The Human League & Pseudo Echo, Auckland NZ, 2017

The Human League & Pseudo Echo
6th December 2017
Logan Campbell Centre, Auckland, New Zealand.

Review by Sarah Kidd. Photography by Doug Peters.

The Human League perform live in Auckland, New Zealand, 2017. Image by Doug Peters.When speaking to others about the 1980’s it’s a subject that generally elicits one of two responses; revulsion or nostalgic longing. The ‘nostalgic longing’ bit certainly seems to be true when it comes to the music side of things; who hasn’t been to an 80’s themed office party or local pub night?

But tonight, tonight was the real deal.

As fans trooped into the Logan Campbell Centre there was much excitement in the air. For many this would be the first time ever seeing the iconic band The Human League performing live; many ex-pats in the crowd regaling them with tales of how they saw them in small venues back in the day.

This evening features a double banger for the audience in attendance as Australia’s own Pseudo Echo take to the stage to get the night underway. Dressed in black suits and sunglasses – lead vocalist Brian Canham adding a little sparkly silver flair to the edges of his open neck shirt – the band looked fantastic as they jumped straight into ‘Ultraviolet’ from their 2014 album (at the time their first in fourteen years) of the same name, proving that they are not just a ‘hits’ band. With matching black waistcoats and bright red keytars Ben Grayson and Quentin Roth are the epitome of cool, while drummer Darren Danielson sits behind his kit atop a riser looking out over the almost capacity crowd. Often with 80’s gig there is the propensity for stage set up’s to look cheap or tacky; not so in the case of tonight. Several spotlights and light squares bathe the stage in muted colours that have a distinctly 80’s feel to them but in that cool club kinda way.

Moving into ‘Don’t Go’ and the keytars kick into full effect, Danielson adding to the aesthetic by using an electric drum pad attached to his kit.  What is immediately noticeable is that Canham’s voice has lost nothing, it has a clarity and fullness that immediately draws you in; and the ease with which he can hold a note is impressive to say the least. One thing’s for sure he certainly knows how to work a crowd; as is the case with many of the ‘older’ shows as they refer to them, tonight’s is fully seated. This does not faze Canham at all as he continues to hype them up with his on stage banter. The 1987 track ‘A Beat For You’ still sounds just as good as it did thirty years ago; with just enough of a bite to it; Canham demonstrating this fact by throwing in a tasty little run on the guitar towards the end. “You remember that one huh?” Canham jests with the audience before pointing out some of the changes that have occurred since writing it – like he has a little less hair. This kind of humour is exactly what bonds the artist and the audience together, with nobody getting any younger it’s more about embracing the fact, giving it the middle finger and enjoying yourself regardless.

Advising the audience that they have recorded a new song – well technically they have recorded their version of an “oldie but a goodie” – the band jumps straight into the Ike and Tina Turner classic ‘Nutbush City Limits’; while a nice rendition with on point delivery it just didn’t quite seem to fit them. However their next cover immediately had the audience out of their seats; Real Life’s ‘Send Me An Angel’ delivered with pinpoint precision, audience members instantly transported back to where they were when they first heard those haunting open synths. Canham’s vocals ascend to the heavens sending delectable shivers up the spine, as he stands front and centre.

After a short anecdote of how the band were invited to play on Countdown by the infamous Molly Meldrum the band played their debut single ‘Listening’ the more hardcore fans in the audience singing to every word and throwing in a few hand actions for effect. Inevitably (and rather sadly) their set had to come to an end and of course it had to be finished with the track that even though it was not originally created by them shot them into the limelight and became synonymous with their name; the opening notes of ‘Funky Town’ ringing out throughout the venue and seeing the audience up and dancing. But where’s the fun in performing the same version over and over again? Tonight’s rendering not only featuring some striking guitar solos by Canham but also a nice little morph into another iconic Australian band’s track, AC/DC’s, ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ going down well with the crowd and prompting Canham to get a wicked little ‘Oi’ chant in there before taking ‘Funky Town’ home in style. With their arms around each other’s shoulders Pseudo Echo took a well-deserved bow to a standing ovation from the crowd. No question about it – they can still kick it with the best.

With the schedule running on time tonight it wasn’t long before the lights dropped and the cheering began, fans wanting to ensure that The Human League felt nothing but welcomed to the Auckland stage.

Formed in Sheffield in 1977 the decidedly English band originally started out as an all-male synth group. Following a number of changes over the years they effectively settled on being a trio in the nineties; their live shows being supported by various backing bands. As the back screen comes to life with some of the most vivid graphics that this venue has had the pleasure of seeing in a few years, the crowd roars; the spotlights slowly illuminating both Joanne Catherall and Susan Sulley dressed in divine black evening dresses on either side of the stage. Panning up the spotlight alights upon the tall figure of the only original member of The Human League, the rather eclectic Philip Oakey. Standing at the back of the stage he wears a glorious sleeveless silver plastic coat that touches the ground as he walks; the back completely transparent. It is a showstopper all in itself!

Launching into ‘Sky’ from their 2011 Credo, Oakey’s vocals for a few split seconds sound a little unsure of themselves, with the slightest of crackling. But like any well-oiled machine, those were just the sound of him revving the engine (so to speak) as within the first few songs Oakey was hitting top speed, his voice lush and all encompassing, sounding exactly as he always has. Electricity ran through the audience as they were pulled into the music. The backing band once again made up of matching keytar players (this time in white) Josh often moving between the keytar and guitar, while Robert on an electric drum kit kept the pace beautifully throughout the evening. From brightly coloured Mexican skeletons, to video games and monkeys morphing into humans and back again, the graphics for tonight’s show were absolutely outstanding; and again leant a 80’s touch to the night while still ensuring that the entire production felt decidedly fresh.

Moving through tracks such as ‘Heart Like A Wheel’ and ‘Soundtrack to a Generation’ it was obvious that Oakey would be taking on the majority of the vocal duties tonight. Working the stage he barely stopped moving ensuring that each and every fan had the opportunity to get a decent look at him. If anything this just made the fact that his vocals were on point the entire night even more astounding as he surely covered a few kilometers in the space of their set; Oakey having to concede to defeat early on when it came to that coat however. Removing it he revealed his svelte figure, a razorback singlet paired with oversized grey pants – an interesting ensemble.

Following a stunning rendition of ‘Open Your Heart’ where Oakey holds the notes so beautifully they brought a tear to the eye of more than just one fan; he takes the stage with the band on ‘Seconds’ while Catherall and Sulley disappear for a quite costume change, returning this time in white evening gowns, Sulley’s in particular looking very much like a Grecian goddess. ‘Human’ had the crowd happily sighing with its dulcet tones; Sulley’s vocals unfortunately just a tad pitchy. Catherall however did a fine job on the spoken word section, the on screen visuals hypnotic as the crowd watched jellyfish float about in water. The Human League have never before visited New Zealand shores and there was a genuine gratitude it seemed from Oakey as he thanked the audience time and time again; telling them that the band was astounded by the fact that kiwi’s had continued to support them for forty years even though they had never had the chance to play here. Maybe it was for this reason then that the audience tonight were treated to some rarities such as their rendition of ‘Behind The Mask’ by the Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra.

While each and every member of the audience would have had their personal wish list of songs in their head, tonight’s show would have left little room for any complaints; ‘Mirror Man’, (Keep Feeling) Fascination’ and of course the iconic ‘Don’t You Want Me’ from the 1981 album Dare giving the crowd many a treasure for the memory banks, the latter allowing Sulley to strut her stuff across the stage, her vocals a little stronger this time around. But for many tonight the highlight had to be the first song of the groups two song encore; ‘Being Boiled’ not only sounding better than ever but the intense graphics took it to a whole other level as images of deep red flames gave way to a giant eye staring deep into the souls of all in attendance.

In all honesty The Human League could have finished the show there – but they had one more gem up their sleeves in the form of the track written for the 1984 film ‘Electric Dreams’. Strange little electronic animals walked across fields of green microchips as both Sulley and Catherall returned to stage in jaw-dropping black cabaret styles outfits, all corsets and feathers; while Oakey donning a black suit with lace sleeves quickly moved about the stage introducing the band members before delivering a spectacular rendition of the song ‘Together in Electric Dreams’. And with that, unbelievably it was over, fans clamoring at the front of the stage for set lists as a memento of the evening, others shuffling out of the venue as if in a daze, giant smiles firmly in place upon their faces.

The Human League may have taken forty years to have got here but they certainly made it worth the wait.

The Human League:
Pseudo Echo:

Were you there at the Logan Campbell Centre for this brilliant Synth Pop double header? Or have you seen The Human League or Pseudo Echo perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!

The Human League Setlist:
  1. Sky
  2. Love Action
  3. Heart Like A Wheel
  4. Sound Of The Crowd
  5. Soundtrack To A Generation
  6. Open Your Heart
  7. Seconds
  8. The Lebanon
  9. Human
  10. Behind The Mask [Yellow Magic Orchestra Cover]
  11. Tell Me When
  12. Mirror Man
  13. (Keep Feeling) Fascination
  14. Don’t You Want Me
  15. Being Boiled [Encore]
  16. Together In Electric Dreams [Encore]
Pseudo Echo Setlist:
  1. Ultraviolet
  2. Don’t Go
  3. A Beat For You
  4. Living In A Dream
  5. Love An Adventure
  6. Nutbush City Limits [Ike & Tina Turner Cover]
  7. Send Me An Angel [Real Life Cover]
  8. Listening
  9. Funky Town [Lipps Inc Cover]

Don't You Want Me: The Collection *

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