Saturday 4 May 2013

OMD and John Foxx and The Maths at Roundhouse - 3 May 2013


Tonight it is a gathering of not just the old guard, but the original guard. These acts weren’t just the first out of the blocks, they were the guys that built the race track.

The Roundhouse is filled with folk of a certain age (my age) and the fact that the warm up DJ gets everyone bawling along with Phil Oakey’s ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ gives a pretty good flavour of the mood.

First up we have John Foxx and The Maths. The Foxx-led Ultravox! (exclamation mark important) were one of the first bands that I ever truly loved and I am glad to see that his current line-up retains the keyboard/violin dynamic that made his original band so great.

Foxx is in good humour and fine form, his massive chin thrust forward and his arms often aloft. His sound has barely altered from his early solo ventures – this is electronic music that is declamatory rather than danceable.

I enjoy his set a lot and in particular the final string of songs ‘Catwalk’, ‘Burning Car’ and ‘Underpass’. When I was at school, we always used to snigger and sing ‘Underpants!’ to this. In tribute to lost youth, I still do.

I will ‘fess up right now that I always found OMD (as they now style themselves) problematical.

They were pioneers of electronic music. I bought ‘Electricity’ because I liked the song rather than because it was on Factory Records – there wasn’t even much buzz about Factory back at this time.

But for me, there was always a niggle with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. They were awkward. They weren’t cool. And not in the sense of not being the latest, greatest version of the cat’s pyjamas in pop magazines, but because they looked like your embarrassing dad having a jig at Christmas.

The current OMD album is called ‘English Electric’ and it is an apt description of them. When electronic music went on to provide the beats that powered disco and led to DFA, EDM and any other futuristic acronym you can think of, OMD meditated on serious themes.  They smuggled songs about Joan of Arc and the bombing of Hiroshima into the charts and put Vorticist paintings on their album covers. Which is of course, brilliant.

It’s just not much fun.

OMD continue this approach on the new album. There are songs about Edward Hopper’s ‘Night Cafe’ and Dresden.

Some bands are different live than on record. OMD are not one of those bands. They are thudding, anachronistic, awkward and just as great/naff as they ever were.

The hardcore fans around me absolutely love it. I’m a bit underwhelmed.

Frontman Andy McCluskey comperes the gig like a favourite uncle at a wedding, chatting and joking with the crowd about the dilemma of whether it is an affront if your single doesn’t make the Radio 2 playlist.  

The band plays the hits, the crowd sings along and everyone is content and yes, together in electric dreams.

I tip my hat to them and leave them to it.

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