LEEDS 2000 REVIEWS

 

www.guardian.co.uk December 2000

Human Remains
Dave Simpson
The scene is the "premier" Leeds nightclub, Majestyks, normally host to Emmerdale actors, Leeds footballers and reams of blokes in orange shirts. The artistes are the Human League, hit-making giants of the 80s and early 90s, and universally recognised as one of the seminal synthesiser outfits of all time.

And the occasion? Well, you won't believe this. Philip Oakey, Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall are playing my girlfriend's office party. Quite how the act that provided David Bowie with a vision of the future and spawned the pop colossus Dare have ended up at a commercial bank's "do" is beyond me. The event is a private affair. The fans aren't supposed to know about this, never mind the Guardian. We have sidled in courtesy of the "and guest" bit on the ticket.

This seems a considerably scaled-down example of the modern phenomenon whereby the likes of Sting and Elton get millions for playing exclusive gigs for sheikhs. Three microphone stands survey proceedings teasingly from the stage. There are, worryingly, no synthesisers. Thankfully, the DJ - an old skool, Bananarama-playing type - reassures us: "In 10 minutes! The Human League! Rocking back the 80s!" Gulp.

The League finally appear, in funereal black coats and dark glasses. Surely Sheffield's finest aren't embarrassed to be here? Suddenly, as Sound of the Crowd ends, off come the coats and shades, on go three bemused, ironic grins, and the audience erupts.

For eight songs (sung to backing tapes, but really only the audience makes it that different from Madonna at Brixton), men shake Philip Oakey's hand while women fall at his feet - although that might just be the combination of lager and high heels.

Oakey's hair has long since left him after the physical abuse it endured in the early 80s, but with the famous League Girls still drop-dead glitzy the trio look better than anyone who's ever shared a bill with Culture Club has a right to.

The band stick to their classic hits, but while the tunes are well-worn, the incongruity of the setting brings new vigour. Wonderfully, several people point at Phil and sing the "This is Phil talking..." rap with him in Love Action. When Oakey shouts "We're the Human League, from 30 miles away," you can almost imagine the business meeting that began "How much?! Only up the road?!"

It says everything about the League's dignity that they refrain from changing the lyrics to Don't You Want Me to "She was working as a bank tell-ah..." What should have been a sad affair feels like an event, like Vera Duckworth popping into the local boozer. There is something distasteful about legends reducing themselves like this for money, but also something rather fabulous about the unique access these affairs give to normal people. My girlfriend's already compiling a wish list of next year's turns: Kraftwerk, late 70s punk obscurities the Lurkers and the Rolling Stones.