Yaz

[30 July 2008]

By Rory O'Connor

There was a moment during “Goodbye 70’s” (a song that rebukes the decade it mentions) that revealed some insight into this concert. The song, planted firmly in the middle of the set, significantly dated the material being performed, regardless of how startlingly “of-the-moment” it had seemed up to that point. More interestingly though, it served as a reminder of the pivotal role Yaz played at the time of the song’s inception. The sentiment expressed takes on a more significant meaning coming from a band that, in saying goodbye to the 1970s, assisted in altering and shaping the musical landscape of the following decade. This statement of praise becomes all the more impressive when you consider that the duo, which split up in 1983, only has two full albums to their credit.

Yaz, or Yazoo to the Brits (apparently a lawsuit forced the band to change their name for the US market due to an American rock band of the same name), consists of vocalist Alison Moyet backed by Vince Clarke on synthesizer. In the world of ‘80s synth-pop Vince Clarke stands as a giant among men. A founding member of Depeche Mode (he only stuck around long enough to stamp his signature style all over their first album, which truly sounds like nothing else in the band’s catalog), Clark also went on to form another successful group, Erasure. Nestled somewhere in between, however, was Yaz. And though the duo only released two albums, they made enough of an impression that we are still discussing the band some two decades later. The pair never even toured in support of their second LP, so when the opening notes to “Nobody’s Diary” rang out, the first track from that second LP You and Me Both, it was as if they had just picked up where they left off.

Set up at opposite ends of the stage, Moyet and Clarke rarely breached each others’ territory during the show. Behind them, large screens projected strange video montages to accompany the music. While Moyet danced and smiled throughout the performance, Clarke stood stoic behind his controls. Clarke supposedly left Depeche Mode because the music was a little dark for his taste, which is hard to fathom given the abyss of darkness that lies beneath some of the sparse soundscapes he created with Yaz. His music contains so many pleasing pop hooks, though, that it seems he is unable to write a song without one. His synth-pop sounds are almost enough to carry the concert alone, but it was only when Moyet walked off stage for a brief musical interlude that I realized how much she is needed to complete the picture. After the interlude Moyet walked back out and sat in a chair at the front of the stage to perform “In My Room”, which turned out to be the most visually compelling moment of the evening.

While much of today’s electro music tends to contain detached, lifeless vocals, Moyet’s husky intonation added a strong human element to the music. Some of her vocal tenacity does seem to have disappeared along with the years, but after hearing her perform songs like “Anyone” and “Midnight”, there is no doubt that much of it still remains. She is equally capable of sitting her vocals amidst the darker musical textures or allowing them to burst forth like a skyscraper above the flowing layer of crystalline synth pop created by Clarke. Together they added the most important element, though, and it is the one that appears to be missing from much of today’s retro ‘80s pop, an irony free sincerity.

With the exception of a few well timed hugs between the pair, the show managed to steer clear of feeling like some awkward reunion or a grab for money (hmmm, perhaps this is not the best time to mention the tour is in support of a 4 CD box set titled “In Your Room”) and the crowd responded in kind with an energy that betrayed the 25 year lag between shows. The energy peaked as the show wore on and the band closed the night with their biggest hits, “Don’t Go”, “Only You”, and “Situation”.

While time has certainly served the music well, it may be timing that has done it the greatest justice. The current state of the music industry, as well as the untimely demise of a band that seemed to be just getting started, were both likely contributors to the overall excitement of the show. In another few years it’s possible this same show might feel entirely different, less relevant, and a bit more archaic. Regardless, whether this signifies some permanent return for the band or merely a well timed moment, the evening proved to be a much deserved celebration of a band that should not be allowed to simply fade away.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/yaz/