Melbourne turned on a sweltering hot summer night for The Human League’s long-awaited return to Australian shores. It had been 35 years since the synth-pop band from the U.K. were here. In 1982, they were riding high on the success of their third album Dare which gave us such hits as the catchy ‘Don’t You Want Me’ and ‘Love Action (I Believe in Love)’ and while we haven’t heard much from them in recent years, the buzz filling St. Kilda’s recently renovated and refurbished Palais Theatre was a clear sign that they have not been forgotten.
Local band Pseudo Echo was the perfect choice to open the show. As another band who also made their mark in the 80s with a string of hits like ‘Funky Town’ and ‘Listening’, it was a perfect fit. From the moment the Pseuds hit the stage, the audience was on its feet and dancing. In fact, as far as support acts go, these guys took ‘warming up the crowd’ to a whole new level. Speaking for myself, I was exhausted before the headline act even walked on stage. Pseudo Echo were on stage for around 45 minutes and it was not just a ‘filler’ set we were treated to, by any means.
An instrumental intro of ‘Funky Town’ was the perfect teaser as the band, dressed in black, took to the stage, diving into one of their more recent tracks, ‘Ultraviolet’, followed by ‘Don’t Go’ and one of their biggest hits from the 80s, ‘A Beat For You’. The band’s latest single release is a reworked version of the Ike and Tina Turner classic, ‘Nutbush City Limits’ and while Brian might not have Tina’s legs, he most certainly had the energy and proved yet again what a masterful front man he is as he took the crowd through its paces. Next was another cover; this time, a song from another Australian band that ruled the airwaves in the 80s, Real Life’s ‘Send Me an Angel’ brought loud cheers from the crowd. Brian introduced ‘Listening’ with a short back story of how Molly Meldrum had thrown his support behind the song which was to become their first hit. And of course the set was rounded off with their big hit, ‘Funky Town’, a cover of the Lipps Inc. song and I have to say, my favourite version. By the end of their set, Pseudo Echo had most definitely done their job of revving up the audience… and then some!
The stage for The Human League was stark but effective with a back screen of vivid colours and images. Dressed in elegant black evening dresses, singers Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley took their places at each end of the stage, while the drummer/percussionist was flanked by two keyboard players, including a multi-instrumentalist who alternated between keyboard, keytar, and guitar. The production was slick and so was the music. I had to wonder at the wisdom of singer Phil Oakey wearing a long black tunic ensemble in the rather extreme heat, assuming that the temperature under the bright lights would be even more intense but he seemed to be coping better than me, I must say. The band looked good and sounded good. Opening with ‘Sky’, and then ‘Mirror Man’, accompanied by the vibrant and ever-changing graphics behind them. The set-list took us through some classic Human League numbers, notably ‘The Lebanon’, ‘Heart Like a Wheel’, ‘(Keep Feeling) Fascination’ and ‘Love Action (I Believe in Love)’.
Oakey, now sporting a very different look from those early days, reminisced for a moment over his last visit to Australia and the memory of having his worst ever haircut during that tour. Oh, the irony…
As the musicians played an extended introduction to the band’s biggest hit ‘Don’t You Want Me’, Phil, Susan and Joanne left the stage briefly, returning in a change of costume switching from black to white as they performed the song for which they will forever be remembered, certainly in this country anyway. So popular is the tune 35 years later that the audience took over singing the chorus without skipping a beat.
As the band left the stage, the crowd remained standing, as they had done throughout the entire performance and demanded an encore which was eventually forthcoming when they returned to the stage once more, having made another costume change with the girls back in black a la burlesque style complete with feathers. The encore started off with ‘Being Boiled’, the strong vibrations of the bass sound firmly intensified by the burning images on the screen behind.
The show concluded on a high with the upbeat ‘Together in Electric Dreams’, a song written by Oakey and Giorgio Moroder for the soundtrack of the movie Electric Dreams in 1984.
It was a long time between drinks for The Human League to return to Australia, but they certainly proved that they still have the groove that put them on everyone’s playlist in the 80s and, if anything, they are slicker and sounding better than ever in 2017. And for the predominantly well over 40ish audience at The Palais, (to paraphrase a song they played that night), we got to relive the ‘Soundtrack to a Generation’.
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2017. All rights reserved
Photos: © Angie Paton