Live Review: Human League with Performance at London Royal Festival Hall – 10th December 2010

By on Thursday, 23rd December 2010 at 2:00 pm

Wow, what a crazy few weeks it has been. It’s always like it this time of year, a mad rush in the weeks leading up to Christmas before the whole music industry flops for a well-earned rest until mid-January. So this is my lame excuse and apology for such an overdue review of the Human League at the Royal Festival Hall with support from Performance.

I was particularly interested in this gig as I have never been to the Royal Festival Hall, and also, being born in the 80s, I have kind of grown up with The Human League, so I was interested to see them live. Royal Festival Hall certainly lived up to expectations, really high ceilings made for fantastic acoustics….and the seats were really comfortable!

We arrived in time to see the support act, Performance. (You can read more about the band in our Bands to Watch piece on them and our review of their album, Red Brick Heart.) Performance are very like the Human League, which makes no surprise seeing as they are supporting them! They are a 3-piece: vocals, a female guitarist and backing vocalist and an electronic drummer and multi-instrumentalist. Their sound is very 80s but with a current pop twist to every track. Each song had strong choruses and I could see them doing quite well. Unfortunately, the band were a little under-rehearsed and looked dazzled by the size of the crowd. And why shouldn’t they be, for a relatively new band this was a hell of an opportunity for them? On the whole, the band really held it together and it was only a matter of a few relatively minor ‘school boy errors’; missing opening cues, guitar straps falling off and the band starting regardless. They had the crowd’s support, so they got away with these little hiccups. I’d like to catch up with them next year once they have toured some more and ironed out these issues.

So, the stage was set for the Human League; lots of white microphone stands, risers and LED backdrops. I did wonder whether this was going to be a ‘throw away throw back gig’ or whether the band could come back and really impress us. The band opened with one of their best known-tracks, ‘Electric Shock’, to mass applause and an almost standing ovation, where the crowd stayed for the rest of the gig. What a great choice for an opener: everyone was really behind this band and the atmosphere was incredible. People were dancing in the stalls as well as in the boxes (badly) and singing back the lyrics. Oakey was dressed in a long black parka jacket, hood up he commanded the stage, pacing from side to side delivering a perfect vocal with attitude like a seasoned pro. He’s still got it.

(Editor’s note: I really wanted to find a good photo of what Human League look like now [versus what they looked like back in the day] so the header photo is from the Londoneer.)

The 1982, Motown-influenced ‘Mirror Man’ was next on the hit list. This is where the two backing vocalists, set at opposing sides of the stage, started to make an impact and the old chemistry reignited onstage. The room really was alight, obviously full of genuine Human League fans of days gone by and the band started to play to this, visually enjoying themselves. Mid-way through the set, ‘Lebanon’ made a very welcome appearance. ‘Sweet Dreams of 1986’ is the opening vocal, taking everyone back to the mid 80s, the visuals behind the band were fantastic and I felt like I was back in the days when it was okay to have a bar in your living room! It’s funny as I also thought the band look more 80s now than they ever did! Oakey now in a boiler suit and hoody combo!

Towards the end of the set the band showcased some new material. It’s still in the same vein as the original material, but I can’t say I really felt it like I do the older tracks. It sounded contrived and Oakey’s voice was not well suited to it, the tracks seemed to be in the wrong key for him to really show off his vocal. These were the least memorable songs of the night but maybe that’s a silly point as everyone was there to hear the golden oldies; the songs they knew best. The new tracks just seemed to be all ‘four to the floor’ club music done pretty badly, and some of the lyrics I heard were pretty terrible; “there is a place where the night people go, leave your cornflakes in the freezers”….what?!

The last song of the set was ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ and once again the crowd were on their feet. What a great song and iconic for the band. The encore was fairly uninspiring but we all had a good dance to finish the night on a high. On reflection, I really enjoyed the gig and it was inspiring to see the Human League comeback looking so confident and playing so well. In my opinion they should drop the new material, and the encore for that matter, and do a greatest hits set!

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