Heaven 17, Forum, London
Thursday 02 December 2010
"We don't need this fascist groove thang!" one veteran roars hoarsely behind me. The first song in Heaven 17's inspired recreation of their 1981 debut album, Penthouse and Pavement, 30 years after they split from the Human League, shows why it's better than nostalgia. Flimsy synth-pop revivals, from Fischerspooner to La Roux, have missed the music's urgent context.
Themes include right-wing American presidents, employment and unemployment, the widening gulf between rich and poor, atomic dread and dancing. Their future-present hasn't been outrun, only deepened its grip. Tonight sees a convergence of values between band and fans. "Penthouse and Pavement", about soul-healing dancing and the next working day, shows the rooted transcendence of pop written in Sheffield by would-be stars whose friends were laid-off steelworkers and miners. Martyn Ware's smoothly updated electronic soul music is massively aided by his singer. Glenn Gregory still has looks, body and moves as sharp as his suit, and convinced joy at being a pop star.
Gregory is the human element in the electronic implications brought out in a cover version of "Wichita Lineman", who hears his lover "through the wire". He also leads a cheeky strum through the Human League's post-split smash "Don't You Want Me", somewhat in the style of George Formby. When they move into the grander pop hits of The Luxury Gap, Ware's newly streamlined grooves show "Crushed by the Wheels of Industry" to be proto-house and "Temptation" sucks most dance music into it. The range of their era's pop is shown in a cover of The Associates' "Party Fears Two". This is synth-pop sung blue. Gregory doesn't attempt the late Billy Mackenzie's falsetto agonies, instead quietly drawing us into its fevered loss. They end with the League's "Being Boiled", which started so much that Heaven 17 have yet to finish.
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