The last time O.M.D. played the U.S., it was to tour stadiums with Depeche Mode.
Monday night, the original lineup, fronted by singer/bassist/keyboardist Andy McCluskey and childhood pal/singer/keyboardist Paul Humphreys, scrunched into The Loft at Center Stage, prompting McCluskey to joke, “This wins the prize for the smallest room we’ve played.”
No matter, as McCluskey made impressive use of his eight feet or so of space, alternately flailing his arms, playing bass like a New Wave robot and snaking his hands through the air with movements reminiscent of Hugh Grant’s character in “Music and Lyrics.”
But McCluskey, in his white shirt and skinny tie (discarded by the second song), proved a self-deprecating host of this synth-fest, which adroitly balanced O.M.D.’s U.K. hits from the ‘80s – “Tesla Girls,” “Locomotion,” “Souvenir” – with some of the group’s excellent new songs.
“It is compulsory to dance as badly as I do,” he told the vocal crowd of more than 500 before delving into the sweetly melodic “History of Modern (Part 1),” a sort-of title track from last fall’s “History of Modern.” The album represents the first new material from McCluskey, Humphreys, drummer Malcolm Holmes and keyboardist/saxophonist Martin Cooper since 1986.
The band’s new work, particularly “New Babies: New Toys,” which opened the 100-minute set, and the giddy “Sister Marie Says,” an obvious club smash, dovetail perfectly with O.M.D.’s more-extensive-than-you-think catalog of fizzy synth-pop.
It’s a testament to the strength and catchiness of the material, as well as McCluskey’s stage presence, that the audience was rapt and involved during the performances of the band’s current work. Usually, new songs signal a bathroom break or beer run, but this crowd was content to listen, bounce and clap. Not to mention, a bathroom break or beer run in such a small venue would barely last half a song.
But, when a band hasn’t toured in nearly a quarter of a century, an audience wants to hear the hits they may never get to experience live again.
O.M.D. knows this, and, after treating fans to the blissfully escalating harmonies of “(Forever) Live and Die,” with Humphreys, a more sedate presence in a black suit, handling lead vocals, it was time for the inevitable.
“I get into trouble for saying this is the song that ruined our career,” McCluskey said a bit wryly, adding that O.M.D. never plays it at any U.K. shows (and for good reason – it only reached No. 48 on the charts there, while hitting No. 4 in the U.S.).
The song, of course, is the one that even casual ‘80s music fans know – “If You Leave,” from John Hughes’ teen dramedy “Pretty in Pink.”
Considering the begrudging tone that introduced it, O.M.D. played the song perfectly, with live sax and spotless harmonies adding texture that no amount of keyboards could duplicate.
The mostly middle-aged crowd also responded fervently to the springy synth runs in “So in Love” (McCluskey impressively hit the high-note chorus, too) and the sumptuous “Dreaming,” both songs a frequent presence on Sirius XM’s 1st Wave channel.
O.M.D.’s brief U.S. tour pit stops at SXSW this weekend before wrapping in California March 26.
Do we really have to wait another two-plus decades for an encore performance?