If Soft Cell’s O2 Arena show really was Marc Almond and Dave Bell saying hello and waving goodbye then they couldn’t have done it bigger or better.
Pushing three hours, this most extravagant of concerts saw the synth-pop duo serving up all the hits but also delving deep into album tracks, B-sides and obscure mixes - a kind of f-you to an establishment they were never a part of and a blatant disregard of rules they never obeyed in the first place.
The genius of Soft Cell in their too-short tenure (they made three studio albums over three years from 1981 and briefly reunited in 2001/2) was subversion in its most out-there form. They covered ‘Tainted Love’ but with vocal histrionics and a surreal beat and mixed it, in the 12-inch version, with ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’.
‘Bedsitter’ was, and indeed still is, a heart-tearing pean to loneliness but with a slightly bonkers backing track and the stuff they did after that first Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret album, awesome though songs like ‘Where The Heart Is’ and ‘Soul Inside’ are, seemed willfuly non-commercial.
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Soft Cell 02 Arena thank you all so much for making this such a special show. Your warmth was so touching. At times it really nearly did fall apart but that’s so Soft Cell. Kept it together. Couldn’t lost everything you wanted but I hope you all had some special moments as I did. Never to be repeated . Thank you to everyone in the show and a a personal thank you to my singers @simonkingofficial @lmarshallsinger @bryanchambers1 @billie.godfrey . You are always fantastic and make it so much easier for me . #softcell #02arena
All of the above were given their due in a 31-track setlist that married Marc’s still-fantastic voice and Dave’s keyboard wizardry to the sort of booming sound system and state-of-the-art projections the Leeds lads surely couldn’t have imagined back in 1980s bedsit land.
Former art students, they performed in front of bleeding noses and blood gushing down plugholes, gender-fluid youth and scantily clad models - all of it in-your-face and a lot of it non-PC, which you can bet Almond (always an envelope-pusher) naughtily had his hand in devising.
He’s still a true drama queen, revelling in the sinister theatrics of ‘Bady Doll’ and ‘Martin’ and throwing a couple of wobblers when things didn’t go according to plan.
A one-off show with no tour to help iron out the kinks it was, the singer laughed, sometimes pretty shambolic - with Marc completely messing up one song and forgetting the lyrics to another and Dave playing a few bum notes and disappearing for a few minutes, much to his bandmate’s bemusement.
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Ball probably needed a bathroom break. It was, after all, a very long set. The duo could have gotten away with doing a 90-minute blast of all their singles (which come in at 81 minutes on their new Keychains and Snowstorms compilation) and a couple of fan favourites.
Instead, they gave us an epic, saving their biggest hits for last and encoring with a very emotional ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’.
And yes, they even pulled the infamous ‘Sex Dwarf’ out of the bag for a deranged singalong that had the whole of The O2 joining in - and farewells don’t come more barmy or brilliant than having 20,000 people singing about sex dwarves luring disco dollies to a life of vice.
Words: Simon Button