In 1981 The Human League famously asked, “Don’t You Want Me?” and even after 30 years, at least to this NYC audience, the answer was a resounding “Yes!”. Last night the Best Buy Theater was packed with fans who came to see The Human League perform their hits spanning 3 decades as well as hear material off their new album, Credo. To a blog that worships electronic music, particularly the bands profiled in the definitive british synthpop documentary, Synth Brittania, seeing the Human League after seeing other luminaries like Gary Numan, OMD and Erasure all in the past year, this concert was to be the icing on our electronic cake.
The story of The Human League’s humble beginnings to its meteoric rise is the modern day take on a fairy tale. After a falling out with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh (who would go on to form Heaven 17), lead singer Phil Oakey was left without a band, and in desperate need of recruiting new members to record an album. He discovered teenagers Joanne Cathedral and Susan Ann Sulley after seeing them dancing at a nightclub in Sheffield. With his new lineup, they went into the studio and recorded the album Dare. Fourth Single, Don’t You Want Me (urban legend has it Oakey originally protested its release, but finally relented), with its high gloss, big budget video would bring The Human League international acclaim and become one of the top selling singles of the year. After an absense of 10 years, they have released a new album, Credo, that is a sorta return to their Dare era sound.
We arrived at the theater shortly after doors had opened and were able to get to the front center stage without any problem (an advantage of seeing English synthpop artists in America). Opening act, Men Without Hats took the stage at 8:30pm. Lead singer, Ivan Doroschuck came out wearing a leather biker outfit and wore a …gasp…HAT and pranced around the stage while performing hits such as Safety Dance, I Like, Pop Goes the World and Where Do The Boys Go?. He was received warmly by the crowd who appreciated his energy and enthusiasm. At times problems with sound caused me and the floor to vibrate, and these technical sound difficulties would foreshadow later problems that nearly derailed a highlight performance from The League.
The Human League took to the stage at 9:30pm. We liked the mod white stage and equipment (even the microphones and stands were white) and minimal staging. They began the set after some mood music with new single, Never Let Me Go, which had their kaleidoscopic trippy video playing on a huge projection screen behind them to great effect. This was followed by two early classics, Open Your Heart and a personal favorite of ours, Sound of the Crowd.
Although the crowd was appreciative, the next few songs weren’t met with the same level of frenzy as Empire State Human, a fan favorite, which got the crowd dancing. This was followed by lead single, Night People, off of their new album, Credo.
Things took a dramatic change, after Oakey asked the audience to sing along to fan favorite, (Keep Feeling) Fascination, when a malfunction with the speakers caused the sound (particularly bass) to be reduced dramatically. Oakey was visibly shaken, but took things in stride, pacing the stage and shooting daggers at the sound technician while the girls adopted a “the show must go on” attitude and got the audience singing. It was a beautiful moment, where the artist and audience were united and determined not to let it ruin the performance. The problems with sound were only temporary and by the end of the song, the sound was back to normal, which was just in time for their biggest hit, Don’t You Want Me, that had the audience singing and hanging to every word (yes, I freely admit I was singing, “I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar”).
I was worried that with the sound problems, there may not be an encore, but The Human League did not disappoint and came back out to perform the single that started it all, Being Boiled and the not technically, but still League aligned, Together In Electric Dreams, which upon reflection seemed like the perfect closing to a perfect evening spent in electric dreams.
Never Let Me Go
Open Your Heart
Sound of the Crowd
Heart Like A Wheel
Empire State Human
All I Ever Wanted
Tell Me When
(Keep Feeling) Fascination
Don’t You Want Me
Together In Electric Dreams
I just want to give a special thanks to my sister Allison for taking photos and being the perfect concert buddy and for The Human League who gracially met us and fans after the show. They were very genereous with their time and allowed us to take pictures.