Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark• May 16, 2022• The Union
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or OMD as they’re often called celebrated 40 years as a band with their Souvenirs Greatest Hits Tour. The tour comes a couple years after the actual anniversary, but like so many other tours or anniversary celebrations, the original tour was pushed back due to the worldwide pandemic. It was worth the wait, OMD never disappoints! The Monday night concert felt like a Saturday night. If the Union Events Center wasn’t sold out, it was maybe a couple of tickets away. The venue was filled and fans who have seen OMD over these 40 years were eager for the show to begin.
On a personal note, this was an all-time dream come true for me. Flashback to October 1991. I was 17 years old and in the back row of the Celebrity Theater in Anaheim, California. I had never before or since been to that venue. But that was the first time I had ever seen OMD in concert. My friend Dan and I were jumping so high that OMD frontman Andy McCluskey pointed to us in approval. It was one of my favorite concerts and a moment that solidified my forever fandom of this great pioneering electronic band.
I was excited for their reunion in 2006, and couldn’t wait to see them since I had never seen Paul Humphreys with the band (He stepped away from OMD during the Sugar Tax era). I’ve seen every tour since. So you can imagine the dream come true moment when I was in the pit, ready to take these photos and review one of my all-time favorite bands.
OMD walked on stage to the instrumental, “Atomic Ranch”. The crowd roared to the point of making my ears buzz. And I had earplugs in! We were so excited. Things got louder as McCluskey, whose back was to the audience, was now turned and approaching the microphone. The show opened with the slow and poignant “Stanlow”. McCluskey later joked that his favorite concerts are the shows that open with a song about an oil refinery. “Stanlow” was followed by “Isotype” a favorite from the 2017 album The Punishment of Luxury. The tempo was up and so was the crowd. Melodic synths rang throughout The Union and the audience was smiling from ear to ear.
There were a couple times had to catch myself. I was just standing there watching these guys. I was 17 again. But this time in front of the front row! But I had a job to do and resumed the photo taking. The band looked genuinely happy to be there.
Andy McCluskey even said, “We’ve been looking forward to this one.”. Utah fans always get a kick out of hearing how much people love to play here. It seems like something a band might say everywhere. And maybe they do say it in other places. But bands usually insist that Utah is one of their favorite tour stops. I have no reason to doubt them. The crowd was so fired up. OMD treated the audience with one of their earliest hits and a personal favorite (you might hear that a lot in this review), “Messages”. The audience was a mix of fans from people in their 70s to kids as young as, I’ll guess, 10 years old. But as “Messages” and then “Tesla Girls” played everyone seemed so youthful and energetic and moved like a concert full of college-aged fans.
In fact, I was incredibly impressed when OMD played “History of Modern Part 1” a favorite from their similarly named 2010 album History of Modern. McCluskey asked everyone to jump with him. And jump they did. Not just some people, and not for a short time. Every person was jumping with their arms in the air. And they jumped through the entire intro until Andy started singing! It was amazing! I’m still not sure how Andy sounds so good after jumping and dancing so much.
A well-timed break for Andy McCluskey came when it was time for Paul Humphreys to take center stage. Paul moved downstage from his synths and entertained the crowd with a smooth rendition of “Forever Live and Die”. The crowd sang along with the chorus and swayed with the music. Humphreys continued as lead vocalist for another song, “Souvenir”.
These songs were followed by the Joan of Arc segment of the set. Humphrey’s returned to his synths and McCluskey returned to the mic to sing two songs that feel weird to not hear together, “Joan of Arc” and “Maid of Orleans”. These songs flow together not only with their kindred theme but also with their very different but very connected melodies. “Maid of Orleans” has a lengthy instrumental in the song. Andy McCluskey dances throughout the entire segment. It’s a style all his own and it’s an iconic moment in the OMD live experience. The audience went wild at the conclusion of the songs. McCluskey mentioned that it was much easier to dance here in Utah than the night previous in Denver.
The entire band moved downstage for the next part of the show. They played”Time Zones” and “Statutes”. McCluskey stated that “This is our pandemic delayed 40th. Since it’s our party we thought we’d play whatever we’d bloody well want to. So deep dive with us.” This segment was definitely filled with deep cuts. The mashup was followed by “Almost” from their self-titled 1980 album. Andy shared that a 15 year old came into a record shop and bought this album. He figured out all the parts to the song and decided to start a band. The band is Depeche Mode. The 15-year-old was Vince Clarke. Clarke also went on to form electro-pop legendary bands, Yazoo and, Erasure. He’s a synthpop genius in his own right. This story drew an ovation from the crowd.
OMD returned to the hits with another personal favorite (told you), “So in Love”. The crowd enjoyed the deep dive, but it was clear to me how much they enjoyed coming back to the surface for some OMD hits. People were back to dancing and singing as OMD performed hit after hit. “Dreaming”, “Locomotion”, & “Sailing on the Seven Seas” sounded excellent. McCluskey stated that he wouldn’t give the health warning he usually gives due to the high energy of these songs. He said the audience looked as young as his kids. He decided he would just dance. The packed Union joined him.
Before he sang “Sailing on the Seven Seas” he walked up to a fan in the front row wearing a “Pandora’s Box” t-shirt. “Pandora’s Box” is a single from the album Sugar Tax. He apologized to the fan because they wouldn’t be playing that song. But he went on to sing a snippet of the song acapella. The fan and the whole venue loved it. He then told us he believed we were the only ones who would know the words to “Sailing on the Seven Seas”. The crowd proved him right by singing every word.
Before the band departed they left us with what just might be their best song, “Enola Gay”. The audience was at their peak level with this one. OMD would not let them rest. One girl next to me said, “I’m dying but I can’t stop. I love these songs so much!” I knew what she meant. These songs are so enriched in melody and danceable beats. It feels impossible to stop your feet. The time finally came when OMD left the stage. Immediately the roar of “OMD, OMD, OMD!” rang through the venue. The band returned to deafening roars.
“What a great noise! I’ve got a new shirt so I’m ready for some more!” McCluskey drenched his previous shirt and was ready to continue with his new dry shirt. The shirt didn’t stay dry for long as the band broke into their biggest American hit, “If You Leave” from the John Hughs classic film, “Pretty in Pink”. To be honest, I always forget about this song. They have so many great songs that I forget they have this mega hit from an iconic film. But when the music starts the memories and greatness of that era come flooding back.
Andy McCluskey told us that the next song wasn’t a hit single because right when they released it, the record label told them to pull it because they had a different song they were anxious to release. The second “Secret” began the crowd lost it! When OMD reunited in 2006 and subsequently toured, they left this song off of the set. The next time I saw them they told us how upset their fans were that they hadn’t performed it. It’s been part of their set for the most part ever since I believe. I was still surprised to hear the song. I really love that song. While it may have not been a chart-topping hit, the fact that it was played to an excited crowd in their encore should tell you all you need to know about what OMD fans think about this song.
The night wrapped up as Andy said, “We’re going to end at the beginning”. They closed with “Electricity”, their very first hit. I feel like we could have powered all of Salt Lake City with the electricity inside The Union. It was a fun way to end the show and left the audience totally spent. OMD is excellent live. Not only for a band that’s been doing it for over 40 years, but I’d put them up against any young live act. They’d hold their own for sure. The live sound of the band is great and their vocals are still so good. Andy McCluskey seems to move around the stage with as much energy as he did in the 80s. They promised us they’d see us again soon. I’m holding them to it!