LIVE AT THE DOME REVIEWS

www.1340mag.com 2004 new
Mark Fisher

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 it.

www.nowplayingmag.com
2004 new
Brent Simon

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 “Human.”

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)

 

www.pop-rock.com May 2005

Albin Wagener

The Human 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.

The songs 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.

Loosely translated from French

 

www.dvd-sucht.de march 2005

Sonja Kresmann

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 synth-pop.

..The music 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.

Picture (9/10)

The picture 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!

Sound (9/10)

There’s 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!

Extras (6/10)

The bonus 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.

Besides this you can read through the bands biography as text, even though it is only printed in English.

Loosely translated from German

 

www.ireland.com March 2005

Brian Boyd

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.

***

 

www.cinefacts.de March 2005

Jürgen Grieb

Picture:

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.

Sound

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.

In total

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 good.

3/5

 

www.musicomh.com March 2005 new
Tony Heywood

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.

 

www.synthpop.net may 2005

Si Wooldrigde

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 bag.
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 synth.
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.

****½

 

www.virus-mag.com July 2005 new
Haakon Nelson

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 the rendering.
No, the less-than-stellar rating on this release is due to the fact that the sound is atrocious.
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 show.
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 be them.
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.

 

www.exclaim.ca September 2005 new
Cam Lindsay

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.

 

www.combustiblecelluloid.com September 2005 new
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.).

2/4

 

www.playbackstl.com November 2005 new
Cory Hoehn
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 effigy.

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 record, Secrets. 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.

 

www.splendidezine.com December 2005 new
Philip Stone

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 songs.

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 another quarter-century.

 

www.slugmag.com 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.
 

www.audaud.com 2005 new
Brian Bloom

A prodigious package of vocals and electronics, plus interviews with the performers
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 country.
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.

***1/2
 

www.avrev.com 2005 new
Dan MacIntosh

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 aforementioned “Human.”
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 “Human”), either.
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.

***