Thursday, March 10, 2011

radio waves have life: omd at terminal 5

concert photos courtesy of kevin bendis

I've never been able to properly answer any question about favorite bands or songs. There's a cluster of about ten bands that have near-equal importance to me; even when you narrow it down to one artist, I'll go down the line of albums and choose at least three songs from each. I'm either indecisive or very, very generous with my love.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark -- as a combat to all the cheesy reviews of this tour using the "OMD? OMG!" pun, I almost want to write the name out every time in stubborn protest -- was just one band in that cluster. If I were to take on a feature akin to the AV Club's Permanent Records, I could effectively gush about any of the first four albums. (Forced to choose, it'd probably be Dazzle Ships, given the greater context of what led up to it, musique concrete experimentation unlike anything of its time, what it left in its wake for both the band and the industry at large, and the best case of revisionist history ever.)

Then, as mentioned a couple posts below, I had the opportunity to interview Andy McCluskey in anticipation of OMD's first North American tour in 23 years. You can -- and OUGHT to -- read that here. Even through the phone, I could tell that he was one of the nicest people I've ever interviewed; humorously self-aware of his band's reputation, but not in a way that's bitter or insecure. When the subject turned to the then-upcoming gig at Terminal 5, all Andy could tell me was that it was going to be back to basics, mostly due to long-distance tourbus travel and the difficulty of getting fancy equipment around. "This is pure, pure and simple: 'Hi, it's us. It's you. It's our songs. We don't have our projectors and our screens and our lights, it's straightforward. This is what you get, this is what you see.'"

I couldn't hazard a guess what the set list would be; I'd decided not to spoil myself at all by looking at previous gig reviews, and I doubted that the European song choices would have any bearing on the American audience's reception. Indeed, both Andy and Paul told me after the gig that they really weren't sure which songs to choose, which is why for some people -- self included -- it was a bit heavy on the pop side. (For the record, I fucking love "Tesla Girls" and "Dreaming." Considering I have no fond prom memories of it, I'm not too keen on "If You Leave.") It was hard for the band to gauge audience expectations, and Andy admitted on stage that they "might be playing it safe."

That's not to say it was a safe show at all. It's been 23 years since they've been here, they're older and grayer, but this is not a nostalgia tour. The smattering of songs played from History of Modern fit in seamlessly -- even though, after finishing "New Babies: New Toys" to somewhat confused applause, Andy looked out onto the audience and joked, "You look SUPERBLY terrified that we opened with a new song!" ...before promptly diving straight into "Messages," "Tesla Girls" and to my great joy, "Radio Waves." Even before they'd introduced it as "one for the aficionados," I started cheering at the very first two seconds -- instantly recognizable plinky-plonky whirring for you.

My one regret is that I didn't take any sort of video during "Maid of Orleans." Mark my words, throughout what Andy referred to as a "two-shirt gig" due to sweat and heat, he fully proved that he's still got all the flailing, spastic substitute teacher dance moves that would make all white men proud. A few songs earlier in the set, after putting his bass down -- the "good news" -- he announced he would start dancing very badly -- the "bad news." The sold-out crowd was ordered to do the same. "You will be ejected if you don't dance."

All joking aside, it was the highlight of a damn near flawless evening; every time the drums kicked in, the white lights flashed, and Andy let out a mini epileptic fit, I think every heart in the 3000-person audience skipped a beat.

"Enola Gay" bittersweetly signaled the end of an amazing 95-minute set (the same feeling echoed in the encore with "Electricity"), by which point I was looking down on a wall-to-wall sea of heads from the VIP balcony -- did I mention that I thank the MuseBox PR from the bottom of my heart? -- and I was in awe that this was really happening. There was so much fun emanating from that stage; they're clearly enjoying playing together as this lineup again, and the camaraderie between Andy and Paul (goofing off during "Locomotion" especially) hopefully proves that they're in it once again for the long haul. I was wired and shaking -- partly because Terminal 5 FINALLY got its sound system on point and the bass was fucking killer, and partly because I knew I'd be meeting two musical heroes in no time at all.

In a rather stupid move, I hadn't realized that there's a protective film on the back of the iPhone 4 as well...and only just took it off (finally, an answer to the question, "isn't this SUPPOSED to take awesome photos? Why is everything blurry?" Technofear). Hence, the photos have a strange blue tint from the flash, but at least with a bit of tweaking you can make out our faces! Andy, on his third shirt and a G&T, was jovial and friendly as ever; Paul was a bit more reserved (but all too happy to talk about a new Claudia Brücken record), but both were quite patient with the numerous requests for old songs thrown at them! (I put in my vote for "The New Stone Age," which is a very likely possibility, and "Red Frame/White Light." There was a lot of call for "Telegraph," but Andy said his voice couldn't quite reach that...squawking high register anymore. "Only if Paul did it with his balls in a vice grip," he deadpanned.) Thankfully, Andy and Paul wholeheartedly confirmed that they'd be back very soon, sooner than you think -- but mum's the word. Go to their website a lot.

Intro: History of Modern Pt II | New Babies: New Toys | Messages | Tesla Girls | Radio Waves | History of Modern Pt I | Forever Live and Die | If You Leave | Souvenir | Joan of Arc | Maid of Orleans | New Holy Ground | Green | Talking Loud and Clear | So In Love | Sister Marie Says | Locomotion | Dreaming | Sailing on the Seven Seas | Enola Gay
Walking on the Milky Way | Electricity


  1. Muchas gras for the setlist. The show really was great, it was hard to tell if the band or the crowd was having more fun. I took a friend who didn't know them at all and she loved it. So far this was the best review I've seen online.

  2. Thank you so much for this heartfelt and lovely review! I too share your feelings about the first four albums being the high water mark of genius futurism for Orchestra Manoeuvres in the Dark! And I too would pick Dazzle Ships as my favorite album of all, if forced to choose only one. I'm hoping and praying I get in to see them during their (only 2???) shows during SXSW. I wish I could go to Houston or Dallas, but it won't be possible. Hardcore fans exist here, Andy and Paul. "We love you!!"

  3. Did I write this review? You weirdly echoed almost exactly how I feel about OMD (saw 'em in Atlanta). "Radio Waves" was the highlight for me as well. Well done!

  4. How wordless me is. Atlanta's show last Monday was a dream that I thought that I'd never live! You covered the magic very well. See you in 23 years...!

  5. Drove 7 hours after a 24 hour shift to do the VIP. The band are just a wonderful bunch of men. I'm happy to thank Matin for writing my favorite song. Got to give Paul a kiss on the cheek and hug of course. I was more scatterbrained than usual. Andy thanks for changing the beginning of Dreaming and singing it to me and the hubby. Come to Florida.

  6. Great review! And I'm so happy to see in the comments that you guys in the States choose "Radio Waves"! At the previous tour in Europe,my highlights were RW, "Genetic Engineering" and "Statues" and I was happily surprised to see that Andy and Paul included a classic from "Dazzle Ships" on the US tour - the whole DS is a classic actually! - All the best from Athens,Greece

  7. Oh, wow!! I also picked Dazzle Ships and said it was more fun than DM's Construction Time Again. I still love "Radio Waves"

    Please check out how I covered them in LA for


    Here are the articles :)