Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Little Respect: With Fun Songs Old and New, Erasure Puts on a Danceably Enjoyable Show -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

w/ opening act Reed & Caroline
Chicago Theatre
July 27, 2018 (also played 7/28)

Friday night marked the first time I'd ever seen the British duo Erasure live in concert--and really the first time I even considered doing so--despite the band enjoying success since the late '80s and regularly playing Chicago.

To so latently first be seeing such a veteran act whose music I had never really known--until a recent bit of Spotifamilarization--may strike some as a bit odd. 

But in loving the art of concert performance and having repeatedly seen most artists I knowingly
cherish, I've been making a point of broadening my musical horizons.

Over the past five years or so, concert acts I've seen for the first time include New OrderEcho & the Bunnymen, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Duran Duran, Violent Femmes, A Flock of Seagulls, Blondie, The Alarm, Pet Shop Boys, Hall & Oates, Tears for Fears, Johnny Marr, The Fixx, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bryan Ferry, The Church, Journey and Judas Priest. (Hyperlinks are to my reviews.)

So I've been catching up on the 1980s, particularly within the realm of the British New Wave. 

In this context, taking a chance on Erasure--who once released an EP of ABBA covers, including "Take a Chance on Me"--probably makes a bit more sense, especially as the gorgeous Chicago Theatre is my favorite indoor concert venue. 

And my foremost concert pal, Paolo--long a fan of Erasure's dance-oriented rock--was going to be going anyway, so I had him buy a second ticket for me when they went on sale. 

Although I haven't to date seen any of Erasure's aforementioned brethren a second time, I sufficiently enjoyed each--to varying extents--and was happy for the exposure.

And though likewise not all the way back to the '80s, I have seen The Cure and Depeche Mode several times each.

The latter is especially pertinent here as Vince Clarke--who has been Erasure's sole musician and chief songwriter since joining with singer Andy Bell in 1985--initially formed Depeche Mode in 1980.

He would leave DM after just one album, moving on to form Yazoo and then the Assembly before Erasure, but wrote the early singles, "Dreaming of Me," "New Life," "Just Can't Get Enough" and almost all of the first Depeche Mode album, Speak & Spell.

As such, including his subsequent work, I don't know anyone who should be considered more seminal in incorporating an electronic, club dance beat into rock music. (I consider disco a genre unto itself, with the Bee Gees, Chic, KC & the Sunshine and many others seemingly having less crossover "rock" appeal, though the Bee Gees began in a more Beatlesque vein.)

I've never been one to frequent dance clubs, and other than 1988's "A Little Respect," I really couldn't name an Erasure song until I began my recent crash course (though I found "Chains of Love" and "Sometimes" vaguely familiar).

So my perspective in writing this review of Friday's show--Erasure also played. on Saturday--is different from that of most attendees and most concerts I attend.

Though most of the 20 songs played were familiar enough by the time I heard them live, none have been part of my existence for decades.

And while I understand and appreciate that Andy Bell is a gay icon in part due to his openness about his homosexuality since Erasure's origins--and that the duo has a vast and fervid LGBTQ following--for me a sense of pride, culture, community, kinship and heroism didn't directly factor in.

I was happy to be among such a rapturous and reverent crowd, but I was really just there to check out Erasure as a live musical act.

And I genuinely enjoyed myself.

I thought most of the songs were lots of fun, with some--"Ship of Fools," "Breathe," "Always"--truly quite moving.

I found the new songs off 2017's World Be Gone--especially "Just a Little Love" and "Love You to the Sky"--to hold up quite well among several great oldies (the opening "Oh L'Amour," "Phantom Bride," "Love to Hate You" and "Stop!" to name a few; see the full setlist here).

I got a kick out of Bell's effervescent energy, appreciated Clarke's multi-instrumental mastery, enjoyed what the two sharply-dressed & coifed backing vocalists added to the festivities and liked the lighting display.

I shook my moneymaker--in decidedly non-moneymaking fashion--and happily sang along, most effusively on the closing "A Little Respect."

It was a really good concert that expanded my familiarity with Erasure and their music. I would imagine much more avid fans--including Paolo--loved it even more.

If not for my pretending to be something of a critic, this is likely all I would need say about it.

But I can't quite dub the show phenomenal or sensational for a few reasons, beyond any inherent limitations of my fledgling fandom.

Following an opening set by Reed & Caroline--a coed duo that did nothing bad but didn't much excite--Erasure's 90-minute set was a tad brief.

While everything played, and Bell's voice, sounded good live, Clarke's synthesizer--filling in drum parts and other instruments in lieu of live musicians--lent itself to something of a programmatic vibe, and there were moments that felt almost rote.

Despite the danceable undercurrent throughout--making me imagine some of the songs truly delighting within sweaty European discotheques--I thought at times the music should have reached a more frenzied, rave-like level, but even with some dynamic lighting effects it really never did.

In no way did Erasure match the audiovisual brilliance of the awesome Depeche Mode show I saw last month. The breadth and depth of Depeche's songs, abetted by some compelling videos (Erasure didn't employ any) just made that concert--and past DM shows--feel far superior.

Even compared to some '80s acts for whose concerts I likewise needed a crash course--Duran Duran, New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, Jesus & Mary Chain--Erasure didn't dazzle me to the same extent.

While I imagine I may continue to explore their catalog a bit more--both the now-known and still unfamiliar stuff--I wasn't turned into an Erasurehead (if that isn't an existing term, it should be).

But even if this winds up being the only occasion on which I see Erasure, I'm happy for the foray.

Along with a good deal of awareness and appreciation, I undoubtedly gained "A Little Respect."

Here's about half of "A Little Respect," shot by me from the balcony.

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