The Brighton Argus December 2003

Ben Graham

Being the big Christmas party night out is an odd fate for The Human League.

A band that started out as arch northern miserablists, electro pioneers in the late Seventies alongside Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA, before Dare and that hit single froze them forever in pop history as the defining sound of Christmas 1981; a success they never expected, never matched and never really recovered from.

At their Dome gig last week, they announced they would not be playing any of the old, gloomy songs, concentrating instead on their upbeat, popular material.

The void created by the absence of Being Boiled, etc, was filled by support act John Foxx, another early Eighties survivor who has remained true to that era's hardcore futurist agenda.

His minimalist synthesiser anthems and industrial-symbolist poetry, including cult hit Underpass and early Ultravox B-side My Sex, left the conservative crowd bemused however. "Sometimes I feel like an automat," he intoned icily. Don't we all, John, don't we all.

The Human League are now a seven-piece, with, astonishingly, a guitar player. This blatantly contravenes section 12 of the 1978 futurist manifesto but no matter.

Phil was in good shape, running constantly across the stage, while Susan and Joanne looked better in corsets and mini-skirts than any women in their early 40s have a right to.

What lifts the League above their Here And Now contemporaries is that they have always written about real life - Louise could be a Pulp song.

We could have done without Susan's solo turn on One Man In My Heart - backed by a lone acoustic guitar, Dido-style - or hearing Human again, never one of their best songs and sung excruciatingly off-key tonight.

But Mirror Man remains perfect pop, Bowie glam meets northern soul stomper, and the new songs stood up well, even if Phil himself didn't, executing a hilarious pratfall during current single Love Me Madly. An encore of Empire State Human is a late treat.

They used to be the future; now they are nostalgia. And yet, at the final test, their worst is still better than most so-called pop stars' best. The fascination remains.