Ghost Star Rising…
I think it’s fair to say there was a lot riding on the shoulders of Messrs. McCluskey, Humphreys, Cooper and Kershaw prior to these gigs; not only were they taking place at the revered Royal Albert Hall, but they had also been twenty months in the making (having been rescheduled due to COVID 19), meaning that there had been a significant amount of time for audience members to form their own preconceptions about the nature of both the setlist and the performances.
Combine this with the potential danger of comparison to the band’s previous gig at the same venue in 2016, which has since gone down in OMD gig history, and it’s not difficult to understand why there was a certain amount of tension backstage before the first performance.
I’m not going to say that OMD managed to blow all of these expectations out of the water as soon as they walked onto the stage, because quite frankly that wouldn’t be true. The first half of Monday night’s performance was perceptibly cautious, perhaps as a result of the combination of Martin Cooper’s synthesiser refusing to cooperate until three quarters of the way through opening track ‘Stanlow’ and the fact that the band were playing some material they hadn’t played live to an audience of this size for a long time, as well as the aforementioned pressure of audience expectations.
Once the hits started rolling, however, and the audience themselves became more liberal with their cheers and applause, the mood on stage seemed a lot more settled, despite the extreme lurches in the running order from one end of the band’s discography to another (according to Paul Humphreys the setlist was compiled by Andy McCluskey after two bottles of wine, and at times that is something I could well believe). The performance was still hugely enjoyable, of course, and it really was a joy to hear tracks from the band’s eponymous debut album (‘Pretending To See The Future’, ‘Red Frame/White Light’, ‘Bunker Soldiers’) that we had been promised at the Future Yard gig in October last year (see Messages review previously), but which unfortunately weren’t ready to be performed at the time.
A lot can also be said for the visuals that accompanied the mad but delightful setlist; I had an extreme dislike for ‘Atomic Ranch’ before I heard it on Monday, accompanied as it was by the effortlessly stylish music video across three enormous screens.
Whilst the level of energy and synergy within the band was consistent across both nights, as a lot of us expected Tuesday was undoubtedly the better performance of the two (despite another technical issue during ‘Stanlow’), simply because it felt like the band were genuinely enjoying themselves far more than they had been the previous night. It was from this performance, therefore, that in my opinion many of the highlights of the two gigs could be found; the emotive stirrings of ‘Ghost Star’, the charming lyrical delivery of ‘Walking on the Milky Way’, the deep-set groove of Julia’s Song and the sweeping escalation of ‘Our System’ all made themselves particularly apparent on that second night.
By the end of Tuesday’s performance, there was a feeling of undeniable elation amongst the crowd. The band had pulled it off, undertaking two performances that we would never forget, despite (or perhaps, because of) the spasmodic setlist and the technical issues, as well as the fact Paul wore his glasses on stage for the first time ever and was subsequently compared to Alan Carr in a national newspaper.
The band might never return to the Royal Albert Hall (as indicated by Andy towards the end of the second gig), but they can certainly look back on these performances safe in the knowledge that their impeccably high standards have not been tarnished – if anything else, they have been raised even higher.
Preorder OMD’s ‘Atmospheric & Greatest Hits’ show live at the Royal Albert Hall on vinyl, CD and special Photobook edition via the OMD Website: https://store.omd.uk.com/collections/live-at-the-royal-albert-hall-2022