Erasure have a loyal following. I mean a really loyal following.
Vince Clark and Andy Bell have been around since 1985, they tour regularly and people clamour for their version of synth electro pop. All three of their warm-up gigs sold out quickly (the second of which is here tonight at Manchester’s Albert Hall) and they’re also special guests for Robbie Williams on his 36-date European tour. Milling around prior to the gig, we chatted to people who reminisced about the first time they’d seen Erasure, some visibly wincing at the intervening years.
As we waited patiently for the boys to start, the hall continued to fill up and the excitement, along with the heat from such a warm day, ramped up. We peered downstairs onto a tightly packed mass of people while upstairs fans found spaces to perch on the bench-like seating.
The former Central Methodist Hall is a beautiful gothic building which has seen a new lease of life since two local bar owners turned it into a stunning 2,500 capacity gig venue. The structure of the building is intact and being upstairs affords a fantastic view of the stained-glass windows and ceiling, as well as an appreciation of the sheer scale of the structure. Many Mancunians no doubt walk along Peter Street without knowing it’s there but it really is impressive.
Back to the gig and a 9pm start time on a Sunday night suggested a short set. I had a last train to catch but my concern disappeared with that mythical final tram as I sang along with the crowd, lost in my teens and 20s. The boys haven’t had a top 40 ‘hit’ since 2007 (is that even still a thing?) yet their latest album, World Be Gone, entered the charts at number six.
An eerie hush rippled through the hall (I’m always intrigued how everyone quietens down at the same time before the start of a show). The lights dimmed and we prepared ourselves for the electronic onslaught from Vince and Andy. The set started energetically with Breath of Life from 1992’s Chorus. Bell was as charismatic as ever, toying with the crowd during the instrumentals. Clark hid in the back smartly dressed and never engaging with the audience. Meanwhile, two beautiful backing singers, resplendent in metallic silver and gold provided an additional layer to Bell’s voice.
Over the course of the evening, we were taken on an extended journey through the loves, losses and smiles of Erasure’s successful 30-plus years partnership. Newer songs blended well with old favourites and a track from the new album, Sweet Summer Loving, revealed a deeper, softer side to the pop act.
As is always the case with long-toured bands, the big hits received the best responses, most notably Stop which brought the entire venue together. At some points, Bell could have stopped singing altogether and let the devoted audience continue for him. The newer tracks seemed more reflective (both Bell and Clarke commented recently on getting older and therefore changing their style slightly). The audience appreciated it all, whooping, cheering and screaming along the entire night. And the guys pitched their encore perfectly with an extended version of A Little Respect.
Attending a concert in Manchester at this time of all times feels defiant, whatever the likes of Katie Hopkins and her pals say. Few things bring so many different people together than music, and what better location than a Methodist Hall – which was designed 110 years ago to rejoice, give thanks and lift voices to God – for us all to sing our hearts out on a Sunday night.
Erasure are appearing as special guests on Robbie Williams’ 2017 European tour. They will embark on their own tour next year. For more information, visit their website.