically Yours (& Flickr)

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