So, here’s my Erasure story. A song played by the sixthformers on the bus, a furtively copied C90 passed in the playground. The Innocents. (I promise I bought it later)
A dying parent, endless hospital visits, that C-90 on infinite loop in the car. Teenage years, the “Tiny Tour”, washing cars to buy records and tickets. A chance meeting in a queue for their “Evening With” at the Manchester Academy in 1997.
A girl, a friend, a girlfriend, a wife, a child. More concerts. More records, but perhaps now bought more out of loyalty than genuine enthusiasm. The soundtrack to half a lifetime, the band never quite fading out of memory.
So it seems for much of the audience. You glance at the front row – and it can’t be, can it? But it is – people you remember from the same front rows and queues 20 years ago, older, a few more lines, maybe a few more pounds, but still there. So, what keeps them coming back?
Erasure have seen something of a resurgence in the last year, between a well-received new album and energetic stadium support slots with Robbie Williams, that served to remind people of the strength of both their back catalogue and their live performances.
No strangers to stadiums themselves in the 80s, it turns out they were a national treasure and a formidable live act all along. The result is a string of 20-odd sold out dates across the UK and Europe more reminiscent of 1992 than 2018. Tonight’s venue full to the 3,500-capacity for the sixth gig on the tour.
Over the years they’ve seemingly played every room in town, but Manchester’s 02 Apollo is the venue with the most history for Erasure, with their legendary 1992 Phantasmagorical Tour having taken up residence here for a couple of weeks.
There’s no Mae West get-up for keyboard wizard Vince Clarke tonight, instead suited and booted and mostly hidden until the encore, on the stage’s upper deck. Nor are there the costume changes or theatricality that used to be the hallmark of their live show.
While nobody would describe Andy’s wax-covered jacket or the sparkly pentagram t-shirt it reveals once discarded, as dull, they’re a world away from some of his more outré costumes from their heyday.
Given the cancellation of some early shows on the tour, it’s a relief to find that Andy Bell’s voice is holding up well, the set just slightly truncated from opening night. While he’s no longer tackling some of the high notes on “Who Needs Love Like That” his lungs are still more than a match for “Drama” from 1989’s “Wild!” album, which he belts out, confessing afterwards that it has left him a little out of breath.
Andy starts off the first song straddling a chair, with the only white light/non-blue light of the show lighting up his face. The only real concession to showmanship is a trio of large neon lit boxes that pulsate in time to the songs, mostly inhabited by their two backing singers, sisters Val and Emma who were performing with them all the way back in 1988. It’s up to the songs to carry things, along with a little shimmying across the stage and some self-deprecating chat from Bell.
The synth-pop hits are all present and correct, the opening “Oh L’Amour” a roof raiser in any encore, quickly dismissed. The hits as you remember them, pretty much, just louder. Three-minute pop songs are presented as such – no need to draw “Stop!” out when you’ve still got “Sometimes” and “A Little Respect” in your pocket. Nothing outstays its welcome, nothing is radically remixed or drawn out.
While the newer songs are good, there’s a notable dip in the energy upstairs when they dip into their post 90s catalogue for the trio of “Breathe”, “Mad As We Are” and “Just a Little Love”, although the following “Chains Of Love” gets them back on their feet in short order.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of the set is drawn from the singles from their imperial years, but still finds time to nod to the faithful. “I Love Saturday”, taken from 1994’s “I Say, I Say, I Say”, finally gets an airing after just a 24-year wait, along with much requested fan-favourite, “Phantom Bride” from “The Innocents”, previously played live only a handful of times.
“In My Arms” returns to a regular spot in the set too, after a mere two-decade absence. Andy struggles to remember which album it came from, and remarks on the depth of their back catalogue – speculating that they have some 400 songs to choose from when they tour.
Up on the balcony, a child sits on shoulders, ear defenders on, punching the air as the chorus of “Stop!” rings out, and it’s hard not to smile. Maybe this is the start of her Erasure story.
Meanwhile back at home, my own daughter slumbers upstairs, blissfully unaware of the role that the band played in her existence. The tour bus carries the band, equally unaware, into the night to remind people of their own Erasure story and maybe create a few new ones.
My advice? Have a chat with someone in the queue when you go – you never know where it might lead…
- Support tonight from Bright Light Bright Light, aka Welsh born, London/New York based Rod Thomas, playing 80s inspired synth pop, a good fit for this tour.
Words & Photos: Mike Gray