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Culture Reviews
Erasure
By Martin Richardson
It might have been the glittery red jacket. Erasure vocalist Andy Bell, who achieved a certain notoriety back in the day by performing in a snug-fitting leotard with a tinsel-covered crotch, took to the stage wearing an item that even Nikolai Baskov might have considered a little bit too much. And, in single gesture, made it clear to a packed house at A2 that this was authentic, old-time Erasure in action: the voice, the synths, a couple of backing singers and - crucially - the hits.

Inevitably the jacket didn't last long in the heat, but after a slightly uncertain start which drew heavily on the latter - less prepossessing - half of the band's career, the show steadily crescendoed into the kind of night that made you understand why live music is worth bothering with. And it thrilled an impressively varied crowd: crusty Soviet-era survivors who, we fondly imagined, had thrilled to the strains of "Sometimes" as a contraband clip from an alien culture were rubbing shoulders with the bright young things of modern Moscow, for whom the 1980s exist merely in the history books. And, come that magical midway tipping point that every great show spirits on to the set list, they were all dancing together merrily like it was simultaneously 1987 and 2011.

It helped enormously that this tour - bringing the band to Russia for the first time - was not even pretending to sell new material. Although Erasure never broke up, it felt more like a triumphal reunion show, returning to the old favorites for the fans. And, earning extra credit, Bell went far beyond most visiting frontmen in his efforts to speak Russian to the masses. If the majority struggle to get as far as a hesitant "spasibo", Erasure wanted to have a go at full sentences. Admittedly several of them might have been in Chinese for all the sense they appeared to make, but the gesture was the key thing.

The other big bonus was just how well the back catalog stands up over the years - the likes of "Ship of Fools", "Oh l'Amour", "Stop", "Sometimes" or "A Little Respect" have defied those who dismissed Erasure as a cheap, overly flamboyant and ultimately disposable version of the darker, more intellectually minded Pet Shop Boys. And, for all the poppy sensibilities, this is audibly removed from the mindlessly chirpy early 80s musical world defined in one direction by the gaudy camp of Adam Ant and in the other by the unthinking good times of Wham! In Erasure's England the early 80s bubble had burst and the beat was taking on a more urban bent. This is the sound of a generation realising that the promise of "Club Tropicana" is never going to be delivered; the dream turns bittersweet.

Then, of course, we come to "Love to Hate You". This particular track is indelibly associated with Russia for me, thanks to an early 90s school trip over here where it was simply inescapable. Every taxi, every shop, every restaurant or bar: life was accompanied by the fate of all those unsatisfactory lovers. And now, 20 years on, it's probably the band's best-loved release, representing the zenith of their popularity before that middle-aged drift into declining relevance and the slow death of the nostalgia circuit. Bravely they popped it in the middle of the set: pre-show predictions made it a certain encore. And it worked beautifully. Conventional wisdom defied, it fired up the audience to the point where simply reciting from the phone book would have sparked further riotous acclaim.

Too many aging acts come to Moscow with little more than a pay-off in mind; the result is top-dollar ticket prices for performances phoned in with little enthusiasm or animation. Even though Erasure's carefully programmed electro-pop doesn't exactly demand to be heard live in the way the balls-out frenzy of heavy metal might, they delivered a perfectly tailored show, restoring the faith of the most jaded gig-goers.

09.07.11
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