When it comes to enduring ‘80s British techno bands that are still touring today, there are three that come to mind who carry the synth-pop torch unlike any others.
The Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode and Erasure.
The latter of those three lit up Chicago crowds – literally – with two sold-out performances this weekend here at the historic Chicago Theatre during their World Be Gone tour. And if Saturday night’s show was any indication, then both nights’ events were something neither group of attendees will soon forget.
For more than three decades, Erasure has proven that it was no ‘80s fluke when they were first charting on both sides of the pond with their unique brand of euro techno-pop. Songs like “Chains Of Love,” “Love To Hate You” and “A Little Respect” resonate as much with fans today as they did a generation ago, perhaps even more so.
On Saturday night, from start to finish, the dance electrons were flowing, colored lights were flashing and eager butts were shaking as the British duo of instrumentalist Vince Clarke and vocalist Andy Bell wowed the jubilant crowd with hit after hit in a 20-song set that was about as precisely performed as you’d expect from a two-man synth-pop techno band.
Bell – ever the gleeful showman onstage – and Clark – the more stoic of the two who did all but the encore from a raised platform erected behind Bell – were accompanied by two female singers who looked every bit the part of vintage LaBelle (the 1970s soul music trio of Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendrix) with their dated, but futuristic space-age outfits, a colorful wig (in one case) and short Mohawk hairdo (in the other).
The four of them wasted no time as they packed 20 of Erasure’s biggest hits into a concise performance that had the crowd on its feet for the better part of 90 minutes.
The proceedings began not too long after the opening act – a trippy electronic duo named Reed & Caroline – completed its set. They did a 20-minute set of tunes that were the polar opposite of Erasure’s more buoyant, arena-friendly fare. Though their music came across as Debby Downers – the calm before the proverbial storm that would be Erasure – Reed & Caroline’s songs, which were already bordering on interesting, seemed to get better as their set wore on.
Well, to me at least. Their 2016 tune “John and Rene” – a song that repeatedly told of its two title characters’ travels “in a car down a highway to Atlanta” (and other places) – actually resonated with me the most, weirdly enough.
But their performance likely couldn’t end soon enough for fans of the headliners Erasure, whose flashing colored lights and programmed post-disco beats began just minutes after Reed and Caroline exited the stage.
Erasure started their affair with “Oh L’amour,” one of their earliest hits and one of many fan favorites performed on this night. That 1986 song reached the top five on the American dance charts but predated their crossover to the pop charts, which occurred a couple of years later with “Chains Of Love.”
The Erasure boys followed “Oh L’amour” with their “Ship of Fools” (not to be confused with the ‘80s hit by World Party), which they, in turn, followed with “Breathe.” Just then, almost as if taking a cue from the song’s title, Bell removed his jacket to reveal a black, loose-fitting t-shirt with the word “Thasher” emblazoned across the front.
The lead singer then swayed and sashayed across the stage as he and the others breezed through songs like “Just A Little Love,” “World Be Gone” and a cover of Blondie’s “Atomic.”
On “Victim Of Love,” their first No. 1 song on the American dance/disco charts, Bell broke into a happy dance that would have been the envy of any drag artist and had the crowd eating out of his hands.
On the next track, “Phantom Bride,” Bell doffed the black t-shirt to show a body-hugging, tattooed, flesh-tone onesie that accentuated the 53-year-old’s growing belly and allowed him to indulge even more freely in his flamboyance.
Aside from their three popular American Top-20 crossover pop hits (“Chains Of Love,” “A Little Respect” and “Always”), the crowd really dug tunes like “Blue Savannah,” “Drama!” and “Stop!” Each song seemed to take on a life of its own with the crowd belting out lyrics while Bell and his cohorts served as mere catalysts through which the music came.
Bell occasionally played the role of MC, pausing between songs to do a monologue about his outfit or the song he was about to perform. He turned down his Nelly just long enough to sing the set’s only ballad, “Take Me Out Of Myself,” seemingly taking the song’s advice as he performed it.
Clark, happy to play the role of the unseen sidekick musician, did get a couple of moments to shine. The first came when his partner Bell introduced him before they launched into their first American chart single, the 1986 top-ten dance chart hit “Who Needs A Love Like That.” During his intro of the song, Bell told of Clark’s history with the bands Yaz and Depeche Mode before the two Brits made their eternal musical connection in 1985.
Clark again got some love during the band’s encore performance of the ubiquitous “A Little Respect,” where he finally exited his DJ-booth-like platform to join the others on front stage. The duo was shown more than just a little respect as the crowd belted out the song’s lyrics from start to finish in unison to Bell’s suddenly inaudible vocals.
And then, almost as quickly as it started, the show was over. And thirty-six hundred mostly middle-aged revelers were left thoroughly entertained by an act who left the Windy City likely feeling some unchained love, a little respect and that they’ll always be living in harmony… oh love.
Erasure’s Chicago Theatre Set List – July 27, 2018:
- Oh L’amour
- Ship of Fools
- Just a Little Love
- Chains of Love
- Sweet Summer Loving
- Victim of Love
- Phantom Bride
- World Be Gone
- Who Needs Love Like That
- Atomic (Blondie)
- Love To Hate You
- Take Me Out Of Myself
- Blue Savannah
- Love You To The Sky
- A Little Respect (encore)