Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Solar Energy, Nikola Tesla, Feminism: Prom Night With Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

The Band
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark is a band comprised of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys. As a pair, they look like they could have starred in 1980's Merchant-Ivory films or 'Chariots Of Fire'. 
In reality, they are actually associated with one very iconic John Hughes film. I had the great fortune to see their songs performed live recently. It's difficult to focus on any one aspect of their journey. OMD has a legacy of mastering pure electro-pop, and they remain true to their sound. So let's begin with where they are TODAY. They released an album in 2013 called 'English Electric'.
OMD's English Electric album
This new release by OMD is solid. Check out OMD's latest video for the song 'Metroland' (it's an adorable video.)
From the lengthy (when non-acronymed) name of the band, to each melody and lyric they've put forth, this is a duo that doesn't cut corners. If they do something, they will do it right. Scientifically so. And as I witnessed recently, when they perform they give everything they can to make that song everything it can be. 
It's not about over-performing for the sake of personal gain, and it's not about selfish absorption of energy from their loving audience. It's about the output of energy (at just the right level) to make each song function at its most optimal, propelled by the current that runs from the band to the audience and back again. Electricity in its purest form, still. And they clearly loved that energy as much as we, the audience, did.
Electricity (and Solar Energy)
What has always attracted me to their songs and lyrics has been a sense of sweetness and intelligence. And their passion for science is always evident, as in one of my favorite conclusions to any song –– in 'Electricity':

The alternative is only one
The final source of energy 
Solar electricity!
I've been a solar energy advocate for most of my life. My father worked for a solar power company for several years in the late-80s. Our home in Portland, Oregon functioned on solar energy without a single hitch. It was very much a a solution, even back then. Even in a city and state known for being cloudy for much of the year. The sun is strong enough to power every place on Earth easily, and completely. We all know that, or should. But yes. OMD proposed the use of solar power via their song's lyrics in 1979...!
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are essentially forward thinking futurists like their hero Nikola Tesla. Which brings me to 'Tesla Girls', a song they released in 1984. 

Nikola Tesla (and Tesla Girls)
'No! No! No!' 'Tesla Girls' is not just a means to pay homage to their hero, famed electrical engineer and futurist Nikola Tesla, a man greatly responsible for the use of electricity as we've known it; the song gives pause to appreciate smart girls
Nikola Tesla
This is a band who announced to the world that they appreciated women for their brains. (Imagine that...! :)) Aside from the more obvious reference suggested by 'Tesla Girls', that certain women having a magnetism similar to electricity––and that attraction being tough for a man in love to understand––these are men who were so ahead in their thinking they resolved to admire what so many scientists have long suggested: that women tend to be smarter than men. OMD embraced that idea instead of hiding from it. So, yes. 'Tesla Girls' is a feminist song by a group of men in the 1980's.
Tesla girls, Tesla girls
Testing out theories
Electric chairs and dynamos
Dressed to kill, they're killing me
But Heaven knows their recipe
(No No No)

You wouldn't believe me if I said
The things I've seen went over my head
I've been patient Heaven knows
I've learnt the rules and how it goes
I can't sit still or settle down
And when I walk I don't touch the ground
See those girls they're heaven blessed
I guess it's so they know best
Tesla girls, Tesla girls
Writing in their diaries
Now and then they'll watch TV
Now and then they'll speak to me
But Heaven knows their recipe

The Show
A lifetime of loving Orchestral Maneouvres in the Dark did not prepare me for how much I would enjoy their recent live performance at San Francisco's Regency Ballroom on April 12, 2013. I was looking forward to the show and didn't want to set my expectations too high. And then the actual experience exceeded all of my expectations. Here's a photo of me at the end of the show (lingering after the majority of people had filed out) feeling moved by the glory of synth-pop I'd just witnessed.
This is how it went: the crowd that gathered at the Regency Ballroom kept growing until the place was filled to capacity. It was a packed house, and I'd never seen the popular venue as crowded. Everyone was smiling, happy to be there. People were genuinely being nice to one another. Multiple strangers complimented me on my jacket, and my iPhone cover––fittingly, an 80's 'cassette tape' one (pictured below.) People in attendance were being friendly for no apparent reason. 
My cassette phone cover
I realized that people who love this band are just sweet people. Because O.M.D. is what one would call a 'nice' band, and that's a wonderful thing to be. I also had this tremendous sense of 80's nostalgia as I looked around, despite the fact that the audience age-range was broader (and younger) than one would expect for an original 80's electro-pop band. But that's just it: 80's electro-pop still sounds exciting and this style of music gains new fans every day. There was so much vibrant energy, everywhere! Reminding me again of the very band we were waiting to see and their super-fast song 'Electricity'. I made a bet they'd close the show with that one, and I was right.

If You Leave
I also knew the band has a funny love-hate relationship with arguably their biggest hit: 'If You Leave'. Before breaking out into his fantastic 80's style dancing when the music begins, Andy McCluskey amusingly said at another recent show: 'We don't normally play this song but we will for you tonight. It's a song that ruined our careers. We were doing great as an alternative band 'til we wrote this... [music begins] It's still fucking great, mind you!' See that great performance below.
I was interested to see how they'd introduce the big song at the Regency Ballroom. I could tell everyone present was a dedicated fan like myself, people who know and love the entire oeuvre of The Manoeuvres. Not just one big song from that one soundtrack, made especially popular by the prom night romance of that epic love triangle of Andie, Duckie and 'Blaine? His name is Blaine? That's not a name, that's a major appliance!' 
Prom Night
As O.M.D. themselves have said, despite (and in large part, because of) everything it represents... "It's still a fucking great song." And that is not a subjective sentiment. It IS a f%#!ing great song. Everyone who breathes will agree in their hearts and minds, even if they wouldn't declare it out loud. Just as it brought odd couple Andie and Blaine together for a kiss, closing out an incredibly poignant and romantic movie, 'If You Leave' is a song that anyone belonging to any clique, group, subculture, or what have you, can agree upon. Because it's a song that fully accomplishes what it sets out to do. It's romantic. When they played it for us, their captive audience, I suddenly realized I'd never before heard as beloved a pop song as that one performed live. It was such an amazing feeling to be in the midst of a roomful of people in a state of euphoria over that song, one that everyone associates to either the memorable romance of 'Pretty In Pink', a prom night fantasy or a reality of their own.

Enola Gay
The show was incredible, packed with all their greatest songs and a few new tunes. Some of my favorites aside from the aforementioned 'Electricity', which closed out the encore as the final song of the night: "Secret', 'Souvenir', 'Enola Gay', Walking On the Milky Way', 'So In Love', 'Joan Of Arc', 'Locomotion', 'Messages'. They played them all. Here's a quick video of 'Enola Gay' from the night that gives some idea of how the show looked and felt.
Tesla Girls
And they also played 'Tesla Girls' that night –– for the first time in a long while, as Andy explained. Lucky us! I'm so glad they did.