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The Human League: Live at The Dome (DVD)
live at the dome

The Human League: Live at The Dome
Secret Films
DVD (2005)

Available at
In 1979, David Bowie said, "Listening to The Human League is like listening to 1980." While this was clearly meant as a comment on the League's futuristic, groundbreaking synth-pop sound, a quarter of a century later it has taken on a different meaning. Instead of continuing to experiment with technology and attempting to stay ahead of the musical curve, as Bowie did, The Human League settled into a musical world of key-tars and synthesizers and has remained there to this day. There's no shame in this, even though it's incongruent with the public notion that the League were great innovators; Live at the Dome is proof positive at how non experimental this band really is. Recorded live at a 2003 concert in Brighton, the DVD presents The Human League as a band 25 years past its prime, playing songs from three decades of albums that could all just as easily have come from the same recording session. These are simple, direct synthpop tunes. There are no key changes. They have three vocalists but no harmonies. The three songs on the set list from 2001's Secrets make no attempts to alter or even bend the formula the group used for 1985's Crash. While singer Philip Oakey might be a little bit balder on top, and Susan Sulley and Joanne Catherall might be a little thicker in the middle, these folks still seem more than capable of properly rocking the synth pop.

Live at the Dome is a simple, direct production, much like The Human League's studio albums. What you get is seventeen songs, three or four camera angles, and The Human League stationed symmetrically on a sparsely decorated stage whose cool blue lights and white microphone stands suggest an obsession with retro-futurism (not the future Bowie probably envisioned for 2003). It is initially slightly alarming when frontman Oakey busts onto the stage in his shimmery Jedi cloak and Hans Gruber sunglasses during the opening medley of "Hard Time/Love Action" -- but fortunately, he has already shed these accouterments by "Mirror Man", only the second song. Perhaps Oakey is too old to sweat it out underneath those stage lights with such an elaborate costume, but it was nice to see the pompousness of the group's '80s synth roots kept to a minimum.

There are a few musical missteps (besides the presence of two key-tars on stage), but for the most part The Human League put on a very solid, simple show. There's nothing particularly age specific about any of their songs, but it's still impressive to see a band in their forties pulling off a rock concert. During the faster dance numbers, like "The Lebanon" and crowd favorite "Fascination", Oakey seems to have a little trouble running from one side of the stage to the other between phrases, but he never stops trying. There are a couple of pitch issues during chart-topping single "Human", and Oakey really tests the limits of his aging vocal chords. In an interview with the band (one of the DVD's extras), Oakey confesses to hating performing this song (and the other ballads) live, but admits that it made them rich. It's nice to hear it put so bluntly, because it's clearly the weakest point in the set. While "Louise" (a song about a reunion between old lovers on a city bus) proves to be a much sharper, smarter ballad that the band performs with far more enthusiasm, "Human" gets the prime slot in their set. Such is the nature of the beast when dealing with a 25 year-old band playing 25 year-old songs.

While Human League fans would probably be happier with footage of the band from their prime, this concert shows that they haven't lost their way over the last few decades. Given the current (and highly weird) resurgence of Human League sampling in contemporary music, and artists like Moby naming the group as electronic music innovators, it's hard not to think of The Human League as kindred spirits of Gary Glitter and Kraftwerk. Live at the Dome tells a different story, though -- a story about a band that isn't experimental or groundbreaking. They simply love pop songs, own some synthesizers and will more than likely continue to rock the key-tar for another quarter-century.

-- Philip Stone

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