- Live Review
- 04 Jun 23
It was Non Stop Exotic Cabaret in St. Anne's Park with Heaven 17, Sophie Ellis-Bextor also making it a night to savour
When punk went horribly wrong and turned into a mohawked caricature of itself, it was the likes of Soft Cell, OMD and Heaven 17 that came to the rescue with their synths, sequencers and determination to add some glitz ‘n’ glam to those dark Thatcherite years.
To have all three on the same leafy Dublin 5 bill is a reminder of just how exciting and revolutionary those days were. How Sophie Ellis-Bextor fits into all of this we'll find out as the night unfolds.
Formed as a result of a schism in the early Human League ranks, Heaven 17 have both physically and musically withstood the ravages of time - Harry Styles was, for instance, minus 13 when they first hit the UK charts - remarkably well.
Their fondness for funk is evident from the opening ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, one of the lost gems of the era, which back then took aim at Ronald Reagan but is now just as applicable to Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Orban and the rest of the loolah despot brigade.
Covered not so long ago by LCD Soundsystem - it’s obvious why James Murphy is a fan - it’s followed by ‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’, an anti-totalitarian anthem imbued with the spirit of James Brown.
Spared the purgatory of constant classic hits radio rotation, ‘Come Live With Me’ and ‘Let Me Go’ still sound as fresh as the proverbial daisy; the high-risk strategy of covering David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ pays off handsomely; and the closing ‘Temptation’ with its “Higher and higher” exhortation prompts mass dad/mum dancing.
Come back and see us again soon, lads!
The answer to the earlier “How does Sophie Ellis-Bextor fit into all of this?” question turns out to be “Brilliantly!”
Resplendent in a red and gold frock of immense sparkliness, she ensures that the dad/mum dancing continues with opening dancefloor monster‘ Take Me Home’, which finds the boys in her band donning assorted poodle, budgie and shark masks. If you've worked out why, please let me know.
Introduced as “ABBA on crack”. ‘Hypnotized’ lives up to the billing and has the right camp quotient to suggest that Ms. Ellis-Bextor is destined, if she so wants, for Eurovision glory.
‘Crying In The Discotheque’ is interrupted by a phone call from Nile Rodgers asking for his song back. I jest, of course, but it is very Chic-like.
That’s followed by a joyous cover of ‘Like A Prayer’, one of the standouts from her online Friday night Kitchen Disco bops, which brightened up many a lockdown. It's all a bit singing into a hair brush for me, but performed with such gusto that you have to join in with the revelry.
With two more pop masterpieces, ‘If This Ain’t Love’ and ‘Take Me Home’ to call on, Ellis-Bextor really does knock it out of St. Anne’s Park.
There’s also an Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Park pun to be made, but I shall refrain. It’s only when they play them back to back that you realise just how many hits Andy McClusky and Paul Humphreys amassed during the late’70s/pretty much all of the ‘80s.
They open with ‘Electricity’, the most club-y of their early 45s, which underlines just how in thrall they were to Kraftwerk.
Recalling how ‘Messages’ earned them their Top Of The Pops debut, McClusky notes that, “Peter Powell introduced it the first week… Saville the next”, which prompts a collective shiver from the crowd.
As likeable as he is, the Liverpudlian’s constant quipping between songs soon becomes tiresome and detracts from how well the likes of ‘If You Leave’, ‘Souvenir’ and ‘Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans)’ have aged. With Humphreys taking on the straight man role, it’s like watching a New Romantic Morecambe & Wise at times.
OMD redeem themselves though with the closing ‘Enola Gay’, the cheeriest song about nuclear devastation you’ll ever hear, which is pure synth pop perfection.
With the greatest respect to all who’ve come before them, the majority of the healthy but not quite sold-out St. Anne’s Park crowd are here to witness what is remarkably Soft Cell’s first Irish gig.
They kick off with ‘Torch’, the Non Stop Exotic Dancing gem whose swirling sax intro is even more evocative than you remember it.
He’s picked up quite a few scars along the way but Marc Almond’s voice remains immaculate.
“Here’s a singalong song about dysfunctional families,” he says by way of an intro to ‘Where The Heart Is’, another of the reasons why Soft Cell are held in almost religious-like esteem by their fans.
While everyone on stage is giving it maximum sockage, the dazzling sunshine does a disservice to songs that were written with sleazy sweatbox clubs in mind.
Thankfully, darkness has descended by the time they play ‘Bedsitter’, a song so rich in graphic suburban detail that I’m amazed Shane Meadows hasn’t made a six-part series about it.
Even better is ‘Sex Dwarf’, which is accompanied by a montage of pre-internet telephone box postcard ads of the ‘man wanted for watersports and hardsports fun’ variety.
It’s a reminder of how immersed Soft Cell were in a gay clubbing culture that, due to rampant homophobia, was still deep underground.
The party goes up another gear with ‘Memorabilia’ and positively orgasms with the clever intertwining of ‘Tainted Love’ and ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, the two ‘60s Northern Soul classics that Messrs. Almond and Ball made their own.
Post-climax but not anti-climax, ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ is as gloriously bittersweet as ever and segues into ‘Purple Zone’, the new-ish Pet Shop Boys-assisted single, which sends everyone off into the night with a smile on their face and a glow in their heart.
- Live Review
- 11 Sep 23