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Claudia BruckenClaudia Brücken
Strangers
Bush Hall, London
Thursday July 19 2012

 

The man behind me heaves a contented sigh, as if he's settling comfortably into his favourite armchair, and exclaims, "Eighties heaven!"

Which is a back-handed compliment, in a way. Yes, tonight's show is stuffed with eighties superstars. We've just had a warm-up set from eighties wannabes Strangers, who faithfully replicate the lush, glossy, self-consciously moderne eighties pop sound - which, of course, now sounds as much of its period as, say, Medieval folk music. If it's the eighties you're after, then yep, it's all here.

But it's that contented sigh that strikes a rather underwhelming note for me. Tonight's crowd is here to soak up some warm, comforting, rose-tinted nostalgia. Nobody's about to go looking for the cutting edge.

Claudia Brücken herself is elegant and understated and unfailingly affable. The aloof, frosty image of the Propaganda years is now tempered with the assurance of an artist who's been through pop stardom and come out the other end with dignity intact. These days, Claudia has aquired the status of a pop star emeritus, and she seems entirely at ease with the role.

As it happens, Claudia has kept herself a touch more contemporary than many other artists from the golden 80s have managed. Since Propaganda, she's dipped in and out of assorted solo projects and collaborations - notably Act, with electronic pioneer Thomas Leer, and OneTwo, with Paul Humphreys of Ochestral Manouevres In The Dark (he's here tonight, on keyboards). But, inescapably, it's the big smasheroonies of the golden years that loom largest over Claudia Brücken's career, and those hits are the cornerstones of tonight's set.

Claudia BruckenClaudia commands the stage with relaxed aplomb. The band are professionally, understatedly, slick. The songs sound reassuringly like the recordings. Propaganda's hits crop up, of course, with Susanne Freytag, Propaganda's co-vocalist, joining Claudia to revisit the band's two biggies: the darkly melodramatic 'Duel' and the sci-fi cautionary tale that is 'Dr Mabuse' - in which Paul Humphreys called upon to assume a German(ish) accent for the spoken line, 'Don't be a fool!' Endearingly, he delivers the words with a bashful grin.

Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17 appears, cheery and avuncular, to duet on the Act number 'Snobbery And Decay' - and then, to the delight of the audience, his colleague Maryn Ware joins the on-stage throng for a blast through 'Temptation' - "The demo version," remarks Gregory. "This is how it sounded before we put all the strings on!" And yes, the song does have a rather more minimalist, new wave feel tonight, with Claudia enunciating the female vocal parts with a froideur that is almost Kraftwerkian.

There's more minimalism when Andrew Poppy comes on (rather unfairly, I always think of him as the nearly man of the 80s, the only artist on the ZTT label who never had a hit). Introspective and taciturn, he accompanies Claudia on a brace of minimalist piano-led covers. Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill' wafts past pleasantly enough, but the rendition of Roy Orbison's 'In Dreams' is genuinely moving - bleak to the point of almost provoking tears. That could be just me, mind.

The show picks up the pace again. The band rolls out the classics. The audience responds with warm goodwill. Claudia presides over the proceedings with amiable, easy-going grace. She doesn't have to win anyone over here - everyone in the place is a fan.

As if we haven't seen enough 80s superstars yet, Andy McCluskey of OMD makes an appearance, uncannily looking exactly the same as in his pop star days. He duets with Claudia on the Act number 'Absolutely Immune', and then, to gasps of delight from the audience, he straps on his bass and leads the band in a cheery romp through OMD's 'Messages'.

It's an odd moment, in a way - what with Heaven 17 pitching up to do 'Temptation' a little earlier, it's almost as if Claudia's show is turning into one of those Here And Now package tours, where stars of the 80s are wheeled out to do their biggest hits, and then brusquely hauled off stage again before anyone has a chance to get bored.

Claudia BruckenIt's nice that Claudia's megastar mates turned out to support her, and it's good to hear the tunes (both 'Temptation' and 'Messages' are undeniably fine songs). And, of course, the crowd absolutely loves it. When Claudia wraps things up with the set-closer 'Thank You' from her 1991 solo album, the cheers are deafening.

It's been a good gig, but, as I guessed at the outset, it was firmly - and slightly frustratingly - located within the comfort zone of 80s nostagia.

Eighties heaven is all very well. But personally, I reckon there's a lot to be said for raising a little contemporary hell.

 

 

 

Claudia Brücken: Website | Facebook

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