ST ALBANS 2004 REVIEWS November 2004

Richard Mills

The Human League tour circuit may have been scaled down somewhat since the 80s package arena shows, but the trio of Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley have remained faithful to the mix of visual and aural confection that won them the hearts of the fanbase. Behind the purple shimmering curtain, banks of keyboards nestle among swirling white stage set and video screens that show subtle links only to the songs being performed.

But if the staging is faithful to yesteryear, the League Trinity themselves seem to have sent clones in their places. Phil Oakey arrives long after everyone else to confirm he is the star of this show. In floor length overcoat and Matrix shades for Mirror Man, the now balding and close shorn Oakey is just about recognisable as the one-side floppy haired crooner. But immediately after the opener, he strips off the coat and glasses to a more conventional suit and runs around the stage maniacally for the remainder of the show without even breaking into a sweat. Yet more suggestive of automaton involvement is the ever-present grin of a super-annuated Donny Osmond. Later, he will regale us with talk of how they saw The Grudge in a cinema in Hemel Hempstead the night before and found it "dead scary". All of this bears little resemblance to the ice-cool Oakey of the Dare era and, when he starts to cheesily repeat mentions of this, their first visit to St Albans, it's quite eery.

And in a midnight ceremony held in the moonlight of a churchyard or maybe the laboratory of a haunted house, the two girls have swapped bodies. While Joanne was once rake thin, she has, shall we say, filled out. Meanwhile, Susan might once have been described as 'chunky' has reduced to Barbiesque proportion and now sports a Sirenesque mane of golden curls. Where they once moved mechanically to the music in synch, they now stand on opposite sides of the stage and move completely independent of each other. Apart from one song in which Phil and Jo share a mike, they are all apparently unaware of each other on stage.

The set lasts about 90 minutes and they play pretty much every hit you might expect to hear (perhaps predictably the biggest sing song is "Don't You Want Me" and "Keep Feeling Fascination"). Dare is needless to say well represented, but the girls leave to change costumes every so often and Phil delves into the pre-Heaven 17 years. Together (ironically) they cover the solo hit that was Electric Dreams and they do a couple of more recent tracks.

The Alban Arena is actually a smallish theatre with about 2,000 capacity with the stalls laid out for standing - essential as there is no song that is not danceable. Upstairs, the circle punters look remarkably uncomfortable as they teeter in tiers looking down on the party people on the ground floor.

It's 2004 and a version of the Human League that bears no visual relation to the original band is still touring. As many are finding just now, the 80s back catalogue is still serving them well. For the 40-somethings present, they could close their eyes