By Jacqueline Howell, Disarm Editor
OMD returned to Toronto’s jewel box music venue, The Danforth Music Hall Monday (and Tuesday) night for a two-night stand that has been five years in the making. They’re premiering their dynamic and well-received latest record, The Punishment of Luxury. The photographer (and lifelong fan) returns from the photo pit with news: he’s peeked at the set list, and “it’s insane”. We are in for a treat. Having seen OMD on their previous two tours, that was never in doubt. It begins with new track “Ghost Star” with the evocative line “Where’s the perfect that you used to know?”
Monday night sees the four piece take a rapt crowd through a relentless tour of OMD’s stellar catalogue, seamlessly merging classic hits and original moments (such as their two-piece love letter to “Joan of Arc” / “Maid of Orleans”, one of many high points) with new songs that fit perfectly with the material fans know by heart. Always a big part of our never-to-be-repeated soundtrack of intelligent, synth-driven, big idea music, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, they are also, simply, and less formally, OMD: the short form signifying one of a handful of still-active bands who came and stayed, firmly, in the hearts of so many. OMD feels like ours. Part of our generation. A band this iconic and world-changing, yet consistently hard-working, has the rarest of musical abilities: their music and their live show simply stops time in its tracks. When Andy McCluskey tells the Toronto crowd that the band will mark 40 years at the end of 2018, it’s a slight shock, because their music is so timeless.
But there are necessary reminders, at this stage of the game. OMD’s last visit to Toronto was cut short due to then-drummer Malcolm Holmes’ heat-exhaustion induced collapse on stage and subsequent heart attack, which caused a personal re-calibration and necessary tour cancellation. McCluskey assures the crowd that Holmes is doing well having given up drumming. We now grapple with the passing of years, the unexpected shocks of illness and injury we once scoffed at. Time stands still for two hours at beautiful times like this but marches on cruelly outside of music halls. Our ability to reunite with fellow fans and our bands after five years is no small thing these days. And it’s always a cause for celebration.
The Punishment of Luxury is the latest and among the very best new records from iconic bands returning to form over the last two years, as what we called British indie, synth pop, new wave etcetera makes a welcome return to fill the crater-sized void in an industry and a chart that exists today. The industry and somebody’s charts operate largely separate from self-sustaining bands and their devoted fans, who established trust many decades ago. It is remarkable how well the five new songs played, including the title track, flow with those composed in the 1980s, until you think about how the genres formed out of electronic pop music were largely shaped by OMD themselves. It is unusual, though, to have an audience in sway without a single lull as when new songs follow ones that scored our youthful romances and films of the time. It’s worth noting. It’s worth buying, investing in and spreading the news about. The new sounds are wholly OMD’s while stepping into today’s electronica that could teach new bands a thing or five along the way. Ably rounded out by saxophonist Martin Cooper and Stuart Kershaw on drums, the show is seamless and the camaraderie is infectious.
Led by McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, who trade off on vocals on equally classic numbers, the Music Hall dances “to songs about the end of the world” which is, and always has been, an 80s teen’s favourite thing to do. And we do it “like no one is watching”, but none so well as McCluskey himself, fluidly expressing the music in every limb when not playing the bass or singing (at which times he’s pitch perfect). McCluskey, utterly tireless and passionate, covers every corner of the stage, playing to the balcony, with smiles and hand touches for all within reach of a re-calibrated, front barrier to allow for this wonderful (and now rare) thing. There is absolutely no rock star posturing. We are close enough to see that this is a pure artist, a pure human, and a pure heart in his essence. The usual churn of the Music Hall has been suspended tonight, there simply wasn’t a flat moment to go for a loo – smoke – bar loop. All that will wait.
The show ends with the very first song this lifelong musical partnership ever wrote together, the impossibly fresh “Electricity”. It ends as it began tonight across 10 of 13 albums, from deep, yet hopeful, songs grappling with concerns about the end of the world, to “silly” love songs, the energy flowing freely from stage to audience and back again for two hours, the nebulous barrier transcended.
Photo gallery of the first of two sold out shows in Toronto by Dave MacIntyre