While it would be easy to dismiss this double-bill of openers as a cash-grab at ’80s nostalgia—and perhaps that is exactly what headliners Barenaked Ladies, who they themselves are no doubt banking on Gen Xers’ softspot for their ’90s hits, were counting on—that viewpoint is decidedly short-sighted. Rick Springfield with Night Ranger this is not. Indeed, both Howard Jones and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (a.k.a. OMD) are more than the “new wave” hits for which they are best known, each innovators in the realm of electronic music.
Jones (pictured above), who began the evening, is as synonymous with the ’80s as just about anyone. But though his string of hits through the decade (and there are more than them than you probably realize) are notable for being insanely catchy, they are just as remarkable for being purely the product of synthesizers, while not sounding ephemeral. Jones fused an innate positivity with island rhythms and pop hooks, creating a lexicon that was as human as it was synthesized.
Jones began the night with “Pearl in the Shell,” a minor hit from his debut album, Human’s Lib, whose synthetic sax bleats were a call for those just entering the venue to get to their seats. He followed it with “Like to Get to Know You Well” and another five songs that still sounded as fresh as they did some 30 years, a testament to Jones’ penchant for timeless pop, not to mention his everlasting uniqueness. The gathering crowd seemed to enjoy every minute of it, singing along to “Everlasting Love,” “What Is Love?” and “New Song,” including the falsetto refrains. Jones’ set went by all too quickly, finishing up on the optimistic exclamation point “Things Can Only Get Better.” (Unfortunately, the events in Orlando the next day challenged that notion.)
While Jones was posing for photographs with fans near the merch table, OMD (pictured above) took to the stage, with singer and bassist Andy McClusky letting the crowd know that it was just going to be the hits tonight. Beginning with “Enola Gay,” the band played an energetic set that coupled with the steamy weather and McClusky’s frenzied dancing left the singer literally wringing out his shirt at one point. But while songs that made the band’s reputation in the States like “If You Leave” and “Forever Live and Die,” featuring McClusky’s songwriting partner, keyboardist Paul Humphries, on vocals, elicited the biggest crowd response, there was nearly as much enthusiasm for the artful “Maid of Orleans.” Additionally, McClusky garnered cheers when he remarked that Cleveland reminded him of his hometown of Liverpool. The picturesque outdoor Jacobs Pavilion is situated on the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland, and during “Locomotion,“ as if on cue, a party yacht sailed by just as McClusky was singing about “crossing every ocean.” OMD finished with the frenetic “Electricity,” their first hit and an encapsulation of the electronic experimentation and pop craftsmanship that has marked their work from the start and up to their recent reunion records.
The only problem with the evening’s show was that Barenaked Ladies would be finishing off the night, and as openers, Jones and OMD (to a lesser extent) played truncated sets. Nevertheless, there was no point in spoiling an otherwise exceptional show with sitting through the headliners, so I made my way to the exit, wishing for what could have been even better as a double-bill.