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Ultravox @Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 26th September 2012

Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison

Some bands take a few years between albums. Ultravox have taken it a tad to the extreme – it’s been twenty-eight years between their last outing and 2012’s “Brilliant.” And tonight, in the acoustically great Symphony Hall, they’re here for a long set – of the old, the pure class and the very new.

Tonight it’s just them, no support, just classic line-up featuring Warren Cann, Chris Cross, Billie Currie and frontman Midge Ure, all a tad older, but still hugely slick and professional. Their last release with this line-up, “Lament”, was released in ‘84. A time when vinyl ruled, we all tuned into Radio 1 on a Sunday evening to see what had made Number 1 in the Top 40, the nearest thing to copying a song was on a C90 cassette tape, CDs were yet to make their mark, digital downloads were a pipe dream and Steve Jobs was busy launching the Apple Mac computer, way, way, way before he dreamt of iPods and iTunes.

And so to a completely different musical world, after thoroughly enjoying their low key, yet hugely successful 2009/10 ‘Return to Eden’ tour, Ultravox went into the studio and emerged with another classic – “Brilliant”. Even the design on the ‘album’ cover, so sadly missed these days, is beautifully created and designed in thirties mono retro feel.

Tonight’s stage is draped in dry ice, the crowd cheer, Currie stands behind his keyboards lit up by a white light; the new album graphics blaze across the screen. The set starts with title track “Brilliant” accompanied by a bank of white lights stretched across the stage as Cann cracks the drums, white lit to his thumping beat. This retro, black and white, dry ice drenched, moody atmosphere is the theme for the night.

Then to older classics “New Europeans” and the eerie “Mr. X” featuring Currie on his electric violin. Then into “Reap the Wild Wind” – there’s few words said tonight – this is an atmospheric gig – Ure encourages the crowd to clap. Thirty one year old track “Rage In Eden” has Currie back on violin and a rolling Gregorian chant. New tracks like “Rise” fit in superbly – don’t think that a near three-decade break has diluted their sound. “The Voice” we sing the words to, before single drums are brought to the front of stage and Currie, Cross and Ure, stand silhouetted, thump the drumbeat in accompaniment to Cann. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang Bang Bang. A tub-thumping finale to the first section and the crowd cheer.

A twenty odd minute break, and we’re back – opened up by new track “Live” – and more classics – “We Stand Alone”, “The Thin Wall”, the ghostly and eerie “Lament”, the rambling electro musical interlude that is “Astradyne” complete with chiming bells, double hand clap, and to more cheers from the crowd, once again Currie is playing his electric violin. And then to that song, famously kept off the Number One spot by some bloke singing a joke one hit wonder. “Vienna” sends the hackles up on the back of your neck – remember the video, the mood, the empty streets, it’s here tonight on stage. Ure’s vocals have warmed up nicely. Another new song “Flow”, and Ure: “We’re standing still…” and we’re into the classic “All Stood Still.” The close of this set “Hymn” – we all sing along…

The set includes the more commercial hits – personally I always liked the dark moody side of Ultravox – but needless to say “Love’s Great Adventure” and the apocalyptic, ‘what would you do if you had three minutes warning?’, nuclear war themed “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” get the crowd buzzing and dancing. Tonight’s finale is completed by new track “Contact”- Ultravox continuing to play with their experimental side to this day.

So – two hours and 40(ish) minutes of class. Ultravox are far more than just another retro act out on a cash-in. When they re-appeared there was no fanfare, they just did. And the fans flocked. And if you want to see past and present classics, from the world of electronica – Ultravox remain one of THE bands to see. And if you were an Ultravox fan, back in the day where were you tonight? ‘Cos you are serious missed out. ‘Brilliant”? Ultravox, in their own, unique, indisputable way, are.

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Setlist:

1. Brilliant

2. New Europeans

3. Mr X

4. Reap the Wild Wind

5. Visions in Blue

6. The Change

7. White China

8. Rage in Eden

9. Rise

10. Sleepwalk

11. The Voice

[Break]

12. Live

13. We Stand Alone

14. The Thin wall

15. Lament

16. I Remember (Death in the Afternoon)

17. Lie

18. Astradyne

19. Vienna

20. Flow

21. One Small day

22. Passing Strangers

23. Love’s Great Adventure

24. All Stood Still

25. Hymn

 

26. Dancing with Tears in my Eyes

27. Contact

 

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Listening:

Vienna [1980]

Rage in Eden [1981]

Quartet [1982]

Lament [1984]

Brilliant [2012]