REVIEW: OMD at The Wiltern
Nothing screams confidence louder then when a band decides to drop “the big hit” into the first half of their set. That scream only intensifies if you are playing Los Angeles and your biggest hit in America anchored one of the most beloved Hollywood films of the 1980s. But it unfolded as such on Thursday night before an ecstatic sold-out audience at The Wiltern. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark defied convention and launched into “If You Leave” from Pretty In Pink only eight songs into a marathon set that had the balcony of the restored venue threatening to crumble by the end of the night.
When Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey put Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark together in the late 1970s, the band’s synth-driven sound was only slightly more pop conscious than Kraftwerk as evidenced by OMD’s first single “Electricity”. The band’s third album,1983’s Dazzle Ships, was so experimental that that the band’s commercial success in the UK was put on life support. It wasn’t until 1985 that OMD finally cracked America with the most mainstream synth-pop of their careers on Crush. Successful singles such as “Secret” and “So In Love” were soon followed by the mammoth “If You Leave” which they had to write in a day. Apparently the film producers decided to re-film the ending of Pretty In Pink with the boring-as-a-toaster Blaine landing Andie instead of Duckie (I swear, I’m not still bitter). If the story ended there, OMD would have a healthy run of singles to fall back on in 2018 for a package tour full of nostalgia but the band has proven far more durable.
After a careful first step back into music with 2010’s History of Modern, OMD have released two of the decade’s strongest albums with English Electric (2013) and The Punishment of Luxury (2017). Finding the perfect balance between the band’s artistic inclinations and melodic song-craft, OMD’s recent run of work makes the current headlining tour an absolute triumph that few of their contemporaries, or far younger bands, can measure up to. Opening with two songs from The Punishment of Luxury, OMD loaded the set with new material knowing the songs were equal to the band’s commercial peak. To the audience’s credit, there was a real energy to the night from the moment doors opened and the enthusiasm never waned even if some had never heard the newer songs.
Reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore, Paul Humphreys occasionally stepped forward on lead vocals and added a different texture to the set while allowing McCluskey a well-deserved chance to catch his breath. Matching the crowd’s energy all night, McCluskey danced without a care and helped inspire the audience to do the same. Most of the audience was long past needing their ID’s at the bar but we followed McCluskey’s lead and turned The Wiltern into a prom that was probably more fun than any of our real proms.
The glam stomp of “Sailing On the Seven Seas”, from the criminally overlooked Sugar Tax (1991), gave way to a finale of “Enola Gay” that started a small earthquake in the balcony. The band returned to a standing ovation for a three song encore that ended where it all began for OMD. Forty years since their inception, “Electricity” still sounds ahead of the times and maybe the same could be said for OMD. Rather than play a set that took us back to how we felt when we were young, they brought how we felt when we were young to 2018 and injected it back into our souls.