Jon Rollinson reviews The Human League at the Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham
Sheffield synth-pop pioneers The Human League thundered into the Barclaycard Arena on Saturday with a hit-filled 20 song set bursting with early 80s nostalgia. With good support from Blancmange, the 3,000-strong audience of 40-somethings were happy to be taken back to a time when the synthesiser was king of the pop world.
Singer Phil Oakey strode on stage in a Matrix-style trenchcoat, appropriately menacing for the bass-heavy opener Being Boiled, a song almost four decades old but still sounding fresh and threatening. He was soon joined by Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall for a glorious run through of hit after electronic hit.
Oakey's voice may not stand too close a musical inspection these days, especially on its own, but blended with the girls' and buried in layers of synths it's a winning combination.
Inevitable low points happened when the Human League played some of their lesser known songs which are nowhere near as strong. Although you can understand the band's desire to change their set around and keep things fresh for themselves, the crowd just wanted to hear the hits. The Arena was soon back on its feet and dancing though when the first chords of Keep Feeling Fascination started, led into Mirror Man and ended with an almost rapturous Don't You Want Me.
The crowd's genuine and lasting affection for The Human League was clearly reciprocated by the band who appreciated "probably the biggest audience of the tour so far" and especially by Oakey, who grew up in Birmingham, declaring "I love this city". The two song encore concluded with Together in Electric Dreams. With a chorus featuring the line "We'll always be together", you were left with the feeling that for this crowd and this band, that's exactly the case.
*The Human League played the Barclaycard Arena on Saturday December 10. See www.thehumanleague.co.uk for future dates.