I remember more about the circumstances around the Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark/Thompson Twins Tour for Future Days concert I attended in 1985 than the performances themselves, even though I was there as a die-hard OMD fan. That night furthered a love of live performances but also had a lot to do with the erosion of my lifelong hero-worship of my late older brother Brad.
I can only assume that his driver’s license was suspended or restricted at the time, or surely he would have wanted to drive my group of friends and me to the concert in the hopes of successfully picking up some cute girl and then abandoning the rest of us there. Not that we all would have fit in his 1981 Camaro, which was lucky, as everyone would have not only laughed at the car but also noticed the prominent Confederate flag license plate on the front.
I had paid for the ticket myself, which regrettably left no money for tour merchandise or a new outfit. I was 14, mousy, short, painfully awkward, wearing too much eyeliner, and slowly growing out a brunette New Wave mullet in an era when one could still have that hairstyle without fear of recrimination. I don’t know why I had chosen yet another dire shirt of Brad’s for this concert, a loose, flowy black one patterned with white quasi-Japanese characters and red circles. I hope I at least wore normal jeans with it. He refused to let me wear his fedora, because “people will think you’re a lesbian.” At least it was better than the faded light blue Cars ‘On The Road Again’ 1980 tour T-shirt he had convinced me to wear to a friend’s punk gig a few months earlier, something I have still not lived down to this day.
I don’t remember everyone who came along to the concert, but my loud, ragtag group of older high school friends who came up to Brad’s apartment, convenient to the venue, to fetch me that night included a Roland synth-owning keyboardist who later had #1 Billboard dance and ambient hits and became a highly-regarded queer history archivist. There was a girl from a wealthy family who was allowed to order all the expensive import records she wanted when she wasn’t on record-buying trips in Europe, who was wearing a fringed black Duran Duran leather jacket and the Durannie hat forbidden to me. It may have been her dad who drove us all in a large van. There was also a rather manic, carefully coiffed R&B fan who didn’t so much strut as dance through the world as if it were a ‘Soul Train’ audition. As we were walking out of the apartment and down the hall to the stairs, Brad called out, “Hey, Kim? Don’t you have any straight friends?”
As we stood in line to get into the venue, freezing, I was impressed by how well-dressed, sophisticated, and good-looking the midwestern crowd was. I hoped that the girls from middle school who had shunned me for bringing “weird music” to sleepovers – even harmless INXS! – were nearby and could see me with all of these terribly cool people who were also obsessed with early ’80s English synth-pop. I saw people I knew from other area high schools, including one senior boy with a sneaky flask of rum and Coke and another boy with amyl nitrate poppers. Everyone around us was talking about the Adam and the Ants show they had all attended.
Once inside we found the best spots we could, considering that it was general admission, while the rich girl loaded up on hundreds of dollars of T-shirts, keychains, and whatever else the merch stand sold. A female bass player currently being shunned by my keyboardist friend came over and demanded to know why no one was returning her calls. Unfortunately, a rumor swirled around our area that Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys from OMD and Tom Bailey from Thompson Twins came out to say hello and sign autographs over by the roped-off backstage area, and we bolted over. If they had indeed come out, which it sort of looked like from across the huge room, then we just missed them and had to go back and make do with inferior spots in the audience.
OMD’s McCluskey, Humphreys, and Martin Cooper were mysterious, exotic, and glamorous, immaculately nearly turned out, sometimes broodingly serious, sometimes dancing as they played their dark, melancholy, romantic, angst-tinged set. Drummer Malcolm Holmes looked like he had been stolen from a metal band and given a wardrobe makeover. It was only a few months since their album ‘Crush’ had been released but right before the ‘Pretty In Pink’ soundtrack came out. Despite his sometimes serious, intense demeanor, accentuated no doubt by his chiseled cheekbones, dark hair, and long black jacket, Andy was quite a good dancer, better than Morrissey or Simon LeBon. I have since learned that Billy from ZZ Top openly appropriated some of Andy’s dance moves. I don’t remember them playing ‘Electricity,’ but they played ‘Enola Gay,’ ‘Messages,’ which they still always play early in the set, ‘Souvenir,’ ‘So In Love,’ and ‘Locomotion.’ Baby-faced, cheery Paul sang on ‘Secret.’ A set list from another show on that tour also lists ‘Tesla Girls,’ ‘Julia’s Song,’ ‘Women III,’ and ‘Telegraph.’ I had hoped for more songs from ‘Architecture and Morality’ but for a short set, they played a good sampling from their six albums.
At one point I brushed off advances from the rum and Coke boy. I didn’t want to miss a second of the show, definitely not to go off and make out behind a pillar. A girl I didn’t know who looked exactly like Jane Wiedlin from The Go-Go’s, also there to see OMD, danced with my friends and me. About halfway into OMD’s set, I was shoved by an aggressive 6’5 adult man, who resented the Jane clone and me, all of 5’3 ourselves, discreetly trying to get closer to the stage so we could see better. He was given a talking-to by a member of the security team and roundly insulted by several nearby teen-aged girls before stomping off in a cloud of ethanol fumes. We kept dancing.
I wasn’t all that familiar with Thompson Twins, but they played songs that I mostly recognized and were good. At that point, they had enough hits that they didn’t need to pad out a set with deep album cuts. Alannah Currie was amazing that night, so focused and precise yet energetic in everything she did, whether singing backing vocals or playing xylophone (‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ was a highlight) and percussion. I had never seen a female musician perform in person unless you count Miss Hudson bringing her guitar on the last day of school in fifth grade. In an era when so many female artists were emulating Madonna, Currie had her own style of clothes and performance, more in the eccentric tradition of Vivienne Westwood than a femme fatale. One of my friends nearly lost his mind watching Joe Leeway, at one point declaring “I want to play congas!”
Being out with my peers at a concert without supervision was thrilling, and so was finding a little tribe for the evening of people who shared the same love and enthusiasm for music. Admittedly, It was eye-opening as a girl to realize that I really did need to pay attention to my safety in public and in a large crowd. While I didn’t get to drink wine and talk to Andy McCluskey about art, Liverpool ship portraitists, history, and Merseyside, thanks to Etsy, eBay, garage sales, and second-hand shops, I did eventually track down some of the early singles and original OMD T-shirts I couldn’t afford then.