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The Human League: A League Of Their Own

Okay, full disclosure, I’m aware that the following review (based on other reviews I’ve read anyway) will be an unpopular opinion, but here goes… 


The Human League play live onstage in Brisbane Australia




The Fortitude Music Hall hosted UK synth pop stalwarts, The Human League, last Wednesday night. The seemingly polite queue of X-Genners in comfortable shoes snaking down the Brunswick St mall and way up Wickham Street well before open time, demonstrated what the band means to a large cohort of loyal fans. 


Honestly, I’ve always loved the seemingly timeless Dare album from 1981, which produced one of the most defining songs of the 80’s, 'Don’t You Want Me'. The ridiculously infectious chorus and synth melody with the dual vocalists and intriguing breakup storyline is still fresh to this day, and the video of a movie within a movie within a movie is amazing. It suited the band’s cold as ice aesthetic and defined the generation of genre twisting music, fashion and art.


So I had high expectations, which were sadly not met. 


The stage was set with three mics in position at the front, and a riser behind with an electronic kit and two synths on stands in place. It had a monochromatic Kraftwerk vibe, so I was hoping for something interesting to unfold. Right on 9pm, the three-piece backing band of hired musos dressed in black and white suits entered the stage first up to get things moving with a synth heavy intro, before Phil Oakey and original backing singers Susan and Joanne joined the stage. 


The Human League play live onstage in Brisbane Australia

Phil was dressed in what can best be described as a Neo from The Matrix fancy dress outfit, in his first of several costume changes as the shoulder pads and flares took on comical proportions over the evening. His voice is pretty strong and relatively true to the baritone that made his delivery so unique back in the day. But the vocal mix was way too high, and as he paced the stage from side to side / back and forth, it felt like he pushed himself harder and the delivery became more difficult to listen to as the evening wore on. 


And unfortunately the front man completely overpowered Susan and Joanna, so their role was mostly relegated to backup dancers, throwing odd shapes and defiant sullen looks as they repeated their stilted dance move and one-arm-in-the-air bag of tricks over and over. 


Electronic music is notoriously hard to mix live, and recent touring acts like The Chemical Brothers and Kraftwerk have spent decades crafting their studio recordings to translate perfectly on stage – but I don’t feel like The Human League managed to get anywhere close. The original band mostly performed with acoustic drums, bass and lead guitar to support the live synth sounds, but without these other more analogue elements as part of the performance (apart from the occasional guitar being whisked on and off stage), it all sounded a bit flat and monotone.


Now, apologies if you were there and had a lovely evening and were polite to your fellow middle-aged revellers, but the people I found myself next to, in front of, and behind across the night in various locales around the venue were a belligerent pack of whingers. Those of us who go to a lot of shows know the unwritten rules and we generally get along okay, but there was something about this audience that myself and my friend found totally unsettling. 

Maybe they don’t get out much. Maybe their hips and knees were sore. Maybe they just don’t like anyone who doesn’t drive a BMW and have a property portfolio, but the crowd of nu-metal core fanatics at CVLTFEST two weeks ago were more polite than this lot. 


There, I said it. 


While The Human League released a swag of albums in the 80’s and early 90’s, and there are a handful of singles that charted, it felt like forever to get to the reason we were all there. ‘Mirror Man’ was pretty good, ‘Things That Dreams Are Made Of’ was okay, ‘Fascination’ didn’t quite cut it… and the other hits and misses came and went before (finally!) the dramatic synth intro to Don’t You Want Me’ filled the hall. 


The audience all held their iPhone 7’s (with the torches unwittingly on) in the air and sung to their dear heart's content. No doubt it was the best night out they’d had since the last time The Human League were here, but I made it to half way through and called it. The thought of getting hassled by this bunch on the way out of the exits filled me with dread.


Like I said, sorry if you were there and loved it, I’m sure your Facebook videos are amazing and you’ll cherish those memories each year when they pop up as a notification and remind you of what a great time you had.


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