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OMD @ Irving Plaza, 9.20.11

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark -- Paul Humpreys

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark -- Paul Humpreys and Andy McCluskey -- returned to America in 2011 for its first tour in 23 years. Photo Credit: Joe Dilworth

At times, it almost felt like a dare.

After its triumphant return to New York in March for its first show in 23 years, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark looked like it wanted to check if the first time was a fluke. It wasn't.

“We told you if we came back we'd play some weird [expletive],” singer Andy McCluskey said, after opening with the epic electronic piece "Stanlow" from 1980's "Organisation." But they quickly shifted to the electro-pop sound they helped pioneer with the classic “Messages” and “Tesla Girls.”

The wild response from the Irving Plaza crowd Tuesday night brought wide smiles to the faces of McCluskey and keyboardist-singer Paul Humphreys. (They return to Irving Plaza Wednesday night.)

“Paul, we're in New York, but they seem to be not very cool,” McCluskey joked. “They like the cheesy pop songs.”

It has always been a part of OMD's charm that it could infuse its catchiest pop songs with complicated ideas – from “Enola Gay,” the most danceable antinuclear plea ever, to the current single “Sister Marie Says,” a rant, also remarkably danceable, against religious dogma.

Of course, the bulk of the world still hasn't discovered that charm – or the charms of last year's comeback album, “The History of Modern.” The bulk of the world knows OMD as the band behind the '80s pure pop wonder “If You Leave” from the John Hughes film “Pretty in Pink.”

McCluskey delivers that song lovingly as a swaying sing-along early on, but the emotional center of the band's 105-minute show is the synth-pop tribute to Joan of Arc – with “Joan of Arc” and “Maid of Orleans” delivered together – and the momentum only builds once the band hits its dance-floor stride, complete with McCluskey's energetic, arm-flailing, adorably geeky dance moves.

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“That's the end of the slow songs,” McCluskey declared after the charming “Talking Loud and Clear.” “So if you're old, I suggest you get a taxi. The rest of us are going to dance.”

Once again, OMD kept its word.

SETLIST: Stanlow / Messages / Tesla Girls / She's Leaving / History of Modern Part 1 / (Forever) Live and Die / If You Leave / Souvenir / Joan of Arc / Maid of Orleans / Statues / Talking Loud and Clear / So in Love / Sister Marie Says / Locomotion / Dreaming / Sailing on the Seven Seas / Enola Gay // ENCORE: Walking on the Milky Way / Secret / Electricity

(Thanks to reader Janet Perr for setting me straight on the opener "Stanlow.")

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