Erasure: Fox Theater, Oakland, CA 10/04/2011

It was a banner week for Erasure’s Vince Clarke and Andy Bell when they arrived at Oakland’s Fox Theater for their sold out performance. Clarke, the strong-but-silent founding member of Depeche Mode, had just been pictured the day before celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Depeche Mode’s debut album Speak and Spell (1981) with co-founder Martin Gore in Los Angeles. In addition, Erasure’s 14th album Tomorrow’s World (2011), produced by poptastic opener Frankmusic, had just dropped in the UK the day before. US label Mute Records was scheduled to release Tomorrow’s World the day of the concert, but the release was abruptly postponed by a week according to Clarke’s Twitter stream. Much was happening for the duo in the background.

The facts would lead one to believe that Erasure would be exhausted by now. After nearly twenty-six years making melodic synthpop anthems and twenty-five million albums sold worldwide, you’d think Vince and Andy would be ready to buy cottages in the English countryside and rest on their laurels. Their performance in Oakland this week obliterated any notion that they were ready to slow down. Bell’s voice is in stellar condition, despite his previous mentioning that Erasure’s beloved hit singles, such as 1989’s “Blue Savannah” and 1991’s “Breath of Life,” are not necessarily suited to his natural lyric baritone range. Despite flubbing a few lines and cues and having to be aided by his superbly professional backup singers, Bell’s vocals delighted fans by being album perfect. The work he has done to preserve his vocal instrument, which he alluded to several times throughout the set, has paid off in spades.

Erasure’s fans were just as unflappable as the band itself, and are amongst the most devoted in the business. Most, if not all, were happily singing word-for-word along with Bell throughout the show, creating more of a communal feel. The setlist was almost perfectly 50/50 old hits and newer or lesser known material such as new single “When I Start To (Break It All Down),” allowing the audience to take a pause from singing and giving the band a break from competing with the audience. Clarke, stationed securely behind his Macbook Pro for most of the concert, came out and played acoustic guitar for a few songs, including the superb and underrated “Alien”. The change in pace yet again demonstrated their ability to balance out the concert, giving both the crowd and the performers a break from the heavy beats and the almost involuntary dancing that came with them.

The staging was the only thing that seemed comparatively lazy and less theatrical than usual. The flying by wire and extensive costumes of the band’s past tours were dropped in favor of a comparatively spartan pile of syringe-like cages, flanked by gargoyles from what looked to be a deconstructed cathedral. The sensibility didn’t fit the mood, and wasn’t enough of a contrast with Erasure’s character to make any sort of meaningful, coherent statement.

Erasure could take it easy and be just another nostalgia act running on the fumes of an exemplary past. Instead, the duo were admirably professional, consistent in quality and have always been pushing forward with new material. There’s no better way for them to communicate their commitment and gratitude to their loyal following than with a concert that both celebrates the past and looks forward to their future.

Sono Luminus
When I Start To (Break It All Down)
Blue Savannah
Fill Us With Fire
Drama! You’ve Got To Save Me Right Now
Ship Of Fools
Victim Of Love
Alien (acoustic)
Love To Hate You
I Lose Myself
A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot
Breath Of Life
Chains Of Love
A Little Respect

Oh L’Amour

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