The Oregonian September 2006

Lee Williams

The Human League revisits electroclash

Twenty-five years ago the British band the Human League notched a No. 1 hit on Billboard's pop chart with the torchy tune "Don't You Want Me?"

It was the first act in Billboard chart history to notch a No. 1 with a song completely crafted with electronic instrumentation. No guitars. A drum machine instead of a drum kit.

Was it blasphemy or breakthrough?

Phil Oakey moves with the grace and vitality of a man half his age. His voice still has that commanding yet welcoming resonance. "Don't You want me Baby" has thankfully not been tarnished by that appalling TV commercial and tonight is updated for the noughties, but is still the sing along favourite it's always been. Phil and the girls may not say an awful lot, but their music speaks volumes. After playing a superb version of his collaboration with Giorgio Moroder "Together In Electric Dreams" he asks the audience is anyone saw the Human League being name checked on The Mighty Boosh and has a boogie with an avid stage invader. A fitting end to an outstanding show.

Portlander Daniel Bidwell emphatically would choose the latter.

"They were so amazing, and a huge influence on our own work," Bidwell said last Saturday night, when the reunited Human League launched its new American tour at the Aladdin Theater in Southeast Portland.

Bidwell is half of Caught in Candy, a Portland cabaret act that melds simple laptop-powered '80s New Wave with noir-style staging. He and a few hundred other fans took in the synth stylings of lead singer Phil Oakey and his original two backup singers, Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley (the "waitress in the cocktail bar" from "Don't You Want Me?")

The Human League has been credited with godfathering in today's electroclash movement, the style of '80s dance-pop mixed with bold fashions and campy theatrical sets.

Oakey himself has cited the rise of electroclash as part of the reason for the band's return to touring. But the all-age show this night was a meshing of the band's original fans and newbies.

Saturday night's show was not long -- 90 minutes -- and it took a while of wading through the minor hits and early, obscure songs to get to the hits. But the set proved worth the wait. The Jimmy Jam-produced 1986 hit "Human," (the band's last No. 1 hit) and the snappy "Fascination" pushed Oakey's robotic monotone into actual singing, but his cords held up just fine, as did Sulley's for the silver anniversary of their signature duet.

"Together in Electric Dreams," seemed a perfect encore for an electronically enchanted evening, when everything old got New Wave again.