The Human League, Ekkoes: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

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The Human League – pic from artists Facebook page

The synthpop legends arrived in Liverpool last night, and Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby found them literally shaking the venue to it’s core. 

The Human League haven’t toured much in the last few years, and it shows in the reaction to this tour, promoting new box set A Very British Synthesiser Group. Tonight’s show sold out well in advance, and we weren’t even sure if we would be able to get in until about an hour before.

Support band Ekkoes were a fine choice to open. The four piece won the crowd over very quickly, and even inspired the assembled to sing and clap along. Funnily enough, they seem to combine both eras of The Human League simultaneously.

They might not have much bite right now, and their current songs each sound like a different 80s pop group, but it is early days for them. Its nigh on impossible to win over somebody else’s crowd. That they succeeded shouldn’t be dismissed.

The Human League opened with the moody Being Boiled. Phil Oakey emerged completely alone in front of a large LED screen, decked out like he should be in The Matrix. Whilst we were trying to think of a good way to describe the sheer power of the bass, fate intervened; over on the far side of the theatre, the lamps fell off the walls and into the crowd.

Naturally, this led to a bit of a kerfuffle that distracted the audience, and seeing as the staff wisely decided to remove all of the lamps in the building as the band played on, it caused some distraction in the crowd and spoiled the flow a little bit. It was through no fault of the band, of course, and they dealt with the situation brilliantly.

Still, it’s an obvious line, but we’re going to use it; the Human League literally shook the Philharmonic to its core.

Three songs in, Oakey had disappeared, and the large LED screen parted to reveal him standing with the band singing Sky, from their most recent album. It dawned on us at this point that this was very much an arena show stuffed into a small venue, and they had the hits to match.

It is easy to forget how many they have racked up, actually, seeing as Don’t You Want Me is so ubiquitous in all of our lives. There were times during the set were we had moments of “Oh, yeah! That one!”; Mirror Man, Love Action, Tell Me When, Open Your Heart, Heart Like a Wheel, Louise, Human.  

They also dug deep into their catalogue, including a simple, but dramatic performance of Dare! album track Seconds, a sombre meditation on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

None of the bands singers – Oakey, Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall – have ever been what you would call amazing vocalists (and we are pretty sure they would concur), but it is striking that they all still pretty much sound exactly the same to how they sounded in 1982.

Oakey seemed pleased to be in Liverpool. He spoke of the Philharmonic, which he deemed one of the band’s favourite UK venues, and recalled sitting on the floor of Eric’s, splicing tape.

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The girls have taken a bit of flak over the years, but looking at them on stage they are absolutely integral; it feels like they are us. They also have distinct personalities. Catherall is a little serious and subdued, whereas Sulley juxtaposes this by being extroverted and looks like she is having the time of her life on a bangin’ night out. In a way, their mere presence represents both sides of the Human League; the moody synth experimentations of their early years, and the effervescent pop they have made since.

The main set ended with a cavalcade of the aforementioned hits, culminating in Don’t You Want Me, which the crowd kept singing after the band had left the stage.

For the encore of The Things That Dreams Are Made Of and (Together In) Electric Dreams (Oakey’s collaboration with Giorgio Moroder), the threesome re-emerged outfitted in a style that almost harked back to Liza Minelli in Cabaret, raising smiles around the auditorium.

As we left the theatre, we knew exactly how we would finish this review; Phil Oakey is a bit of a bad ass.

 

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