Erasure, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

This grand old monument might have been glowing like a sci-fi set in honour of Erasure's debut appearance here, but in the end traditional vaudeville values won the day.

The duo have fallen in love with the computer again on their current album, Light at the End of the World, so the stage was decorated like a space-age disco, with plasma screens, acres of shiny material and, instead of glitterballs, giant gems that were half Crystal Maze, half Logan's Run.

Electro-pop veteran Vince Clarke and frontman Andy Bell emerged in Andy Warhol-style bright camouflage, with three backing singers in similar attire. Before long, the singer was joking about the piercing known as a Prince Albert. And who can blame him? When an outfit are on the road to promote their 13th album, they struggle to find new gags, or material as compelling as that which they produced at their creative peak.

True, the techno pulse of set opener "Sunday Girl" set an urgent tone, while "Sucker For Love" works as an insistent Euro house anthem. Slower numbers from the new album, however, rely more on gospel flourishes for impact than on their insipid melodies. Thoughtful introspection is not where Erasure's strength lies, rather histrionic explosions of emotional drama.

Thankfully, these entertainers know to stock their set with hits rather than fillers, and these winning pop tunes need only the odd tweak to sound fresh – the backing singers' a cappella opening to "Chains of Love", for example, or a chunky riff on "I Love to Hate You" suggesting that the inscrutable Clarke shares common ground with The Chemical Brothers.

All the same, much of the show relied on Bell's self-deprecating humour – for "Oh, L'Amour", he emerged with a glove puppet called Mint Sauce to sing the opening lines – and his blockbuster delivery. One of the very few openly HIV-positive celebrities, Bell has shaken off the effects of a double hip replacement, and, like a drag queen in mufti, he stomped to all corners of the stage. More importantly, his fine voice commanded this huge space, though it has dropped a register, adding a husky touch to the yearning "Blue Savannah".

The duo remain easy to write off as a low rent Pet Shop Boys, though their influence on acts such as Mika and The Scissor Sisters is harder to dismiss. Their role as guardians of a tradition of bawdy music hall entertainment remains intact.

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