ST LOUIS 2003 REVIEWS

 

www.playbackstl.com 2003
Maybe I didn’t see enough concerts in the ’80s. Or maybe I’ve forgotten that the sounds of synthesized pop with a drum machine leave you feeling some sense of cool disconnect.

Either way, Human League’s lead singer, Philip Oakey, along with backing vocalists Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall, spent most of their concert detached from the audience, playing to the venue and not the people. It probably didn’t help that a barrier kept the audience three feet from the stage.

I had great hopes for this show. As I was a child of the ’80s and a junkie for New Wave and synth-pop, Human League helped define the music of my generation. They exploded on the New Wave/pop scene with “Don’t You Want Me” in 1981 and followed with a string of synth-pop hits throughout the ’80s and early ’90s.

Why, then, did I leave feeling disappointment and not fascination? Perhaps it was because Oakey’s voice suffered throughout the evening. Known for deep, strong vocals, he experienced problems hitting longer and higher notes as the concert progressed, sometimes with cringe-inducing results. My hope is that Oakey fought through some throat problems or possibly a cold and gave his best to perform for his fans.

Oakey began showing signs of struggle on “Mirror Man,” three songs into the set. The strain continued through most of the songs, including “Open Your Heart” and “Heart Like a Wheel,” before sounding painful on an emotionless version of “Human.”

Sulley provided one of the few standouts of the evening, going solo on a warm rendition of “One Man in My Heart.” Hearing Oakey’s minor solo hit, “Together in Electric Dreams,” for the encore also offered a great surprise.

As icons for me and my ’80s generation, Human League holds great memories of an era past. Unfortunately, this performance won’t be one of them. But at least I can still listen to their albums.