OMD at the 9:30 Club

The longstanding British new wave band OMD perform at the 9:30 Club in DC. Photo: OMD

WASHINGTON, August 5, 2013 — OMD has taken a long and winding road to get to where they were during its recent show at the 9:30 Club. Its path isn’t entirely different from those taken by other pop legends from any era. The band’s current incarnation isn’t the first time they’ve re-formed, but it’s unique to them all the same. Their 9:30 Club set wasn’t just a testament to the strength of their previous pop past. It also offered ample evidence that this isn’t the end of line for them in terms of music creation even as they fully celebrate their productive past.

There was time during the early ‘80s when OMD –an acronym for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – were one of the biggest New Wave, snyth-pop bands in England. The band’s two primary songwriters, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, were even dubbed—much to the band’s chagrin—the Lennon and McCartney of synth-pop. Hyperbole aside, there was some truth to the statement, and on the back of several hit singles, the band proved to be truly huge during a substantial part of the ‘80s.

Despite how big OMD was in England, they never really made much head way in the States, with the exception of their hit single “If You Leave.” That song became part of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, and evolved into one of the more pervasive pop hits in the ‘80s. Unfortunately, OMD weren’t really able to capitalize on this success across the Atlantic, and the band fell apart soon afterward. 

McCluskey put together the second incarnation of OMD in the 1990s. However, the revived ensemble was more of a vehicle for his own songwriting than anything else.

In 2005 though, the core of the original OMD line-up returned to the band, not only to tour again, but to start recording new music as well.

That’s where OMD find themselves in 2013. It’s not really a reunion because the band clearly has larger goals than just touring and playing old hits. After all, they’ve been back together for several years now and have released two albums during that time. In addition, the band, at least on stage, is treating their current tour like it’s not such a big deal. Since they were a band that never particularly cared the exposure they got in the first place, it’s possible that their 2013 edition is simply a continuation of their original routine. That said, it’s still fascinating to see a band of the stature of OMD acting totally loose and nonchalant while up on stage.

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To be honest, they should be making a bigger deal of their recent tour because has really earned a significant amount of respect at this point. It’s hard to really grasp today just how influential OMD was in the States because they were never that big here with the exception of “If You Leave.” Yet there are many U.S. pop bands today that owe a great deal of basic structure and performance techniques to OMD due to the uniqueness of the British band’s sound.

The first noticeable thing about OMD’s set is just how devoid of rough edges their sound has become. The primary reason for this is that they are about as pure a synth-pop band as anyone will ever see or hear. Most synth-pop bands will layer keyboards and synthesizers over the top of the guitars, which is something OMD eliminates entirely, and focuses instead directly on synth melody lines. Yet there’s still a nicely persistent bass presence underscoring their set and they cleverly add a horn section here and there for variety. But their synth feel still takes center stage.

The key feature of OMD’s sound is that it never feels as if the band is competing for space just to fit in a catchy guitar riff or any other sort of traditional hook. Instead, those dominant keyboards are layered over each other, but with a deft, intricately interlocking touch, they create a feather-soft pop feel for each song. It’s a near perfect sound signature that also serves to highlight those McCluskey and Humphreys vocals and lyrics.

Their set is never fast-paced, also setting OMD apart. All their songs are surprisingly delicate, mid-tempo numbers that consistently double as pop gems.

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Ultimately this is why OMD is going to be remembered for a long time, no matter how many times they choose leave the spotlight. McCluskey and Humphreys continue to have a knack for writing infectious pop songs that slowly seep into the audiences’ memory registers. Better yet, each song sounds utterly familiar even if it was only recently written and recorded. 

OMD remains the quintessential—and arguably essential—New Wave and synth-pop band. And it’s likely to remain so long into the future.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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