Erasure have surely done enough to leave an indelible mark on British pop. “We’ve got lots of lovely songs for you tonight, spanning 32 years,” announced frontman Andy Bell at the start of a set about as hit-packed as a Now That’s What I Call Cheesy Synth Pop compilation.
Since the duo formed in 1985, Erasure have scored 34 top 40 hits. They may not trouble the singles charts much anymore but there has been no noticeable decline in quality across 16 studio albums, selling over 25 million records worldwide. Last year’s luxurious, emotional offering World Be Gone reached number six in the UK albums chart.
When you consider that instrumentalist Vince Clarke was also founding songwriter of Depeche Mode (Just Can’t Get Enough), Yazoo (Only You) and The Assembly (Never Never), there is a case for Clarke being the great unsung songwriter of the electro generation.
There is, nonetheless, something a bit uncool about Erasure. They are like the Pet Shop Boys' slightly gauche cousins, with all the plush synths and earworm melodies but little of the artistic conceptualism and ironic wit. A set design of gaudy geometric light tubes and raised DJ platform invoked a high street disco circa 1980.
Bald, besuited and unsmiling on his podium, adding minimal instrumental flourishes to what are essentially pre-recorded backing tracks, Clarke played straight man to Bell’s panto dame. “I've been practising with my makeup,” claimed Bell. “When in doubt, stick your head in a bucket of glitter.”
Kohl eyed and sparkly, in ill-fitting brocaded jacket and colourful tattoo tights, he looked like a drag artist who had been dragged through a fancy dress wardrobe. "The look I was going for is Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra with a bit of Mrs Slocombe thrown in,” he joked (invoking the vain saleswoman from camp comedy classic Are You Being Served). Bell discarded clothing as the set proceeded, until the big bellied 53-year-old frontman was giddily dancing about in nothing but body stocking and underpants. “I have to keep an eye on my tights,” he archly announced. “I don’t want the vortex going up my gusset.”
Bell’s comically uninhibited behaviour was in marked contrast to his heartfelt singing of songs that are bursting with emotion. His voice has retained its huge range, with rich low tones and clear, piercing high notes (nicely layered by two backing vocalists) whilst the deadpan Clarke tapped a flashing tambourine, strummed guitar chords or added wonky synth solos. Songs as robust as Chain Of Love, Ship of Fools, Blue Savannah, Stop!, Drama, Sometimes and A Little Respect have a kind of unstoppable force of their own. Bell’s self-mocking charisma made him a catalyst for the crowd, effectively giving everyone permission to unabashedly enjoy themselves. Five thousand middle aged men and women belted out choruses and danced in the aisles. Long may Erasure stick around.