Monday, July 7, 2008

Yazoo at Paramount Theatre Oakland, or Vince Clarke, Master of Counterpoint

Monday, July 7, 2008.

This was the concert we had waited 25 years for.  Appropriately, it happened on the stage of the Paramount Theatre, home to Maestro Michael Morgan's Oakland East Bay Symphony, with the two performers dressed in concert black.  

The stage was empty except for two risers; even the wedge monitors were nicely concealed.  Behind it two giant, transparent, low resolution video arrays shone gritty stylized animations forward, lighting the performers in silhouette.

Alison Moyet still has the pipes.  No problem there.  Every note and inflection managed effortlessly.  Occasionally some harmony parts were added from audio backing tracks, but that really wasn't necessary.  It is amazing to see Moyet sing live.  She is hardly a showman, but she can sing.

One of my entourage remarked, as one often hears, "What is Vince doing up there?" Vince is famously shy about his own voice and steadfast in leaving any florid or critical keyboard parts to sequenced perfection.  There's a little bit of singing through a vocoder.  Maybe he's doing something in Ableton live; maybe Reaktor, who knows.  Does Vince need to do anything?  This is the man who walked away from Depeche Mode.  This is the man who provided Stock Aikman Waterman, New Order, and countless others nearly all their production and sequencing ideas, and did it with far greater taste and economy.

Vince can take a progression as simple and common as he employs in "Only You" (I, V6, vi, V, IV, I6, II, V) and make it absolutely fresh and compelling by the strength of melody, arrangement, and counterpoint.  Not to mention seductive synth sounds meticulously sculpted.  Vince pays more heed to horizontal movement than vertical progression.  Witness the detailed precision of "Too Pieces."  Chirpy lines dart and interweave, hypnotizing, until the bass kicks in, and oh! but it's all really just I, IV, I, IV.  

Or hear the dreamy, modal magic of "Winter Kills."  Minor with a trippy raised 6th scale degree; then the bass descends like a baroque ground bass, with the lowered 6th.  Absolutely beautiful with Moyet's voice, and simple yet startlingly fresh.

By the time Vince got to working with Andy Bell, his compositions became polished and polite.  They still sparkled, but they were free of the happy accidents, artistic tension, and stylistic collisions which marked his work with Moyet.  

A highlight of the show was "I Before E Except After C," something of a musique concrete / tape manipulation piece.  In a bit of theatre (since nobody knows where the sounds are actually coming from these days), Vince himself wheeled out an old reel to reel tape player to center stage, and the performers left while the reels spun and the piece played.  Vince updated the piece with some drum cutups and stutter edits that would have made bt or Autechre proud.

The audience was fairly well aged and padded.  No one was dressed fun except me, to my surprise and disappointment.  I wore a shirt I made myself, back in the day before Villains, Lip Service, and off-the-rack rock star clothes.  I dressed in monochrome, of course, this being the 82/83 era.  I was a little surprised that young people were not there in force; they seem to know about Kraftwerk and Devo and attend those shows.  I wonder what the crowd will be like in their four nights in Los Angeles, where Yazoo singles once lived in heavy rotation at KROQ.  


EH said...

Nice write-up. I sometimes forget that you cut your teeth as a music reviewer at UCLA... Revealing that isn't the equivalent of selling your old homemade sex tapes to some tabloid, is it?

Larry-bob said...

Thanks for the thoughtful analysis. The concert as a visual and sonic totality was really well put together.