Yaz, Orpheum Theatre, July 8, 2008.
(all photos by Timothy Norris)
Near the end of Yaz's triumphant Los Angeles debut — 27 years after they recorded one of history's great synth-pop albums, Upstairs at Eric's — vocalist Alison Moyet, visibly moved, thanked the crowd for “a brilliant, brilliant welcome.” Indeed, the audience was effusive and adoring on the first of the three-night stint at the beautiful Orpheum downtown. They cheered as though they'd been storing the applause for decades, awaiting the opportunity to thank Moyet and her partner, Vince Clark, for all those lonely love songs.
It's also a lot to live up to, especially when you're dealing with synth-pop, whose beauty is its efficiency, in how two people with a computer and a voice can emerge from a room in Essex, England fully formed. But what separated Yaz from their peers in the Brit synth-pop invasion of the early 80s was human emotion. Kraftwerk forged the path, but were defiantly robotic, a trait that informed the bands who were inspired by them. Depeche Mode's David Gahan was, in his early years, as vocally restrained as a game of Pong; The Human League's Philip Oakey opened himself to emotion, but could never seem to find his heart.
Alison Moyet is all heart, is an open wound, seems to understand the hurt of which she sings, and combined with Clarke's hyper-melodic little ditties (which he'd continue to perfect with Erasure), the team found a recipe for timelessness in the tension between woman and machine. Those dry tones behind her magnified her humanity, her hope, her pain.
They started off with “Nobody's Diary,” and any fear that a mere two people and a computer would have a hard time making their presence felt was immediately dispelled. Moyet looked fantastic, dressed in all black, her hair in cute twin pigtails which, by the end of the night, had become frazzled like she'd just finished a romp in the hay. Clarke was more Kraftwerkian in his demeanor: he let his computer and keyboard do the talking, and when he wanted to harmonize with his partner, he did so through a microphone that robotified his voice.
When they left the stage after playing 19 songs, everyone at the Orpheum knew which two songs they'd be playing during the encore, as they'd yet to play their biggest hits (and best songs). The first, of course, was “Only You,” a song of longing that Moyet sang as though she'd just written it yesterday; the woman's voice has grown even stronger, if that's possible. And then, of course, came “Situation,” which conveyed the other side of love — “Move out! Don't make a sound just move out!”
Setlist for the first night of the Orpheum show:
Ode to Boy
In My Room
Walk Away From Love
Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)