It was synth-pop galore tonight at the sold-out Mandela Hall. The atmosphere was electric for the return of the legendary Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) who last played a headline show in Belfast over 27 years ago. Tonight’s show was in support of their latest studio effort ‘The Punishment of Luxury‘ and Belfast was the second night of the extensive tour before heading over to the mainland. I had previously seen OMD as special guests to fellow electronic standard bearers Simple Minds in the (now) SSE Arena about 6 years ago. I have recollections of a massive bass-heavy and ominously lit introduction followed by weedy synths and an uninspiring performance. Tonight, OMD were unbelievably powerful and awe-inspiring.
First up, were homegrown electropop trio and tour support, Tiny Magnetic Pets, whom Andy McCluskey [OMD Frontman] speaks very highly of. Sharp drum machines accompanied ambient overtures, bass samplers and Paula Gilmer’s silky-smooth melodic vocal lines. Tiny Magnetic Pets’ set was dynamic, reserved and sullen in parts and transitioning to faster-paced synth-pop hooks and catchy choruses. The band produced vibes similar to Sparks, Cocteau Twins, The Human League and early Depeche Mode which are all great acts in my book, with their setlist strongly grabbing the attention of the large audience bearing witness.
The venue turned black setting the mood for the ominous low-register sustained vocals, sea-scape sounds and repeated phrasing of ‘La Mitrailleuse’. OMD came out of the shadows, with Andy McCluskey standing centre-stage with his back to the crowd awaiting Paul Humphreys overturing synths that introduced ‘Ghost Star’. Rays of light cut the darkness as the mood changed with soaring reverberating vocals. Immediately, the stage lit up to the sounds of ‘Isotype’ with Andy bursting into frantic dancing to the powerful pulsating beats and myriad of digital synthesis cascading from the PA. It was then that Andy picked up the bass for ‘Messages’ that got tonight’s crowd on their feet, dancing and shuffling along to its infectious beat and iconic buzzing keyboard lines.
OMD’s set was an amalgamation of old fan favourites and new creative efforts. The setlist even featured a voting system where fans had a choice of certain songs to be integrated into the band’s performance including this evening’s winner ‘Genetic Engineering’ from Dazzle Ship . Key highlights of the set included ‘Joan of Arc [Maid of Orleans]’, ‘Souvenir’, ‘History of Modern [Part 1]’, the infectiously catchy ‘Locomotion’ which was met with much crowd participation, and finally the anti-war electropop hit ‘Enola Gay’ that closed the band’s set to overwhelming applause.
The band returned on stage to perform ‘Walking on the Milky Way’ and album opener ‘The Punishment of Luxury’. It was here that Andy and Paul reminisced about songwriting when they were 16, introducing my personal favourite track ‘Electricity’ with its prominent bassline, whistling syn-drums, plucking synth lines and lyrics that awaken the eternal earworm and encourage ample sing-alongs.
The sheer driving power, the massive sound and the enthusiasm and inspiration of OMD’s set tonight was refreshing and captivating from start to finish. An aural treat for a Tuesday night that now sits amongst the best shows I’ve seen thus far (and I got to a lot of shows!). For anyone catching OMD on this tour, you’re in for an absolute treat!
Click on the photo below to view the entire gallery on our official Flickr!
Words and Photos by Steven Donnelly
Big thanks to Aiken Promotions for letting us cover the show!