Eighties Pop/New Wave icons The Human League’s latest offering come sin the
form of a live DVD filmed at the Dome in Brighton, England on their 2003
tour. I have never seen the band live and haven’t heard much about them in
years, so this was an interesting experience for me.
The band has an excellent stage setup for the main show on this DVD; it’s
sort of quasi-futuristic looking with a nice light show. Vocalist Phillip
Oakley is wearing this sort of Matrix looking long coat and jacket that
seems kinda freaky for a Pop band but you have to admit it certainly adds to
the bands uniqueness!
The Human League play through a pretty solid set of tunes from throughout
their history, including “The Snake,” “Open Your Heart,” “Human,” Lebanon”
and, of course their million selling single “Don’t You Want Me” (which is
surprisingly not the encore!). The band sound and look great, while many
rockstars seem to be aging poorly, The Human League is not among them.
All in all this is a decent DVD. It’s pretty standard as far as live DVD’s
go but it has some nice interview footage in the bonus materials. Also on
one of the other concert sections of the DVD there seems to be a large
attendance of gay men near the front, something I found interesting as I’d
never really associated that cross section of people with the band. If you
are looking to hear and see one of the eighties finest bands in a more
contemporary setting, then you’ll find that here... and you’ll probably like
Listening to the Human League is like listening to 1980,” David Bowie once
said. Of course, he said that in 1979, almost two years before the group’s
Holiday ’80 EP scored them a spot on
Top of the Pops and the single
“Empire State Human” helped them secure Stateside distribution for their
debut album. It was meant as a high compliment then, an appreciative nod
from the glam showman himself toward the futuristic mash-up of synth-leaning
musicality and slide show-centric concert performances. The funny thing is,
a full quarter century later, that admiring comment has come full circle:
What once was praise and then probably cause for a bit of derision sounds
surprisingly solid again.
Formed as The Future in Sheffield,
England, in 1977 by Martyn Ware, Ian Craig-Marsh, Phil Oakey and singer Adi
Newton, the group played locally for a year or so, developing a reputation
for their avant-garde, multi-media mixture of sound and image. After Newton
moved on (how’d that
work out for you?), Adrian Wright and bassist Ian Burden joined up, and the
group started clawing their way up the charts,
an improbably scrappy New Wave synth band before said movement even really
had a name. Informed by pained caterwauls, intellectually inquisitive lyrics
and grandiose synth arrangements, the Human League put their stamp on 1981
with “Don’t You Want Me,” perhaps their biggest and best known radio hit in
the United States. It anchored their album
Dare, which went on to sell
over five million copies internationally, many of which now reside in the
used section at Amoeba Records.
Still, ’80s nostalgics should perhaps reconsider
their archival dump with respect to the Human League, as
Live at the Dome — a full-length concert DVD
that captures the band in Brighton almost two years ago —
amply demonstrates. The groundwork for the Killers and, indeed, even a bit
of Interpol, is found in the 17 tunes presented here in collaboration with
Susan Anne Sulley, Joanne Catherall and Oakey. “Don’t You Want Me” comes
relatively late in the proceedings, followed by “Empire State Human” and
“(Together in) Electric Dreams.” But astute radioheads will also recognize “Darkness,”
“All I Ever Wanted,” “Mirror Man,” “One Man in My Heart” and of course
Live at the Dome isn’t a
knock-your-socks-off experience — the group doesn’t have a swagger that
seizes your attention. Additionally, the pause triggered by layer transition
on my disc caught a bit, causing a skip of several seconds. Otherwise,
though, this is a decent evening escape for music fans. The disc is
presented in both Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and a 2.0 Dolby digital
stereo mix, so you can get a nice aural experience, and at under $20 it’s
certainly cheaper than a couple of concert tickets. B- (Movie) B- (Disc)
League figure among the demigods of the electronic music and contributed to
integrate the synthesizers in our daily lives. After two albums swiming
between Kraftwerk and David Bowie (the excellent Reproduction and
Travelogue), the group changed formation and released Dare in 81, today
considered as a turn in the history of pop, that the English critics
encounter qualify between the Beatles, Abba and Kraftwerk. Since then, the
Human League has, more or less, stopped producing albums between
minimalisme, dancefloor and authentic, synthetic music.
Live At The
Dome is recorded in Brighton December 19th 2003, and it’s a true piece in
the career of the group, since it shows Human League in both a serious and
historic sense. At the end of 2003, after a tour that went through Great
Britain, North America and Australia, the group fronted by the charismatic
and legendary Phil Oakey, returns to give a concert in one of the cities
more known for the perfide Albion, with a very surprised attitude. Facing
the theatrical setting of the Dome, the stage design is pure, white layout
of the musicians plateaus. Besides the very respectable singers Susan Sulley
and Joanne Catherall, Oakey is accompanied by four other musicians, all in
the process of perspiring on their machines under the blue and white lights
of the cold scenic mood. During the first title, Hard times, one
rediscovers the characteristic beats of the group: arrangements and the
sounds have not changed a lot since the eighties. It is necessary to as they
kick off with Love Action, Phil Oakey appears in gray coat and black
glasses, like the big pope of the electronic music. Throughout the concert,
he jokes and talk about such or such album, then even of his peers like
Gary Numan and John Foxx (that supported Human League on this
2003 tour) as well as Kraftwerk.
link up in a seemles magic line, lit up by the white stage and a few costume
changes. Susan and Joanne illuminate the stage by their presence
(especially Susan, that imposes a unplugged version of One Man In My Heart
with grace and humour), and they finish off with more of their well know
hits to the British crowds delight: Darkness always produces them same
shivers, especially live, All I Ever Wanted explodes in a dreamlike dynamism
of keyboards snoring, and Don't You Want Me and Human are surely
unforgettable. What's more, Oakey does not hesitate to revive the
anthological Empire State Human, the dark and industrious hymn pulled of the
groups first album, and it rebounds easily of their latest release (the
surprise of Secrets) with performances of Love Me Madly? and The snake. All
is performed as it was from music sheets, and even if this is not
rock'n'roll rock'n'roll rock'n'roll' rock'n'roll - and it isn’t, this is
what one asks of electronic music. Phil’s voice has never sounded better and
he is a true crooner of the synthetic pop as he presents himself; always
just singing, always in rhythm. The concert finishes off with the tireless,
true electronic hymn of Sound of the crowd.
This DVD is a
perfect purchase for those that impatiently await going out to see Phil
Oakey’s band. The new Human League should soon release another album and
threaten to push the limits to the evolution of the synthetic music, just as
the predecessor Secrets in 2001 ; the new Human League should appear to the
next return, and risks again to impose again limits to the evolution of the
synthetic musics, just as his Secret predecessors appeared in 2001. The
albums of the Human League haven’t always reached the heights of commercial
success, but they often contributed to reinvent the manner to use the
machines and keyboards. This DVD feels like a Best Of Live, and is proof and
constitutes a true will, regards to all those that like this music type -
and even for those that like all the current music. A piece of musical
history, and a beautiful demonstration of humility.
translated from French
Live At The
Dome is the first official Human League Live DVD. The group was one of the
most famous bands in the eighties and they had a number of big hits
worldwide. This DVD features the highlights of their 2003 comeback tour.
Philip Oakey, Susan Anne Sulley and Joanne Catherall performs, along with
David Beevers, Neil Sutton, Nic Burke and Errol Rollins, almost 3 hours of
of the eighties is unforgettable. The Human League is a fine example that a
band doesn’t need to drift into obscurity after 20 years. The bonus material
is highly interesting – even though it would be helpful if they had been
subtitled. However, the sound and picture quality more than compensates for
this. For those who buys this DVD, there awaits a collection of 19 of the
best Human League songs.
is top class. It’s sharp and the colours are strong and colourful. Only the
contrasts of the darker colours are a little off. From time to time it’s so
low, that some of the details of the picture are swallowed by the darkness.
But it still scores 9 points!
nothing to complain about with the sound. The music distributes itself well
to all the speakers and background sounds, like the clapping from the crowd,
is not put over the music, but is placed in the background. Sometimes the
sound in the back speakers are mixed a bit to soft, but that doesn’t disturb
the enjoyment of the music. So it deserves 9 points!
material features amongs others an Interview with the band (again
without subtitles), a Gallery with lots of private pictures and a
feature in the menu called Access All Areas, where you can discover
clips from various concerts and private footage as easter eggs.
you can read through the bands biography as text, even though it is only
printed in English.
translated from German
As some indication of how Human League songs have endured,
consider that Garbage's Shirley Manson and shock horror goth Marilyn
Manson have just recorded a duet of Don't You Want Me. There was always
something a bit Kraftwerk-meets-the-pop charts about the band - they did
have their roots in that experimental Sheffield electronica scene. But
there was more to them than that stupid haircut and their big hit single;
standouts here include Mirror Man and Fascination. This is taken from a
show in Brighton at the end of their 2003 comeback tour and they still
sound great. Extras include behind the scenes stuff and a band interview.
Throughout the picture has
to fight with sharpness problems. The picture sharpness is there now and
again, but the picture is all too often fuzzy. In the strong blue of the
stages illumination, colour fall outs are found again and again. The
contrasts are missing a clear black colour, as a lot of details are
difficult to recognize in the darkness of the picture, and there’s also
the random shake of the camera.
The sound turns out to be
rather dull, but otherwise there’s nothing to remark. The room sound
offers a well-balanced stereo front. The Surround on the other hand is
somewhat weak and should have been more strong. Picture and sound are not
always entirely synchronic.
This dvd’s picture suffers
because of the lacking sharpness and the lacking sync with the sound.
Summed up it qualify’s for 3 stars, as the rest of the product is quite
I was little worried about reviewing this DVD. Having watched various old
lags struggle to retain their dignity on Hit Me Baby One More Time over
the last few weeks, I was appalled at the thought of the once mighty The
Human League drowning in the quicksand of easy nostalgia. Touring the hits
in order to pay the mortgage, going through the motions with a cynicism
that would betray their history. The gig on the DVD was filmed on the last
night of their headlining UK tour in 2003 at The Dome in Brighton.
The artwork of DVD did nothing
to allay my fears. It lacks the bands usual visual flair, the cover to
Dare is pure 80's pop art. The silhouetted crowd shot and fuzzy live photo
looks like the office junior knocked it up in five minutes. With more than
a little trepidation I placed the DVD in the machine and sat back to watch.
From the opening thumping drum
machine of Hard Times, to the sing along finale of Sound Of The Crowd the
band are on cracking form and my fears quickly dissolve. Against a basic
stage set, white with three screens for projections, the three singers
Philip Oakey, Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall and the backing musicians
deliver a storming show.
The songs sound fantastic
live, the arrangements adding some modern sheen to the sound but the songs
remaining true to there classic status. With material this strong there is
no need to dress it up in new musical clothes. Louise is still as
heartbreaking as unrequited love, Darkness all glacial synths, cool blue
lighting and paranoia. The Lebanon's two note bassline, a personal
favourite, rattles from the stage, its description of a war torn Middle
East still relevant today. The hits stack up like a heavenly jukebox.
Human, Mirror Man, Don't You Want Me. The band try out new material, One
Man in My Heart and Love Me Madly and it doesn't kill the atmosphere, the
crowd singing along with as much gusto to the new songs as the old hits.
The three singers start in fine voice - Oakey's seems to have matured
nicely with age. By the end they all seem to be straining a little but it
doesn't distract from the feel good vibe in the slightest.
The extras are cool. A
20-minute tour film, that places you in the heart of stage for a couple of
performances. The crowd reaction to Don't You Want Me is amazing and you
can understand why the band carry on when the gigs are so energised. It
also includes a bizarre and funny mimed backstage rehearsal that leaves
the band in stitches.
In addition to the tour film
you get two sets of interviews. The first one is with the three core
members of the band and the second is with Philip on his own. The band are
dry, funny and revealing. Its surprising to hear that Virgin wanted to
smoother the classic pop of Dare in guitars. The band held out, no
guitars, and the album went onto sell 5 million copies Philip recalls how
he recruited Susan and Joanne from a disco in Sheffield after the main
songwriter in the band had quit to form Heaven 17. It's like Liam
sacking Noel and hooking up with two waitresses from Pizza Express, then
getting the Neptunes to produce the LP and breaking America.
On this evidence the The Human
League are miles away from the desperation that fuels acts to climb abroad
the reality TV gravy train. Still out there performing, still writing, and
still trying to make the perfect pop record.
This concert DVD was filmed during the 2003 tour, where I
had the privilege of meeting some new friends up in Glasgow and had a
great time. This particular set was filmed on the last night of the tour
at the splendid Brighton Dome, which incidently is where Scissor Sisters
filmed their recent live DVD set.
The core of the Human League is still Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and
Susan Anne Sulley. Joining them on-stage for the band part of the live
line-up are David Beevers (programming), Neil Sutton (keyboards), Errol
Rollins (electronic drums and percussion) and Nic Burke (keyboards and
guitar). The live setup is quite impressive for those who haven’t seen the
League live yet (and I have three times in the last 4 years), white
instrumentation on an all-white set down to the mic stands, with a cool
set of electronic drums on a large rectangular frame.
As a quick aside, Nic Burke stands out from the rest of the band slightly
with an almost Goth-inspired image. It must also be perceived as an
androgynous image too, as there was some debate between my group as to
whether Nic was in fact male or female. It was more between myself and the
rest of the group actually. Sorry Nic, I stuck up for you…
The concert is a cracking set and incorporates just about all of their big
singles, including what is officially at least an Oakey/Moroder solo
single. (Together In) Electric Dreams has kind of morphed into the Human
League back catalogue though, appearing on all the greatest hits
compilations to date. Musically the group can do no wrong live, they have
developed into an incredibly tight live band after the last few years of
quite extensive touring.
Where they do have a weakness is in the vocals. The main trio have all
acknowledged that they don’t really consider themselves as good singers,
and watching a live performance rather than being caught up in the live
experience does make their vocal limitations more obvious. Oakey’s vocal
chords start to feel the strain towards the back end of the concert,
explained in the interview as due to working too much by also rehearsing
for a tour of Australia and the US at the same time. To be fair to him
though, he doesn’t let up and any League fans know about and forgive their
limitations anyway. The vocal issues, in truth, are not issues unless you
prefer to be listening to pitch perfect performers, so go off and listen
to your Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston or Celine Dion if that’s more your
You have a choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or plain 2.0 Stereo
soundtracks, my preference to was to have the music blaring our from
speakers around the room; the whole shaking to the bleeps of synthpop in
it’s purest form. Speaking of which, I think Open Your Heart (possibly the
best League track ever) is the only track I know where the audience
actually sings the bleeps – and, yes, I did too…
Gathering tracks from across the decades, you get a nice mix of perfect
League songs and a live performance to put some trendier bands (now at
least) to shame. The on-stage banter is not that fantastic, but then I
don’t know many bands who bother with that so much. I did, however, learn
that The Snake was about driving between Manchester and Sheffield and
suddenly the lyrics just made so much more sense! Oakey gives a nod to
support man John Foxx, acknowledging his first solo album Metamatic and
name-checking the latest Crash & Burn. Foxx doesn’t appear on this DVD
anywhere, but he was a superb support act as well as a good headliner in
his own right in this year.
The interview lasts for about an hour. 35 minutes is spent with Phil,
Susan and Joanne and is quite a candid interview with Susan actually
getting the most say, quite surprisingly. Then you get around 20 minutes
of Phil by himself talking mainly about the pre-Dare days. Very
interesting stuff, and none of them afraid to correct the interviewer
frequently when he gets his facts slightly wrong.
There is also some behind the scenes footage from the previously mentioned
US tour. A couple of performances are included such as the Mardi Gras and
a priceless rehearsal of Hard Times in a dressing room with Nic and Neil
playing air instruments (just like me when I’m listening, actually). Nic
is obviously used to it, but Neil cracks up a few times playing his air
The gallery is a slection of League on tour photos that play automatically
and set to music, but they are really more of the holiday variety rather
than stills of the band in action. This gives a slightly more inclusive
feel to this extra, friendly rather than the aloof professional shots
you’d normally get.
Finally, there is a text biography for those who don’t yet know it.
Overall an excellent package, well worth getting if you’re a League fan.
Worth a shot if you’re curious about the origins of synthpop and want to
see a decent live performance.
July 2005 new
When you look at the rating of this DVD,
be mindful of the fact that it is of no fault of the band.
The performance on here is very good, with the Human League covering the
length and breadth of their career, being both true and innovative with
less-than-stellar rating on this release is due to the fact that the sound
There is almost no low-end to speak of, creating a tinny sound, and the
ambiance of the hall and crowd is nowhere to be found.
While taping direct from the sound board ensures a certain quality, it
must be tempered with all the elements that distinguish it as "live". This
could have jut as easily been a practice performance in an empty studio.
What is so tragic here is that Philip Oakey, Susan Sulley, and Joanne
Catherall, as well as the backing band, are obviously putting on a good
Several tracks, such as "The Lebanon", "The Things that Dreams are Made of",
"(Keep Feeling) Fascination", "Tell Me When", and "Don't You Want Me" have
always had a high amount of energy, and are sure to please, but you
wouldn't know it here.
All you can see is the crowd having a good time, and you want so much to
Elsewhere, there is backstage footage from their 2003 World tour, an
interview with the three main members, and a biography section.
If you must own this disc, these are the features which will not
disappoint. I can therefore only recommend this for those sort of
completists. Everyone else should just buy their albums, or see them live.
September 2005 new
In December of 2003, the Human League performed in Brighton, England for a
packed house at the Dome. Basically the line-up of Phil Oakey, Susan Anne
Sulley and Joanne Catherall, this DVD is the Human League in concert
covering everything from their breakthrough Dare! and on. Those interested
in anything prior to that will be disappointed, as only “Empire State
Human” is included, but as the originators of synth-pop, Oakey and company
hold up rather nicely with a chic stage set-up and trance-inducing lights.
The fact that the music, besides the vocals, sounds all pre-recorded
doesn’t even tarnish this surprisingly enjoyable set from a band who are
now more relevant than ever.
Jeffrey M. Anderson
Not Feeling Fascination
These new DVDs from Music Video Distributors document two 1980s dance
bands gathering two decades later for new concerts, and the discs do a
good job demonstrating why certain concerts work and others don't. The
Human League, best known for their hits "Don't You Want Me" and
"Fascination," can't quite ignite a spark during their staid performance.
Part of the trouble is that they save their hits for the second half of
the show, when the energy has begun to flag. On the other hand, The
English Beat scatter their best known songs ("Hands Off She's Mine," "Tears
of a Clown," "Twist and Crawl," "Mirror in the Bathroom," "Save It for
Later," etc.) throughout, and keep the energy pumping over a longer
stretch of time. It helps that the latter band has more in the way of
old-fashioned musicianship; people actually play instruments on stage,
while most of the Human League do nothing more than sing or dance in place.
Oddly, I was more of a Human League fan during the 1980s, but I'm thinking
of switching camps. Both new DVDs feature crisp, deep sound, a clean
picture and various extras (interviews, galleries, biographies, etc.).
November 2005 new
Electronic music will never die only because of its proper start. The
Human League established that during the late ’70s in Sheffield, as the
dark and avant-garde cooperative composing songs about silkworms and
giants. They threw a curveball to the rest of the northern England steel
town by parting ways with the original set of sound suppliers behind the
lore and hiring on a couple of girls who just happened to be out clubbing.
Philip Oakey wanted to be part of the next Abba; with the help of Joanne
Catherall and Susan Anne Sulley, they weren’t Abba—they were their own
Live at the Dome
captures the last show of the Human League’s 2003 world tour. The timing
was right for the trio as they loaded up the renowned Brighton Dome.
Sulley (the blond) had plenty of practice simply being vampy; Catherall (the
brunette), although slightly more reserved, displayed her usual
girl-next-door splendor. Oakey’s (the buzz cut) stage presence seemed a
little more relaxed than normal. He has the stage persona of a party host,
covering all the stage by walking very rapidly from one side to the other.
He’s appeared even more comfortable when performing songs from the latest
Oakey is at his best during “Empire State Human,” where he—gasp—dances.
The moves are childlike but the idea is to grow up to be “tall tall tall,
as big as a wall wall wall.” His smile is the sparkle on the polished
chrome of a trademark Human League performance.
Producer and director Dave
Meehan churned out a very clean and crisp view of the band. The many
cameras scattered throughout the venue became a little monotonous in
places, but the result was more ostentatious than irregular. The major
bonus lies in the DVD’s features, which includes a full interview with the
trio along with an extensive look behind the scenes throughout their world
tour (including footage of University City’s Pageant—albeit brief and
unpopulated, sadly). Clearly,
Live at the Dome
isn’t for casual fans or even someone wanting to revisit the wistfulness
of the ’80s. It’s a nice token to the followers but, alas—anyone else
won’t appreciate it as much.
December 2005 new
In 1979, David Bowie said, "Listening to The Human League is like
listening to 1980." While this was clearly meant as a comment on the
League's futuristic, groundbreaking synth-pop sound, a quarter of a
century later it has taken on a different meaning. Instead of continuing
to experiment with technology and attempting to stay ahead of the musical
curve, as Bowie did, The Human League settled into a musical world of
key-tars and synthesizers and has remained there to this day. There's no
shame in this, even though it's incongruent with the public notion that
the League were great innovators; Live at the Dome is proof
positive at how non experimental this band really is. Recorded live
at a 2003 concert in Brighton, the DVD presents The Human League as a band
25 years past its prime, playing songs from three decades of albums that
could all just as easily have come from the same recording session. These
are simple, direct synthpop tunes. There are no key changes. They have
three vocalists but no harmonies. The three songs on the set list from
2001's Secrets make no attempts to alter or even bend the
formula the group used for 1985's Crash. While singer Philip Oakey
might be a little bit balder on top, and Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall
might be a little thicker in the middle, these folks still seem more than
capable of properly rocking the synth pop.
Live at the Dome is a
simple, direct production, much like The Human League's studio albums.
What you get is seventeen songs, three or four camera angles, and The
Human League stationed symmetrically on a sparsely decorated stage whose
cool blue lights and white microphone stands suggest an obsession with
retro-futurism (not the future Bowie probably envisioned for 2003). It is
initially slightly alarming when frontman Oakey busts onto the stage in
his shimmery Jedi cloak and Hans Gruber sunglasses during the opening
medley of "Hard Time/Love Action" -- but fortunately, he has already shed
these accouterments by "Mirror Man", only the second song. Perhaps Oakey
is too old to sweat it out underneath those stage lights with such an
elaborate costume, but it was nice to see the pompousness of the group's
'80s synth roots kept to a minimum.
There are a few musical missteps (besides the presence
of two key-tars
on stage), but for the most part The Human League put on a very solid,
simple show. There's nothing particularly age specific about any of their
songs, but it's still impressive to see a band in their forties pulling
off a rock concert. During the faster dance numbers, like "The Lebanon"
and crowd favorite "Fascination", Oakey seems to have a little trouble
running from one side of the stage to the other between phrases, but he
never stops trying. There are a couple of pitch issues during
chart-topping single "Human", and Oakey really tests the limits of his
aging vocal chords. In an interview with the band (one of the DVD's extras),
Oakey confesses to hating performing this song (and the other ballads)
live, but admits that it made them rich. It's nice to hear it put so
bluntly, because it's clearly the weakest point in the set. While "Louise"
(a song about a reunion between old lovers on a city bus) proves to be a
much sharper, smarter ballad that the band performs with far more
enthusiasm, "Human" gets the prime slot in their set. Such is the nature
of the beast when dealing with a 25 year-old band playing 25 year-old
While Human League fans would probably be happier with
footage of the band from their prime, this concert shows that they haven't
lost their way over the last few decades. Given the current (and highly
weird) resurgence of Human League sampling in contemporary music, and
artists like Moby naming the group as electronic music innovators, it's
hard not to think of The Human League as kindred spirits of Gary Glitter
and Kraftwerk. Live at the Dome
tells a different story, though -- a story about a band that isn't
experimental or groundbreaking. They simply love pop songs, own some
synthesizers and will more than likely continue to rock the key-tar for
December 2005 new
The Human League = An awkward
Roxy Music + Ladytron
Okay, so Philip Oakey isn’t David Gahan and The Human League aren’t
Depeche Mode and initially their role in the history of electronic music
might not seem significant but after one listen to Dare even the most
casual of listener couldn’t be blind to the debt that electroclash owes to
them. For the uninitiated The Human League are a warmer shade of Gary
Numan with an abundance of female vocal thrown in to soften robotic chill.
Granted they have less soul than 80’s contemporaries ABC ever did but
they’ve also got more than three good songs to their credit. Live at the
Dome is a postcard from the final show of their ’03 tour and captures the
band in top form supporting Secrets; their most solid effort in twenty
years. The set list is optimistic, full of the more “melodic” songs (Oakey
is keen to point that out) like “Mirror Man,” “Fascination,” “Don’t You
Want Me?” and “Love Me Madly?” with a few of their darker numbers “Human,”
“The Lebanon” and “Darkness” thrown in to for artistic balance. I suppose
one could complain that Oakey is a bit chatty and that they’ve seemingly
forgotten they recorded anything in the 90’s but in all fairness the group
clearly knows its strengths and Romantic? and Octopus weren’t exactly
stellar releases (could have done with “Heart Like a Wheel”) but you’d be
missing the point: The Human League’s influence is seriously underrated.
A prodigious package of vocals and electronics, plus interviews with the
This concert takes place at The Dome in Brighton, UK in December, and
finishes off the band’s tour in 2003. Their brand of synth-pop yielded
many hits in the early 1980s including “Don’t You Want Me” and “(Keep
Feeling) Fascination.” The original band was formed in 1977. Their first
single was well-received in 1978 and helped to get a tie-in with Virgin
Records. In 1981 there was a string of hits with “Love Action” to number
three, “Open Your Heart” made it to number six, and “Don’t You Want Me”
hit number one on the UK charts. In the mid 80s they had a number one US
hit with “Human.” The band on this disc consists of Philip Oakey (lead
vocals), Susan Anne Sulley (lead vocals), Joanne Catherall (backing vocals),
David Beevers (programming), Neil Sutton (keyboards), Nic Burke (keyboards
and guitar), and Errol Rollins (electronic drums and percussion).
The way the music is performed is very much like the studio albums and
that will please many listeners who have come to know those songs
extremely well. Given the style of the music there are only a handful of
musicians and the music is entirely electronic with the exception of the
vocals. The vocalists are occasionally out of tune, not loud enough, or
slow/tired, but they still do an admirable job. The band has more than
enough good material from the many years of making music to put together a
solid concert that should evoke many fond memories of the 1980s—who hasn’t
sung along with “Don’t You Want Me” at one point? The interview on the
disc is quite thorough and covers many areas with the three main band
members. For a look at the band in concert elsewhere, just check out the
“Access All Areas” section—it has videos of the band throughout the
Sound quality on the disc is uneven. At times the midrange is hard and the
sound is thin, etched, digital, and electronic (and not in a good way). It
is very spatial however, with good use of the surrounds and very good
vocal presence. As the concert continues the audio improves somewhat. The
video is very well done. There are phasey blue lights all over in the
early part of the concert and generally the stage is bathed in different
colored lights. The arena is mid-sized and very nice looking. The editing
consists of slow cuts from one camera that often fade into each other
creating a dream-like quality early on in the show. Songs included:
Medley: Hard Times/Love Action; Mirror Man; Louise; The Snake; Darkness;
All I Ever Wanted; Open Your Heart; The Lebanon; One Man In My Heart;
Human; The Things That Dreams Are Made Of; Love Me Madly?; (Keep Feeling)
Fascination; Don’t You Want Me; Empire State Human; (Together In) Electric
Dreams; Sound of the Crowd.
The Human League has lasted a lot longer than many of the other
synthesizer collectives from the ‘80s, primarily because Philip Oakey,
Susan Anne Sulley and Joanne Catherall sing real songs, instead of merely
creating ear-catching sounds. This new live release, which was filmed at
The Dome in Brighton, England, showcases many of this act’s sturdy songs
and thus exemplifies its staying power.
If you’ve lost touch with this trio since, say, Hysteria from 1984, the
first thing you may notice once you begin to watch this DVD is how little
hair Oakey has left. He walks on stage to the beat of “Hard Times,” which
leads into “Love Action,” while wearing a sci-fi looking, big-collared
cape thing and dark shades. And his dome is almost completely clean-shaven.
But while his voice – which is far more essential than his hair follicle
content -- may be a limited instrument at best, there’s nevertheless a
warmly familiar sound to it.
Oakey lightens up just a little for “Mirror Man,” which finds him dressed
more casually in a black jacket and white pants. His singing of “Louise” (off
of the Hysteria release) acts as this disc’s first reminder of the group’s
natural charm. Its simple story about two former romantic partners
overflows with a sense of melancholy, especially its refrain of “As if we
were still lovers.” It may not have been a big hit in the U.S., but if
you’re a fan of the outfit’s smash song “Human,” chances are you’ll also
take a liking to this work’s estrangement vibe. In fact, Oakey even has a
spoken part on it -- the same way Catherall grabs the spotlight during the
Before it became a hit-making pop group, The Human League was a kind of
experimental electronic band. Some of that detached, scientific approach
comes through during “Snake,” where Oakey sings about “going on a journey
of the mind,” before asking listeners to join him on this trip. The group
is more down to Earth with “Darkness,” as Oakey introduces it by asking,
“I don’t know if any of you are afraid of the dark, but I am, somewhat.”
This song speaks of how some of our greatest fears seem to crystallize
during those moments when the lights are out. The group is far better at
exploring simpler truths, however, as it does during “The Things That
Dreams Are Made Of.” This track promotes friendship and travel as a few of
life’s essentials elements.
This particular show was part of the group’s tour of England, and also the
last night on that specific jaunt. Oakey says at one point that they were
trying to leave out all of the miserable songs during these recent travels.
Nevertheless, the act couldn’t exclude “The Lebanon,” which is both
political and tragically sad. It also stands out distinctly, because of
the U2-like guitar part on it. Guitars, by the way, are not a big part of
The Human League’s overall instrumentation. Nonetheless, Nic Burke adds
nice six-string parts during those rare times when he’s called upon to
contribute. Other additional musicians include David Beevers (programming),
Neil Sutton (keyboards) and Errol Rollins (electronic drums and percussion).
Speaking of guitars, actual acoustic guitar playing can be heard during
“One Man In My Heart,” which features the lone lead vocal from Sulley.
Sulley and Catherall, by the way, mostly just flank Oakey on either side
by providing backing vocals. They’re not great singers, however, the way
backing singers usually are. But for the purposes of The Human League,
these ladies do just fine here.
Even though it’s been nearly a half a decade since the last Human League
studio album, titled “Secrets, was released, the group is still brave
enough to perform three songs from it on this live project. These new ones
include “Love Me Madly?,” “All I Ever Wanted” and “The Snake.” Unless
you’re a Human League diehard, you may have trouble telling these new
songs apart from the group’s older material. In other words, this is water
obviously drawn from a well-established and familiar musical pool.
You might expect “Human” to come at the very end of the set, but here it
is presented as just the tenth song in. And when The Human League performs
it, you can clearly hear how this tour has taken its toll on Oakey’s voice
as he struggles mightily to hit its high notes. The group’s other big hits
include “(Keep Feeling) Fascination,” which has a keyboard groove that
never gets old, and “Don’t You Want Me,” which is a song strongly
synonymous with ‘80s radio.
The extras on this set include an interview segment, where all three
members sit down and talk about the group’s overall career. The All Access
Area is nothing more than a tour film, which shows the group in various
cities around the world – including one scene where the group plays “Don’t
You Want Me” at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It’s really eerie to see the
packed crowd in Louisiana watching a show in this future disaster
location. Furthermore, there’s a picture gallery slide show. Lastly,
there’s a written biography. But reading this bio won’t do you much good
unless you have a big screen to follow the print. Clearly, DVDs aren’t
meant to be books on film.
For those who believe pop music is strictly a guitar, bass and drum art
form, The Human League is living proof that such a statement is most
certainly not true. The band is not the most musical, nor the flashiest
act on the planet, but this English group has stayed around a good long
time and still sounds relevant. And unlike disco, The Human League may
sound dated, but it never comes off cheesy or dull. Although it had a
unique instrumental arrangement at the time, this outfit nevertheless
mostly wrote straightforward love songs, driven by memorable melodies. So
what has worked with The Brill Building, Motown and even with the boy
bands has also worked well for The Human League. Fine songs always have an
appeal, no matter how they’re dressed.
In the hit “Human,” this song’s main character’s humanity is ultimately
his fatal flaw. But in the case of The Human League’s career, its humanity
has, in fact, been its salvation. It’s not perfect, and it’s made a few
mistakes along the way, but it’s nevertheless a difficult group not to
like. It also didn’t hurt that the trio worked with the soulful production
team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (the actual writers of the song
Instead of being just another nostalgic video document, “The Human League:
Live at the Dome” finds the very human The Human League to be very much
alive and well.