The Human League - Wolverhampton Civic Hall
The Human League on a Friday night. Nothing could go wrong, right? And nothing really did. As a result, the ensuing review may feel a bit perfunctory; Phil Oakey and his League ladies have no new album to promote, no charity Xmas single to flog and nothing really to prove at this point, so there’s not the tension or unpredictability a new band’s live show might generate. It’s a greatest hits tour really, only this isn’t some cash-grab from a hastily reunited nostalgia act – no, this is the third time HL have visited Wolves Civic for a pre-Xmas celebration in the past four years. So, while there’s no real surprises and nothing to suggest a late-blooming creative period to come, what we do get is bloody fun no matter what decade we’re in.
The band hit an early peak with a glittering opening sing-along of ‘Mirror Man’, Phil Oakey and his backing ladies Joanne and Susan strutting on to a white, tiered stage that looks like it was left behind by Paloma Faith after her November Wolves gig. They are accompanied by a backing band that supplies the pulsing electronic bed of live synths, beats and guitar, and a backdrop of videos that veer from neon cityscapes to number countdowns and crawling insects. It might sound a bit bizarre and OTT but, although the videos add a visual element (along with a mid-set costume change where Oakey and the gals switch shades of monochrome outfits), the show feels appropriately simple and stripped: the baying crowd is there for a sing and a dance to the familiar songs from a stonking back catalogue, and so this is exactly what’s delivered.
The set is hit-heavy with just a smattering of less familiar songs to ramp up the audience’s anticipation levels (and/or provide breathing space for bathroom and bar breaks) in between heyday hits. The likes of ‘Night People’ and ‘Sky’ don’t jar, slotting nicely into the bold blend of pristine new wave and joyous pop choruses that initially won – and continues to win – over music fans. Despite a shortage of new songs, the band’s staying power is demonstrated by the mixed crowd: sure, I spot groups of lager-soaked older blokes and perma-permed ladies whose formative years were soundtracked by Dare, but there are just as many shuffling twentysomethings plus parents chaperoning teenage sons and daughters. Of course, the enthusiastic performance of Oakey (whose voice doesn’t waver) and the girls upfront, pulling shapes and contributing to vocals with verve and a smile on their faces, is polished to the point that ‘The Sound of the Crowd’, ‘Louise’ and ‘Fascination’ are clockwork classics. By the time the inevitable close of ‘Don’t You Want Me’ and ‘Electric Dreams’ ticks along, there’s no-one bemoaning the lack of curveballs – they’re too busy having a blast.
Setlist: Mirror Man / Sky / The Sound of the Crowd / Heart Like a Wheel / Night People / Seconds / The Lebanon / Life On Your Own / Louise / Hard Times / Love Action / Open Your Heart / Tell Me When / Fascination / Don’t You Want Me // Good-Bye Bad Times / The Things That Dreams Are Made Of / Together in Electric Dreams