Review: Soft Cell, The O2, London live
For their last-ever live show, Soft Cell said hello in style and waved goodbye almost three hours later – leaving fans with great memories of an unforgettable night.
When Dave Ball told Classic Pop over the summer that the setlist for Soft Cell’s reunion gig was “threatening to become like bloody Bruce Springsteen”, we assumed he was joking. In the event, their first show for 15 years was a marathon of subversion, fitting over 30 songs into around two-and-three-quarter hours. For a concert which sold out instantly despite tickets costing £195, there were some heroically unlikely moments to fill Britain’s second-biggest arena.
Inevitably, for a duo whose live history has been famously chaotic, there were moments of farce. The nihilistic punk of The Best Way To Kill had to be started three times before Marc Almond was happy with its pacing. “For anyone who remembers us first time round, we were normally even more shambolic,” he joked through gritted teeth. The only real quibble with an otherwise emotional return was of their own making. With all of Soft Cell’s incarnations covered, only a chump could be frustrated with the songs that weren’t played. But the running order occasionally let them down.
The show started perfectly. As the big screens ran a film based around the reel-to-reel tape machine featured on the cover of new boxset Keychains & Snowstorms, Dave Ball ambled on, still playing the part of the surly bouncer from Soft Cell’s Top Of The Pops appearances to perfection. As he hammered out the intro to Memorabilia, Marc ran on, looking suitably deviant in mirror shades and biker jacket. With Dave’s bank of five keyboards and Marc’s voice designed for the biggest stages, they sounded fantastic.
But choosing to follow Memorabilia with three songs from Cruelty Without Beauty was a wilfully odd move. There’s nothing wrong with that album’s energetic songs, but it flattened the euphoric mood somewhat. After AIDS lament Numbers, Marc acknowledged: “That was a depressing song, wasn’t it?”
Yet there can be no complaints over how the songs sounded – still throbbing, still seductive, still as seditious as the mainstream has ever witnessed. When Marc referenced the crowd by singing: “I can see 20,000 people just like me” in Bedsitter, he wasn’t wrong: here were all the ageing misfits who had been lured and shaped four decades ago by Soft Cell’s promise of something deliciously other in society.
The big hits were saved for the final half-hour, the segue from Tainted Love into Sex Dwarf encapsulating the madness of the notion that Soft Cell should ever have been proper pop stars. Everyone knew what the final song would be, but nothing could have prepared for the teary emotional punch of 20,000 people singing Say Hello Wave Goodbye at Soft Cell for the final time. Even Dave smiled and waved, as Marc announced: “It’s been a blast.” Chaos and all, this is what pop stars should be like.
Written John Earls. Performed 30 September at the O2, London.