NOTE: This show was postponed after this issue's publication.
"It is a bit odd touring now. It's very strange," mused taciturn Erasure instrumentalist Vince Clarke in his usual taciturn way during a recent interview with Beaver County Times about his band's U.S. tour.
"Strange" is a bit of an understatement, as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 sweeps through the state of Florida, with a positivity rate just in Orange County nearing 30 percent as of this writing — meaning nearly one in three Orlandoans are testing positive for COVID-19. Shows are being canceled by the handful this month. The live music industry is being punched in the stomach ... again.
And yet, few bands in the British alternative scene — or indeed the entire pop-music firmament — embody "The show must go on!" with more verve and flair than Erasure. And few bands would be as capable of making us forget the "2022 blues" than seeing Erasure go the full glitz-and-glamour live.
This long-lived synth-pop duo rose out of the British electronic underground in 1985 — where Clarke had previously done stints as a founding member of Depeche Mode and Yaz, and Andy Bell, a musical neophyte, blazed a trail as an out-and-proud frontperson with an unforgettable presence — to become hitmakers, magazine cover-stars and arena sellouts all around the world before that decade was through. Think hits like "Oh L'amour" (1986), "Chains of Love" (1988) and "A Little Respect" (1988).
Now the duo of Bell (an honorary Florida man who calls Miami home for several months each year) and Clarke have a new album to finally tour behind, The Neon, and they've been doing just that since last autumn in the U.K.
The Neon, released back in 2020, is something of a return to form for Erasure, as Clarke dug back into his hoard of analog synths to create the tracks, merging classic gear with their collective evergreen pop savvy.
The Neon tour — which, wildly, kicks off here in Florida with dates in Orlando, St. Pete and Miami — has garnered rave reviews as a riot of corsets, fake fur, a greatest-hits setlist, non-stop ecstatic dancing and plenty of (yes) neon mood lighting.
In the game of lowered expectation that is seeing erstwhile legends a few decades into their career, Erasure never fails to bring the elusive "it" live.
Their 2018 Orlando tour stop turned the Dr. Phillips Center's ornate Walt Disney Theater into a dance club, the full house on their feet the entire time — and some hardy souls making a beeline stageward, assigned seats be damned. Bell strutted and posed out front and center, voice utterly undiminished by time, while a besuited Clarke surveyed it all coolly atop of a tower of colorful neon, only his synths for company. The set was a stunning parade of hit after hit, a soundtrack of 1980s and '90s nightlife.
The finish of the night saw Clarke descending from on high to pick up an acoustic guitar and strum an encore of "A Little Respect" side by side with Bell. The genuine warmth and camaraderie between the two extended out toward the crowd, and was more than reciprocated back at them.
"When you have a job like I do, you kind of feel like you're giving love to lots and lots of people," Bell candidly told OW's Jesse Feinman back in 2018. "It's really such a privilege to feel loved by somebody." And he was right.
The lyrics to one song aired on that night, their late-'80s single "Stop!", have been lodged in our heads on endless repeat while writing this piece. Verses ostensibly about romantic love have taken on a more haunting, teasing tone as Omicron causes a lot of folks to take a raincheck on going out to keep their loved ones healthy. "We'll be together again / I've been waiting for a long time." Is this a triumphant celebration, a delayed promise or even a plea circa 2022?
Maybe a little bit of all three.