LONDON 2003 REVIEWS

 

The Times December 2003
Lisa Verrico
SEVERAL Decembers spent on the Here & Now tour - the 1980s revival roadshow popu­lar with office outings - have paid off for the Human League. But this year Phil Oakey's outfit have fled the nostalgia nest and, at Shep­herds Bush Empire, they pulled a capacity Christmas crowd all of their own. Half were party people, who had come to boogie to the band's big hits, half devoted League lovers, keen to hear obscure al­bum tracks and new material.
Hence, the Human League took the show somewhat seri­ously. No tinsel or twinkling trees on stage; instead a slick, silver set, albeit one that looked like a Blue Peter model made to scale. Columns of black curtain were raised to re­veal platforms fashioned from what could have been spray­painted, corrugated cardboard. It was how we imagined 21st­century stages would look two decades ago. Perfect then.
Even the band were stuck in faux futurism - Oakey came on in sunglasses and a shim­mering, floor-length coat with the collar turned up, his dark, floppy fringe replaced with a peroxide blond buzz-cut.
The instruments were in on it too - the drums were pads on an angular stand, box-like
computers at the back had flashing red and green lights, and a girl in PVC bondage gear played a white keyboard hung around her neck and a strangely shaped white guitar.
With a new hits album to promote and the part-time fans to hold on to, the concert began with old favourites Love Action and Mirror Man. With­in seconds, the crowd were on their feet and dancing. There was a huge cheer when the backing singers Susan and Joanne appeared, the former in a draped white dress and sil­ver knee-high boots, the other in sparkly black. The Human League's renaissance has been helped by the current fad for electroclash, but while the stars of that scene may cite the band as an inspiration, their music has moved on. The League's classic synth-pop songs still sounded good, but they were definitely dated. Meanwhile, . a_ batch of newer tracks were disappointing - none had the hooks of the old hits, although All I Ever Wanted, from 2001, occasion­ally came close.
There was relief when the band got back on old ground with The Lebanon, although it remains a ridiculous anti-war song, and a reworked version of the hit ballad Human. Then Susan did a solo spot and proved that, no, she still can't sing. But who cared when the show closed with the fabulous Fascination and, of course, the Christmas chart-topper from 1981, Don't You Want Me? Twenty-two years ago and it didn't feel like a day less

 

www.independant.co.uk January 2004 new
Silvia Diaz

The vogue for all things Eighties refuses to die: fluorescent heels, over-inflated shoulder pads and two-tone mullets are worryingly pervasive once more.

The vogue for all things Eighties refuses to die: fluorescent heels, over-inflated shoulder pads and two-tone mullets are worryingly pervasive once more. It's tempting to think that many of that era's stalwart groups have been waiting for just such a cultural sea change, having clung on to the mascara'd ghost of former glories via reunion tours, basking in fan club loyalty for the gratification of the band's egos and bank accounts.

The Sheffield electronic pioneers The Human League once briefly reigned supreme in the charts with their distinctive union of glamour, synthesizers, and pop sensibility. Whereas the music and presentation of their fellow electronic aficionados Kraftwerk carried an austere aura, The Human League's more palatable appeal lay in melodic songs with instant and widespread appeal. "Don't You Want Me," from the Dare album, was one of 1981's biggest-selling singles, and now enjoys an afterlife as essential fodder at karaokes, weddings, school reunions and discos. Whether tonight will be any more than an aural greatest hits slathered in outdated make-up is a niggling concern.

"Hard Times" heralds the band's arrival, a packed auditorium cheering eagerly as backing singers Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley gleam in suitably coiffed attire and the frontman Philip Oakey, wearing shades, pauses before "Love Action's" hypnotic pulse gains momentum. Time may have passed, but Oakey's voice remains crystal clear. After "Mirror Man", he politely thanks the audience, before a sombre rendition of "Louise" to which the multitude chant along with tangible emotion.

There's a costume change for "Lebanon," but the black robes are discarded for "Open Your Heart." The audience, from all walks of life, are as one, especially during "I'm Only Human," and "The Things that Dreams are Made Of". The Human League's latest songs, from the album Secret, are met with a muted response by some audience members.

Throughout, the band are keen to provide entertainment, flashing broad grins to each other and to the crowded auditorium. Oakey discards his suit jacket, saying that he needs a moment to catch his breath. Sulley, by now flushed from the shrill wolf whistles, says gratefully, "We couldn't do it without you." The band's earlier singles bring home Oakey and co's influence on dance music; "Tell Me When," 1996's unexpected hit suggests that contemporary dance music in turn invigorated them.

After "Fascination", Oakey coyly states: "It's time for the last song." Yes, it's time for "Don't You Want Me." Surely 22 years later, the band would only reluctantly perform its magnum opus? This isn't the case; it's difficult to sense whether it is the group or the audience who sing with more vigorous, jubilant force. After some insistent chanting from the crowd, The Human League return onstage for "Electric Dreams," and "Human Town". Elated and sated, the multitude of fans leave, faces aglow into the cold. Unlike many of their disposable New Romantic contemporaries, The Human League have evolved with the times, while retaining a rich back catalogue. That such moments have survived the test of time and remain relevant in the 21st century is testament to the nation's true pop idols: The Human League.

4/5