ehold an idyllic Arcadia. a pastoral setting straight out of
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Enter Andy Bell swathed in a white feather boa — on a huge motorised swan.
Welcome to the Erasure show. and prepare to be bedazzled by four scene changes. over 100 costumes. a bingo session with our heroes. two Mauritian backing vocalist sisters. and a troupe of lithe and sexy dancers.
Its scale. sense of theatricality. and sheer camp outrageousness have proved the solution to a seemingly impossible problem — how to make one man singing and dancing and one man pushing buttons the ‘phantasmagorical experience‘ promised on the posters and tour programme.
But it‘s not just the investment in high production values that makes the new Erasure show so special. It also sets in reverse the pop process that getting bigger equals getting lazier. greedier and more distant from your fans.
That the dramatic duo have rejected the easy option of staging the tour show in the cavernous barns that the big boys of rock usually make for speaks volumes for their relationship with their fans. and their relish for performing.
There‘s a shrewdnes there as well. Singer and lyricist Andy Bell and synth-boffin Vince Clarke know that few pop acts can really cut it in the 1().()()()-strong venues; that attempts to create spectacle often translate as bombastic excess. with the music‘s impact receding with every thunderflash loosed off and every decibel yanked up.
It‘s no coincidence. either. that Erasure are on Mute Records. the British independent label that has shown that artists‘ creative control is no obstacle to big ambitions— witness the international success of Erasure’s stable-mates Depeche Mode. How many major record companies would
6The List i9Junc—2July 1992
So just how do you make two not-so-innocent purveyors of dance pop look interesting on stage? Andy Spinoza takes a sneak preview of the ERASU RE experience.
have encouraged Erasure‘s seemingly daft aspirations to play so many dates — 38 in all. at three comparatively cosy venues nationwide. including fifteen dates at the Hammersmith Odeon?
Andy. looking like he could be Jimmy Cagney‘s baby-faced kid brother. is
‘ disarmineg frank about his and Vince‘s
motivations. He explains: ‘I‘d get a kick out of playing a stadium. who wouldn‘t? But the way people just fly in. play it and ﬂy out like it‘s another gig is a bit hard to take.‘
It‘s not often a member of the pop star celestial fraternity criticises the high-handed way his peers treat the punters. But then
'He goes out late, he parties, he gets back late, he gets up and just does the show.‘
Andy Bell is a one-off. By all accounts a 24-hour party animal with incredible stamina. he doesn‘t bother with the hypochondriacal health routines that rule the daily lives of most top popsters. ‘1 le goes out late. he parties. he gets back late. he gets up and just does the show.‘ says a stage show insider.
Bell was audition number 43 when Vince Clarke advertised for a new partner after the success of Yazoo precipitated Alison Moyet‘s move into a solo career. He reckons his upfront. performer‘s nature is in his blood.
’My grandad was in a skifﬂe band.‘ the one-time cruise liner entertainer explains. in a voice that recalls TV silly boy Frank Spencer. ‘He had a drum kit and used to play washboard at dances. I was brought up on musicals— Busby Berkeley. that sort of thing. I used to think I was in a musical at school. In fact. I still do.‘
Andy‘s a pop primadonna with the voice of an angel and the dirty mind ofa porno star. The stage becomes his world in Erasure: The Concert. While Vince is wheeled on to one side in his chariot-cum-space module. Andy gives full rein to the psychodrama inside him just bursting to get out. He gambols like a lamb just reprieved from the slaughterhouse. lle approaches the front rows with a macho stride in a 6()s-style rubber jumpsuit and intones: ‘See. I can be a man when it‘s called for.‘ Personalities? He‘s got ’em.
And all the while his po-faced partner wears a perma-frown and a variety ofgroovy shades. as his programmed shards of electro-pop stutter and shatter all around Andy‘s operatic vocals. The first halfofthe two-and-a-half—hour show reaches some
impossible highs. with hit after hit. including ‘Chorus‘, ‘Ship of Fools‘. and ‘Am I Right‘?’
The gay facet to Erasure‘s music is reinforced by the pumping dance beats of these live versions. recalling nothing so much as that missing link between Disco and House music— Hi-energy.
Andy is no closet queen. In the second
half, as a moonbeam shines down on him sitting on a park bench. he introduces a solo version ofJudy Garland‘s ‘Over The Rainbow’ as a song for ‘anyone who has lost a loved one over the last ten years to AIDS
. . . or whatever.’ His voice copes admirably with its highs and lows. while the cheesy lyrics and staging give the song an eerily poignant power.
Gay culture has claimed many icons for its own. But it was Bell's idea that his obsession with 705 Swedish supergroup ABBA be reinterpreted for the 90s.
‘I’ve got all the versions of everything they have ever recorded and I’ve been into them ever since I first heard them on the radio,” he says. ‘It was the only music that made my spine tingle.’
The four-song ABBA tribute — on record the ABBA-esque EP sits on the No 1 spot — is a laugh-a-minute marvel. Darkness descends upon the stage. then is lit by the same lightbulb-framed logo that thirtysomethings will remember from the poster for ABBA — The Movie
Teasingly. nothing happens for a minute, while the crowd work themselves into a lather. Then four silhouettes take the stage — the two Spanish-looking girl backing singers. Andy. ofcourse. and . . . who‘s the other one? It can‘t be. It is. It‘s Vince!
Nothing has prepared us for this — Vince Clarke. the dour. enigmatic maestro of the micro-chip performing kitsch dance routines. clad in Elton John specs. ripped and torn ﬂares. and vertigo-inducing platforms. A nervous smile even twitched acros his face. as if he couldn‘t quite believe it himself.
Ifthe slap-head synth-boffin out of his techno-booth looked rather like a crab deprived ofits shell. the ABBA routine is a tacky success by virtue of Vince’s contemporary dance beat base and electro-decorated re-workings of ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, ‘SOS’. ‘Take A Chance On Me’ and ‘Voulez-Vous’. .
And that’sjust the first half. There are more surprises to come. more costumes to squeeze into. more memorably hummable songs to be sung. It‘s the perfect vehicle for a joyous celebration ofquintessential pop music since Prince’s legendary Lovesexy tour in 1988.
Erasure play the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh on Mon 29Jurze—Wed 1 July, Fri 3—Sun 5 July and Tue7— Wed 8 July.