Photo by David Pearce
Forty years on from the launch of their platinum-selling debut album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, Soft Cell prove that the cabaret still hasn’t stopped, even after so long. Marc Almond and David Ball, accompanied by four backing singers, and the seasoned saxophonist (or, in Almond’s words, the ‘Sax Symbol’) Gary Barnacle, put on an anniversary party to remember at the Hammersmith Apollo, complete with glittering confetti and swirling lights projected onto every wall of the arena.
The band kicked off the night with their 1982 hit single ‘Torch,’ which was met with raucous cheering from the thousands of audience members, even before Marc Almond started singing, and which only got louder once he had. The first half of the show saw them perform a blend of new material and old-but-gold (or rather, platinum) hits. As successful as their existing albums were in sales, it’s clear the songs only get better when performed live. Marc Almond’s dance moves had as much charisma and theatricality as his vocal performance, while Dave Ball was also entertaining to watch in his own way. Seated on a raised platform just behind Almond, surrounded by what looked like drum machines on every side, Ball didn’t look far from a pilot in an aeroplane cockpit. Nevertheless, only a master of the craft would know how to use each machine so effortlessly during a live performance and to such great effect—reminding us of just why Soft Cell were synth-pop pioneers and continue to be forty years later.
The staging and sound alternated between the hypnotic, dreamlike ambience produced by the rotating lights during songs like ‘Kitchen Sink Drama,’ and the rapid strobes and pulsing bass that had the floor vibrating and the air thrumming with energy during higher-intensity hits like ‘Monoculture,’ ‘Bruises On My Illusions,’ and ‘Divided Soul.’ The staging of ‘Heart Like Chernobyl’ had a unique beauty with the flashing of small red warning lights behind the band slowly transitioning into the whole arena bathed in red, evoking a sense of being inside the titular heart.
Photo by Talia Andrea
The red-tinted staging returned for their later performance of ‘Martin,’ with its horror-themed visuals. From lust to violence, Soft Cell’s concert took the audience through the underbelly of society as we know it, as their music has always been known to do. This song marked the end of the concert’s first half and was the perfect segue into their post-interval performance of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, an album all about the vices of Britain’s clubland scene.
Only two songs into their debut album, almost everyone in the crowd was standing. The iconic opening synths of ‘Tainted Love’ brought with them a huge, well-deserved reaction from the audience. The band’s live performance of the song sounded exactly like the studio version recorded forty years ago, if not better. Other highlights included ‘Seedy Films,’ where even the backup singers shone with solos of their own, and the raw emotion of ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,’ which had the whole arena waving their hands and singing along in a display of musical community. Marc Almond’s energy was infectious no matter what song he was singing, and the enthusiasm from everyone in the crowd, both young and old, was a testament to Soft Cell’s enduring appeal. The final song of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, and of the concert, was one of their first-ever singles, ‘Memorabilia,’ an apt ending to such a memorable night. All of the people who were humming it as they left the Eventim Apollo must have thought so, too.
Soft Cell’s first new album after twenty years, Happiness Not Included, will be released in Spring 2022. We can only look forward to whatever delightfully eclectic show they’ll put on next to celebrate.
Edited by Josh Aberman, Music Editor