OMD at the Roseland (5/22/22)
Written by Dylan Davies on May 24, 2022
“Now listen Joan of Arc, all you gotta do is say the right words and I’ll be coming through. Hold you in my arms and take you right away.”
One of the most influential moments in developing my musical tastes came when I was five or so. Back in England, a commercial would play on TV advertising a box set album called Ministry of Sound: Anthems: Electronic 80’s. Even as a young child, my reaction to this advert and the samples of music played within were so enthusiastic, that it seemed my parents had no choice other than to buy and constantly play this CD. Even ripping it and downloading it to the iPod and everything.
Now on this album were many of the songs one may expect from a collection called ‘Electronic 80s’. Of course, there was Mr. Numan and his Cars, Ms. Wilde and her Kids in America, and where would we be without Mr. For Fears and his Mad World. Each song on this album sent me on its own musical journey discovering more and more songs that gave me the feeling of initial discovery. I studied what came before each song, and what came after. Two songs that resonated with me were Enola Gay and Maid of Orleans, both by a band with a strangely long name, Orchestral Manaouvres in the Dark. I remember being fascinated with Enola Gay’s lyrical content. A cheerful, upbeat pop song about nuclear warfare (Enola Gay is the name of the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, 8:15 was the time). Maid of Orleans started with half a minute of harsh, industrial noise before continuing to a pulsating beat, mixing a synth bassline and a medieval choir and instruments with Andy McCluskey repeating the same lines with varying degrees of emotion. This bizarre oddity of a pop song really stood out to me as there was nothing on the Electronic 80s album quite like it. Even the oddest songs were still silly, this was something else. The way McCluskey put his all into the vocals and the way the production made it seem like something out of time was remarkable to a young me. I attempted at the time to get into the rest of the discography but it seemed a little too adult, a little too arty, and a little too dark for 5-year-old Dylan to really sink his teeth into.
Flash forward to a couple years ago when I first moved to Portland. I was checking out the record stores around the city, looking to see which one had the best bargain bin when I saw this bizarre album cover. No title, no artist name, no nothing other than a strip of red, a picture of a statue, and the difficult to read word ‘Johanne’. For 50 cents, I, of course, buy this and take it home. I didn’t know quite what I was expecting but hearing OMD’s Joan of Arc for the first time in this way was a magical experience. Starting off with discordant wailing, strange chimes, a drum hook, and McCluskey’s distinct sad, yet increasingly frantic, vocals cutting into another great synth bassline that washes over you like a wave. The song is one of the most moving of all time. A fantastic example of the greatest 80s-style production had to offer with its ability to take you down a satisfying journey, make you cry, and make you forget everything. Listening to this song is like experiencing an explosion in the mind. Especially the noise that accompanies the transition to the chorus. I listened to this song on a constant repeat for months. At this point, I began discovering the many joys of the extended OMD discography, although, for me, nothing tops Joan of Arc. Of course, I had heard ‘If You Leave’ every day of my retail working life, but actually re-discovering some of the back catalogs was so fun and I just knew I had to see the band when they finally visited Portland.
OMD came to Portland last Sunday, playing at the Roseland, and, yes, I went with my Mother. As a person who is primarily a fan of geriatric performers, I always prepare for the worse. I wouldn’t have been too surprised to see them come out an hour late, lip sync a few of the hits, and die halfway through the set because someone used the flash when they took a photo. However, this was far from the case. The band came out dressed in tight black clothes to a pulsating beat. Lead singer McCluskey stood with his back turned to the audience. He turned around with a grin and waved. I knew then that would be an exercise in extreme and deliberate goofiness. The show was non-stop high octane excitement and entertainment until the very end. McCluskey did everything in his power to be silly and to make sure the audience knew he wanted us to be silly too. This was so refreshing, as many acts revel in misery and self-seriousness. OMD were that same old band that made goofy pop hits about nuclear warfare and medieval religious persecution. McCluskey made repeated mention of his upcoming 63rd birthday, yet that did nothing to slow down his constant dance moves (mostly just variations of ‘the spinny arm’). The band joked with each other, they laid down the banter that I’m sure was rehearsed and repeated across each stop on the tour but still was presented freshly and funnily (though perhaps that was the rum and coke in me talking). The songs were presented in much the same way as they always had been, save for some more lively drumming and perhaps a slightly faster tempo, but that’s what we wanted anyway. McCluskey’s vocals were still that same old crooning style, emotional and slightly frantic just like on the original recordings. Keyboardist and second vocalist, Paul Humphreys came center-stage a couple times to sing and also share some banter. Keyboardist Martin Cooper seemed almost quietly bemused, smirking to himself the entire time at McCluskey and Humphrey’s often bizarre jokes. Disappointingly, the saxophone that lay on stage was picked up by Cooper only twice but to great effect, leading to a personal re-evaluation by myself of, what McCluskey called “the song from the John Hughes movie”. The band bought the energy by telling people to dance repeatedly (though I mainly just did the ‘bob in place’), but also telling people to jump throughout as well (due to my not wanting to lose the rum and coke swirling in my stomach, I achieved the same effect of jumping by just doing a slightly more violent ‘bob in place’ while coming on and off my tiptoes). McCluskey utilized the whole stage with his strange dance moves. This being Roseland, I’m surprised he didn’t run into the pole. In fact, he jokingly criticized the Wonder Ballroom, saying he was more worried there that he would fall off the stage. This led to amused jeers from the audience. The audience was fantastic too. Completely got into the purposeful goofiness of the gig. Chanting OMD! OMD! OMD! at every chance we got, knowing that this was one the best, highest energy concerts we had ever been to (to which McCluskey replied: Thanks, three of us in our sixties so sometimes we forget the name of the fucking band). The biggest highlight of the show for me was the double feature of Joan of Arc and Maid of Orleans. It was so high octane, so emotionally resonant and so beautifully performed, by the end of those two songs I was covered in sweat having been transported through time and space to the land of these songs’ portrayal of Joan of Arc.
I wasn’t expecting to write so much but this really was a great and personal concert for me. OMD brought the energy, they brought the emotion. Most importantly, they brought the banter. If they ever come through Portland again, which I’m sure they will as they showed no signs of slowing down, I heartily recommend you make your way down to see them.