Concert Review: OMD at the Music Box

OMD's Andy McCluskey
The seminal 80s synth pop group delights an adoring Hollywood crowd.

Even 23 years on, LA's love of New Wave has yet to crest.

There are two kinds of so-called “eighties” artists: those who want to strike the decade from our collective memory, who might cringe when one of their hits comes on the supermarket PA, but still tour on the strength of those songs year in, year out. Then there are those for whom the eighties were so, in a word, awesome, that they have no problem admitting it (or allowing us to relive it) but also felt a need to break from it -- let the sounds of the decade stew, then come back strong. 

OMD (or Orchestral Maneuovers in the Dark, a name that almost out-eighties Spandau Ballet) falls into the latter category, and judging by the smiling, buoyant, now slightly-older new-wavers who came out in droves to the Music Box on Friday night, the first of the English duo's three Los Angeles shows, nostalgia is undoubtedly something to cheer not chide. 
Still, OMD frontman Andy McCluskey began the high-energy set with an apology: that his dance moves (think: Patrick Dempsey's character doing the spastic African Ant Eater Ritual in 1987's Can't Buy Me Love) had not improved in the last 25 years. Not that anyone was complaining. The sold out crowd packed into the general admission floor kept up with every synthesized step of the nearly 90-minute set. 
It's been a quarter of a century since OMD's lone U.S. top ten single, "If You Leave," ruled radio thanks to its appearance in the seminal John Hughes teen romance Pretty In Pink. Though the band was never in the same league as its stadium-headlining contemporaries (including Depeche Mode, whom OMD supported at the Rose Bowl on their last visit to LA, back in 1988), their synth-pop was an influence on the likes of No Doubt's Tony Kanal, who was in attendance at the Music Box, and Moby, who played bass at one of the group's recent SXSW showcases. Upping the hipster quotient, Danish buzz band Oh Land opened up with an impressive 45-minute set.
Why such a long absence? Like most eighties bands, OMD's founding members went their separate ways after a while, with Paul Humphreys leaving McCluskey to carry on as a solo act. The current tour celebrates their reunion after Humphreys' two-decade absence, and their latest offering, History of the Modern, perfectly fits on the continuum that saw OMD's singles evolve from quirky and experimental ("Electricity" and "Enola Gay") to radio-ready ("So In Love" and "Forever Live and Die") to, on McCluskey's watch, lush anthems ("Sailing on the Seven Seas" and "Under the Milky Way").
Likewise, the Music Box show hit on every high point of the band’s short but impactful presence, not just on pop radio but club scenes all over the world. The duo brought out the beautiful lament that is “If You Leave” early in the set, amping an already appreciative crowd. They saved some of their best for last, including the undeniable “Enola Gay” and 1979’s “Electricity.” The fashionable fans at the Music Box didn't discriminate, dancing to them all. 
The duo’s roles remain the same, with extrovert McCluskey keeping the energy up and the crowd moving. Humphreys took his turn at center stage as well, handling lead vocals for 1986’s sublime "Forever Live and Die.” Amazingly, both looked untouched by age for their first performance in LA since 1988. Not as surprising: that the songs held up, too. 
Set list:
New Babies
Tesla Girls
Radio Waves
History of Modern (part 1)
Forever Live and Die
If You Leave 
Joan of Arc
Maid of Orleans
New Holy Ground
Talking Loud and Clear
So In Love
Sister Mary Says
Seven Seas
Enola Gay
Milky Way
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