Human League : London W1 Astoria

Big tunes minimally rendered is the plan...

The trouble with things returning to fashion long after their sell-by date is that only the good bits are dwelt upon; the negative aspects are always overlooked. Twenty years ago, The Human League were briefly the most successful band on the planet, ‘Don’t You Want Me’ was the biggest selling single of 1981 and their first two classic albums, ‘Dare’ and ‘Love And Dancing’, redefined modern synthetic pop. After that, well, who cares?

Today, as the likes of Girls On Top, Ladytron and [a][/a] pay their respects to Phil Oakey and the girls, and that artificial ’80s aesthetic is reworked again for a new generation, you could be forgiven for mistaking this intimate warm-up show for The League ‘s traditional festive nostalgia arena slog as an attempt at capitalizing on some new-found market demographic. Yeah right.

The warm reception afforded new album ‘Secrets’ (as usual, great choruses) has evidently rejuvenated Oakey. A dapper cross between Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Barrymore, he awkwardly climbs a lighting rig while bellowing ‘Love Action’ and prowls the raised cream platform exuding a crazed cool like Leslie Grantham in Fort Boyard. Susan and Joanne, still living that dream, still nearly hitting those notes, have so much glitter on their eyelids they can barely see. As for the guitarist, we couldn’t decide what sex he/she is/was.

Big tunes minimally rendered is the plan. Refusing to embellish their original stark synth sound, best realised on electro-fetish nugget ‘Being Boiled’, with modern trickery pays off. As the latest crop of ’80s-obsessives realise, it’s hard to improve upon tracks as austere and elegant as ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’ and ‘Seconds’. In ‘Human’ and ‘Lebanon’ the League even dealt with some pretty fundamental issues.

Right now, though, Susan ‘s stumbling about alone on stage dressed as Sally Bowles and, oh dear, no, she’s not going to is she? Too late. She sings an entire song. Those dreams, electric or otherwise, are flattened.

Piers Martin