If knowing the words to “Tainted Love” describes the breadth of your appreciation for Soft Cell, you probably weren’t at Wednesday night’s concert at the YouTube Theater, but you wouldn’t have appreciated it fully anyway. The show was for hardcore fans of the full 1981 album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (played in its entirety) and for Gen-X goth and new wave types, it was a night to relive the melancholic restlessness of being a teen in the 80’s… and the sensual possibilities too.
The show was hyped as a reunion gig, as keyboardist/producer David Ball was going to join singer Marc Almond for the first time in 20 years but alas, Ball couldn’t make it due to medical concerns. Fans on social media were not happy about it, but he wasn’t really missed live. Almond is the voice, the soul and the sass that made Soft Cell one of the most intriguing acts of the 80’s. Ball’s contributions were and are bigger than say, Andrew Ridgeley’s in Wham, but he was never a focal point. Almond commanded the attention and in the 80’s, when music videos became windows into new worlds of music, fashion and culture, that counted for a lot, ushering in the second British wave that also brought us Duran Duran, The Cure, etc. His gorgeous theatrical croon and androgynous persona made Almond a poster boy right alongside them.
Like those chaps, Almond is of course, older now. His penchant for eye makeup is in the past, but he still evokes an alluring fluidity on stage. More importantly, his vocals are as lush and fervent as ever. There was no opening act so the show was broken into two parts. We got there late so we only caught the end of part one (one of our favorites, “Torch” was at the top of the show, sadly).
At least they didn’t pull out our other faves such as “What?,” “Insecure Me” and “It’s a Mug’s Game” during the first set; would’ve hurt to miss those. As it was, the Cabaret portion was more than enough sleazy, flashbacky bliss on its own. Tracks like “Seedy Films,” “Sex Dwarf” and “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” felt as provocative as ever. But we knew these songs held up beyond the new wave era. We’ve been dancing to them in L.A. clubs since we were old enough to go out (mid-90s/early 2000s), and these tracks were over a decade old then.
As highlighted by the success of the Cruel World festival this Summer and excitement for bands like Echo and the Bunnymen playing this weekend (we hear that tour has had some major problems, though), 80’s acts still have a potent fanbase beyond chart status. SC’s Gloria Jones cover of “Tainted Love” (and the extended version featuring The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?”) is not only less significant for many of us fans, it’s the part we could do without. It’s one of the most over-played radio songs of all time, after all. So it was a bit of a drag to hear it performed twice (even if we got the longer one the second time) on Wednesday.
Non-Stop‘s sultry vibe was highlighted by vibrant visuals, mostly neon-imagery and peep show adverts that evoked its seedy feel. The synthy sexy spectacle had everyone dancing in their seats and helped Almond (who had backup singers and producer Philip Larson filling in for Ball) engage in a way that the last concert we attended (X and Psychedelic Furs last week) didn’t, even when he shared new material.
The YouTube theater by the way, is definitely making an impact in terms of show bookings and we’re liking it more every time we go there thanks to crisp sound and great sight lines. Its overzealous purse policy and outrageous parking fees are another story— $40 to park for The Stones at SoFi is one thing, but the same price for a small nostalgia act next door is ridiculous, especially since a big draw for YouTube shows so far is the $20 ticket.
Where the Heart Is
Loving You, Hating Me
The Art of Falling Apart
Set 2: Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Chips on My Shoulder
Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
Tainted Love/ Where Did Our Love Go?
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