Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark treat the Royal Albert Hall to a masterclass in passionate, pioneering pop

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Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark frontman Andy McCluskey in the Royal Albert Hall - Innes Marlow
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark frontman Andy McCluskey in the Royal Albert Hall - Innes Marlow

“This might have some resonance,” offered Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark frontman Andy McCluskey to the Royal Albert Hall, by way of introduction to Walking on the Milky Way on Tuesday evening. “It’s a song about getting older but totally refusing to believe it’s happening.”

Perhaps the greatest resonance could be seen in McCluskey himself, though. OMD were in the RAH to pop the (belated) cork on their 40th anniversary. The song itself – a “newer” cut in their canon – is from as (relatively) recently as 1996. McCluskey himself is 62 years of age. And yet there he goes, dancing like Christopher Walken from the Wirral, caught in a dad-dancing spell of his band’s own creation, having the time of his life. Even on a two-night run to mark anniversaries with historical looks over the shoulder, age was so irrelevant it was barely a number.

“Just because it’s the Albert Hall, don’t be dignified,” he enthusiastically urged, as if to prove the point.

Splitting the evening into two halves, the first set was comprised of the synth-pop legends’ early work, curios and deep cuts, featuring some songs not played for decades. Before the previous night’s gig, the throbbing Pretending to See the Future from their self-titled 1980 debut hadn’t felt the warmth of a stage light since 1984. Likewise, it had been a dozen years since the electronic post-punk rush of Bunker Soldiers had been deployed.

“We’re playing some weird s--t tonight,” remarked McClusky, introducing Stanlow, from Organisation, an album turning 42. “Don’t be afraid of the old songs, just dance like it’s 1980.”

For all the advancing ages and an unnoticeable tech problem that lead McCluskey to remark to keyboardist, co-singer and Alan Carr lookalike Paul Humphreys, “Let’s go back to tape machines – sod computers”, OMD remained like something beamed in from the future. The march of tech has only caused songs like Messages and the sarcastic The Punishment of Luxury to flourish further, while on a more human level, McLuskey’s voice found a new hugeness in this handsome venue, particularly during a stunning Electricity.

Backed by a trio of enormous screens that flashed classic imagery with a slick modernity, the atmospheric vibes were perfectly visualised by aerial shots of dusky power stations, psychedelically altered red phone boxes and, during the enormous Isotype, computer graphics that invoked both Pong and artwork from 2023.

“You’ve had the crackers, now for the cheese,” the frontman winked, as the band returned for set two, a run of greatest hits. Even here, there was a kaleidoscope of moods. Please Remain Seated started things off with a powerfully solemn tone, while elsewhere the Humphreys-fronted (Forever) Live and Die was an uplifting, whole-house singalong, and the double-whammy of Joan of Arc and Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans) positively soared.

Introduced as “the Hollywood moment for those who missed the Baftas here the other night,” Pretty In Pink soundtrack smash If You Leave was one of many towering examples of the brilliant songwriting behind the technical wizardry, while the inevitable Enola Gay was a masterclass in pure pop power and class.

Obviously, nostalgia was in the spotlight. But it also says so much about just how ahead of its time OMD’s vision was that even during such an occasion, it was overshadowed by how impressive their pioneering spirit remains. And how passionately delivered something with such a seemingly mechanical soul can be.

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