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Monday, Sept. 19, 2011

Erasure w/ Frankmusik @ The Pabst Theater

Sept. 18, 2011

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Seats weren't necessary for many at the Erasure concert at the nearly packed Pabst Theater Sunday, since dancing was so prevalent. Nostalgia, the differential of melodic pep to lyrics reflecting as many ways to express bittersweet romance as there are colors in a rainbow, and the insistent electronic thump of the veteran synth-pop duo all contributed in equal measure to the mass of gyrating bodies.

All were valid reasons to get up out of one's chair. For a while in the '80s and '90s, England's Erasure consistently proffered shimmeringly succinct pop as fit for taking in at home as they were for being extended and remixed for the discos, where the twosome's music was a consistent presence. Befitting a bandname that speaks to some kind of renewal, the bulk of Erasure's singles catalog makes for an apt companion to love gone wrong, or at least love beset with complications and contradictions. And regardless the emotional plight about which singer Andy Bell would be crooning, Vince Clarke's phalanx of keyboards and sequencers would mitigate that pain into the facsimile of joy that the dancefloor provides in such circumstances. 

It was fitting, then, that Erasure's mostly buoyant sound was offset by accouterments of red-eyed, winged and horned gargoyles and cylindrical cages. Contrasting those imposing visuals were the beaming visages and voices of two black background singers complementing the guy's blondness and Bell's impassioned cries. Adding another element to the evening's visual mix were Bell's onstage costume changes—or dressing down, more like, as he tossed both the sparkly black centurion's helmet and sequined purple jacket he walked out in early on to reveal a black bondage vest. Clarke helped him unlace its back, but before admirers of both genders could hoot their approval of a topless Bell for too long, he changed into a sleeveless printed black T-shirt. Clarke, either situated behind one of those gargoyles with his electronics or closer to Bell for the occasional acoustic guitar accompaniment (while the synths played on), stayed in his smart satin jacket and bowler hat throughout their set.

Of more pressing importance than wardrobe were, of course, the tunes. As the night wore on, the bigger the hits became, until their two 1988 top 15 U.S. pop chart entries, "A Little Respect" and "Chains of Love," found the crowd erupting into their most frenzied appreciation. Numbers better known from places of dissemination other than domestic Top 40 radio—be it the club, the collegiate FM bandwidth or MTV—found many singing along. "Stop!," "Oh L'Amour," "Love To Hate You," "Sometimes" and "Victim of Love," among others in their 20-plus selections, all sounded pretty timeless. Apparent throughout the evening, too, was the timeline of Clarke's career. It's easy to hear similar tonalities in his Erasure classics as he implemented with his brief stints with Depeche Mode and The Assembly and his slightly longer affiliation with Alison Moyet in Yazoo. The five songs they performed from forthcoming album Tomorrow's World tend toward the darker tones from the spectrum Clarke has explored. And after a few relatively commercially fallow years, Erasure sounds ready for a comeback of greater fortune. Those assembled at the Pabst would likely agree, and the current crop of U.K. electro duos such as La Roux and Hurts speak to Bell's and Clarke's ongoing relevance.

Erasure was also an obvious formative influence upon opening act Frankmusik. The solo young buck with the spiffy quaff of hair specializes in electronic danceability of a less layered, more populist variety than the headliners. The numbers he sang with the help of a female keyboardist/duet partner and male drummer he sang mostly in medley form, with songs strung together by the same beat, interspersed with snippets of oldies by Paul Simon, The Trammps and Stardust. Though presently lacking some of his host's depth of texture and text, he sounds to have as much of a chance at hitting in the States as any contender from his country in his genre, too.

Photo by Erik Ljung