It’s hard to tell if Andy Bell spent 18 months or 18 seconds pondering his outfit for the opening night of Erasure’s first post-pandemic tour – an understated below-the-nipple bright blue corset and yellow tartan trews combination. “Wonder Woman crossed with Lindsay Wagner Bionic Woman She-Ra slash Powerpuff Girl,” he tells the crowd. Bell’s keyboard-prodding bandmate and studiously un-flamboyant foil Vince Clarke, in his inimitable having-none-of-it way, sports a trim grey suit, tie pin glinting under the stage lights.
The perennial bridesmaids of British synth-pop (32 consecutive UK Top 40 singles; only one No 1, the Abba-esque EP) are back to business, and it’s the fun and daft serotonin rush we all badly need. The duo have described their 18th album The Neon as a trip “back to the beginning”. Hey Now (Think I Got a Feeling) finds Bell beating the darkened city streets again, mildly off his box, looking for love and finding only empty hedonism, Clarke’s vintage synth-scape cascading around him like sodium glow. The sound of new-old Erasure can’t help but pale by comparison as the old-old classics drop – Who Needs Love Like That, Blue Savannah and A Little Respect in the first half-hour alone – but they remain a band who have never lost their essence.
A frontman from the “say whatever’s on your mind” school of stage talk, Bell babbles entertainingly – on his dislike for doing the dishes during lockdown, on messing with his iPad’s facial recognition technology by sometimes showing it his bum. Between the sight of two female backing singers in extravagant frocks swaying sweetly on an adult-sized swing set, and the morning-after tenderness of piano ballad New Horizons – which leaves some in the crowd hugging tearfully, others sitting down for a breather – it’s a heady cocktail.
The party hits a new high after Bell cuts loose – quite literally, Clark theatrically snips him out of his corset with a pair of scissors – for a final Hi-NRG dad-dancing flourish of Stop!, Victim of Love, Oh l’Amour and Chains of Love. Lost in the moment and with hits still to burn as curfew comes, they’re practically chased off stage by the house lights going up.