An Elvis, a Nazi, and Two Ostriches Walk into a German Theater...
Erasure shows have always been about the spectacle: the flamboyant costumes, the colorful stage sets, the over-the-top presentation. And that makes singer Andy Bell’s comments among the bonus material interviews on The Erasure Show - Live in Cologne DVD most confusing. Asked if his costumes are a way of pushing the music to a higher level, Bell responds: “I don’t really think the costumes have anything to do with the music, really. They are almost a diversion from the music… What I would like to aim towards is not having any costumes at all… Coming on [stage] normal and having the music as the strong point, and the singing.” Thankfully, Bell and Vince Clarke have not abandoned the elaborate games of dress up just yet, because on the Nightbird tour we are treated to a number of kitschy, quirky, and downright confounding ensembles. Oh yeah, and some great music, too.
Capturing Bell and Clarke celebrating 20 years together, The Erasure Show - Live in Cologne features selections from 2005’s Nightbird, but draws from the span of their catalogue. The show opens with Bell dressed in sequined white and full-on angel wings and Clarke dressed like a lost Nazi with a leather aviator’s cap affixed with a mini satellite dish(?!). Initially, Bell seems as awkward on stage as Clarke appears uncomfortable. And this is unfortunate, especially when viewed against the high energy live tracks from their show in Copenhagen that are incorporated as bonus footage on the DVD, which includes Cowboy‘s “In My Arms”, Other People’s Songs’ “Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)”, and Wild!‘s “Piano Song”.
It is during the main feature’s delivery of “Drama!”, about a half-dozen or so songs into the set, that Bell seems to finally find his inner drama queen, relax, and cut loose. And it’s here that the viewer is also treated to shots of the quintessential Clarke stage persona: standing at the keyboards, not even pretending to play, doing nothing except looking terribly uncomfortable in his Nazi brown suit. From that point until the odd mid-point in the show where the momentum slows to a grind, Bell is chatting with the crowd, dancing, and seems thrilled to be on stage.
His banter is in German and not subtitled in English, but Bell reveals during the interview and making of bonus material that he is fluent in German and has a special affinity for the country—it was the first country he traveled to as a teenager and Cologne was the first big city he ever visited, even before London. Also, Germany is the site of the six excellent live cuts found on 1987’s The Two Ring Circus, the band’s stop-gap EP between Circus and The Innocents.
“Drama!” is followed by Nightbird‘s “All this Time Still Falling Out of Love” and Crackers International‘s “Stop!”. By this time, Bell has lost both the wings and the white sequined top and is working the crowd in a sheer stretch muscle shirt and Clarke has wisely dropped the aviator cap. During “Stop!” there are some typical shots of Clarke with his back to the crowd looking at his laptop, and you can see Bell over Clarke’s shoulder dancing and playing to the crowd. Classic Erasure.
They tackle the Blondie standard “Rapture” and follow it closely with a somber rendition of “Ave Maria”. While this doesn’t completely derail the procedings, this central point of the show kills the momentum and forces the duo, along with backup singers Ann Marie Gilkes and Valerie Chalmers, to work extra hard to regain the energy it took them all so long to build up. “Rapture” cleverly find Clarke handling the rap while Bell scurries off stage for a costume change. He reemerges as the gay Elvis to deliver “Ave Maria” while everyone else heads off for a change of their togs. When they all return to the stage, Clarke is in his gold lame suit and the girls, finally free of their velvet ostrich getups, are in Marilyn Monroe garb. They struggle through Chorus’ “Breath of Life” before finding their footing once again.
The colored strobes used during the title track and “Love to Hate You” from that 1991 album help pump energy back into the crowd. In the interview bonus material, Bell describes the set, made up of an inflated forest, as inspired by a “fractured fairy tale”—that they were going for “ice and bloody, with kind of Edward Scissorhands”.
By the time Bell carries the remainder of the show home wearing nothing but gold briefs straight from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, there is little doubt about Erasure’s showmanship and ability to entertain a crowd. Along with the interview, making of, and Copenhagen bonus material, the disc also has time lapse footage of the entire Cologne show (including stage setup and breakdown, and the opening act’s performance), and three promotional videos from Nightbird. In all, the anamorphic widescreen presentation and available Dolby Digital 5.1 surround amounts to a nice capsule of Erasure’s 20th anniversary and stage show.