REVIEW / Non-stop exotic cabaret - Erasure - Hammersmith Odeon

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The Independent Culture
IF YOU'D walked into the new Erasure show at half-time, you'd have found yourself performing a swift double-take. On stage Andy Bell and Vince Clark, in hideous check suits, are playing bingo with a houseful of studious teenagers, their heads down crossing off the numbers. Bell, the vocalist, calls out 'Number one, up yer bum,' adding by way of explanation, 'That's position number one in the Kama Sutra.'

An Erasure show bears little resemblance to a rock gig: no guitars, no macho posturing, no band for heaven's sake. Welcome, instead, to the techno cabaret: a wash of synth, a blur of ballet and lashings of camp. Bell, the flamboyant queen of pop, sets the tone early on. 'This is no time for rock'n'roll,' he explains, giving us a twirl in his tinsel grass skirt. 'This is time for swish and swirl.'

For sheer effrontery, Erasure's pop extravaganza is right up there with the best. Madonna (to whom this choreographed pop-and-dance spectacular owes no small debt) can match them for outrage, but she'd be hard- pushed to outdress Andy Bell, resplendent in his blue sequinned, bottom-revealing bodysuit. Even Julian Clary keeps some of his rear covered.

From the opening moment when Bell rides a giant white swan triumphantly on to the stage, the show goes over the top. He preens and minces, while a bronzed boy dancer decorates him in a pink feather boa. Now sufficiently at ease, Bell tells us about the policeman who tried to book him on Hampstead Heath. 'He said, 'I'm doing you for soliciting'. I said, 'I don't charge'.'

Bell may monopolise proceedings with his camp theatrics, but the real spectacle lies in trying to catch sight of Vince Clarke, the other half of what must be the most incongruous pop duo since Sparks. And while Bill Wyman doesn't move on stage, at least you can see him: Clarke remains largely invisible for most of the show. Sitting at the controls of a mobile techno tank (which looks more like a giant pram), Clarke masterminds the electronics, his baby-bald head occasionally popping up to see how the concert's going.

On the rare occasions that he overcomes his stage-fright and ventures out from behind the dials, he looks like he's praying for the floor to turn to quicksand. Emerging for an awkward strut to Abba's 'Voulez Vous' (imagine a disco-dancing Norman Wisdom), he thinks better of it and retreats to the pram before the end. It's as if he wants to avoid the embarrassment of facing the applause.

The Abba homage is underscored with due reverence. The intro to 'Lay All Your Love on Me' becomes a hymn, accompanied by church organ, though Bell manages to give the opening lines - 'I wasn't jealous before we met / Now every girl is a potential threat' - a meaning that Benny and Bjorn never dreamed of. Erasure's roots become increasingly visible as Bell starts singing snatches of Village People's 'In the Navy' and Baccara's delicious 'Yes Sir, I Can Boogie'.

Of their own songs, 'Love to Hate You' (intense quivering vocals) and 'Joan' (soft watery synth and pretty chorus) stand out. And when the occasional number misses the mark ('Turns the Love to Anger'), there's always something to divert your attention: Bell hot-air ballooning in his underpants, for instance.

(Photograph omitted)