Review: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark at the O2 Guildhall, Southampton

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Fantastic

40 years on from their debut and OMD are still wowing fans, old and new alike.

Ten years since they last shook Southampton, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have returned as strong as ever. Currently near the beginning of the UK and Ireland leg of their The Punishment of Luxury tour, OMD packed out the O2 Guildhall, with crowds filling the square as they queued for the doors to open.

The show began with a half hour set from Irish electro-pop band, Tiny Magnetic Pets. The trio are not new to the music scene, having already released several EPs and a debut album. The lead singer, Paula, took on the hard job of trying to warm up a cold crowd with confidence, delivering excellent vocals to the upbeat tracks. Though a well-performed set, it was clear that the crowd were saving their energy for the headliners.

As OMD came on stage the crowd erupted.  The concert began with a synth intro before the drums kicked in for their first track.  The new song, ‘Ghost Star’, was performed in almost entire darkness, with only a single light on each member. The energy in the room, which was building during their first song, was released as they launched straight into another song from their new album, ‘Isotype’.

OMD have a gift, given only to a few bands; their old music has not aged, and their new music is as catchy as ever. Having the new and old songs juxtaposed throughout the set only served to accentuate OMD’s skill of staying modern while keeping their signature sound. Only the crowd reaction and prior knowledge would let you into which songs were new and which were the classics, and it was fantastic to see the crowd loving and dancing along to all of the tracks; the majority of the crowd were on their feet for the entire set. There’s something quite special about being in a room packed with people from across the generations, sharing the music that may be the only thing they have in common.

There’s always a worry when seeing bands with such a huge back catalogue and history that they will play only their new material and refuse to play the classics that everyone is there to see. This problem used to arise a lot with Hawkwind, for example, who got frustrated by the crowd only wanting to hear ‘Silver Machine’. OMD’s set wove the two beautifully together, but to ensure that the crowd got the music they wanted they opened a system online whereby the crowd could vote for which of three tracks they most wanted to hear. Unfortunately, ‘Pandora’s Box’ lost out by 6 votes, but two tracks, ‘Genetic Engineering’ and ‘If You Leave’, were in a dead heat, so one was played in the encore. Having the ability to influence the set made the whole show all the more personal and unforgettable.

Front man, Andy McCluskey (vocals and bass guitar), didn’t stop dancing throughout the entire show. His enthusiasm and boundless energy had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. When he said clap, we did. His unusual dancing style put the crowd at ease to let go, and it was fantastic to see people of all ages up and dancing, in Andy’s own words: “As if nobody’s looking”. Combined with fantastic keyboards, mixing, and some vocals from Paul Humphreys; keyboards from Martin Cooper; and drums from Stuart Kershaw, you get the iconic OMD sound.

The sound doesn’t just come from the band though, as the backstage crew on this tour were on amazing form. Despite an interesting mix for the support band, they were on top form throughout the show, with just the right levels for each band member. It was also nice to be able to come out of a concert with hearing intact. Mix this superb sound with the fantastic lighting displays, which made use of a minimal rig to create brilliant patterns in the smoke, and you have an amazing show.

Of course the night finished off with the powerful ‘Enola Gay’, which the whole crowd had quite obviously been waiting for, and a promise that it wouldn’t be another 10 years before they’re back – and I certainly hope it’s not.

OMD are currently near the start of a UK and Ireland tour which will followed by dates in Europe and across America. See the full show listing here.  Watch the video for their new single, ‘Isotype’, below:

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Second year MChem Chemistry student. Avid skier and voracious reader.

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