To those of a certain age, which included almost everyone at the Hammersmith Apollo, the rectangular neon arches on stage recalled Thursday evenings in front of the telly watching Top of the Pops, the weekly British chart show. Erasure first appeared on it in 1986 to perform “Sometimes”, Andy Bell singing about gay desire with a warmth rarely witnessed on primetime television as Vince Clarke strummed an inaudible acoustic guitar next to him.
A descendant of that redundant guitar appeared at this show, “played” by Clarke for another of their old hits, “A Little Respect”. For the rest of the show he occupied a gantry above one of the neon arches, surrounded by electronic consoles, a synth-pop mastermind’s lair. Bell shimmied around the stage below with a pair of backing singers. He wore white face paint and gradually stripped during the course of the gig to a semi-diaphanous ensemble. Clarke, always the sensible one, wore a grey suit.
Once dismissed by rock snobs as frivolous and formulaic, the pair have proved among the most enduring acts of their generation. Their set at the Apollo spanned more than 30 years of songwriting, up to last year’s impressive album World Be Gone. Bell’s rich tones rang out alongside Clarke’s palette of chimes and bleeps, all underpinned by a four-to-the-floor beat. There were cheers for Bell’s sashaying dance moves underneath the fluorescent neon tube arches. Meanwhile Clarke did his best to look impassive.
Alongside their 1980s synth-pop peers, Erasure invested computerised music with colour and emotiveness. One particular emotion prevailed at the Apollo, however — nostalgia. The duo made every effort to satisfy it while also incorporating tracks from their latest album. The result was rather uneven, a choppy to-and-fro between old favourites and less familiar new ones, when audience chatter rose and Clarke turned up the beat to liven things up.
“World Be Gone” found Bell singing valedictory verses over a rippling, echoing electronic landscape, a world of absences and hauntings, a mature commentary on the hi-nrg escapism of their former days. But then, as if to compensate, he and Clarke struck up a jaunty number from the start of their career, “Who Needs Love Like That”. The momentum that they have managed to maintain in their recording career proved harder to achieve on stage.
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