Venue: The Duchess, September 17, 2013
York witnessed the return to form of New Romantic icon Steve Strange and the reincarnation of Visage.
Spearheading the New Romantic movement emerging at the dawn of the 80s, Visage’s Steve Strange became the face of a new form of glamorous synthetic pop and Fade To Grey became the signature tune for legions of extravagantly-clad clubbers.
But whilst stalwarts like Duran Duran, Marc Almond and Gary Numan have never gone away, and others like Spandau Ballet, Adam Ant and Ultravox have had comebacks in recent years, Visage is one name that has largely been absent from the rediscovery of all things Eighties.
Until this year, that is, when a fresh line-up was revealed and a new album – Hearts And Knives – emerged from the haze of a 30-year recording gap.
As host to one of only six tour dates, York was something of a surprise on the itinerary, especially when you consider the other stop-offs are the usual places like London, Birmingham and Liverpool. The Duchess wasn’t as full as when Adam Ant visited in 2011, but there was a decent-sized crowd and anticipation was swarming in the air by the start of the show.
Beginning with Never Enough – the guitar-laden opening track from the new CD – the band appeared on stage in camo and khaki outfits, clustered around Steve Strange, whose resplendent attire included a maroon hat and silver makeup.
The set list alternated between new songs and old favourites, with Damned Don’t Cry putting in an early appearance, followed by the stomping Shameless Fashion, the first new Visage single since 1984.
The pounding classic The Anvil also struck early, but it was 1982 single Pleasure Boys which really reminded the audience what great tunes Visage turned out in their heyday.
Starting off with its motorbike sample which the crowd clearly recognised, this new version of Pleasure Boys was fleshed out with hefty guitars, in particular some frenetic bass playing from Steve Barnacle (an original Visage member from the time of third album Beat Boy).
Now, I’ve seen a lot of live bands over the years, but I’ve never been as stunned by someone’s bass technique as I was at this gig. The track’s relentless throbbing bassline must surely have been programmed on the actual record and to see Barnacle replicate that live on a guitar was truly amazing.
The familiar chimes of Mind Of A Toy kicked in next, followed by The Dancer, an instrumental from their first LP. Afterwards, Steve reappeared on stage wearing a sparkling white hat and a long black coat covered in safety pins and zips, as the band launched into the new CD’s second single, Dreamer I Know.
It’s a great track in its own right, but an oddly chilled-out choice for a release and one of the few at the show which didn’t stand up so well next to the old favourites.
The next song – Diaries Of A Madman – would’ve been the perfect candidate for the latest single, and Steve’s onstage strutting and madcap mannerisms were a great accompaniment.
And then, finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for: the evocative synth intro of Fade To Grey drifted over and Visage’s biggest hit soared through the venue, bulked out with enthusiastic audience participation and some eerie guitar chords.
The band finished with an encore of their debut album’s eponymous opener, Visage, before disappearing and returning later to meet the audience and sign autographs.
It would be all too easy to finish this review with the words “Visage haven’t faded to grey”, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to come up with that little gem. But let’s face it: on the strength of this performance and the new Hearts and Knives CD, Visage have most definitely returned in style.
And York – that oddity on the tour schedule – has been lucky enough to bear witness to it.
- Christopher M Geeson is author of prize-winning festive mystery One Corpse Too Merry in the Great Escapes Volume 1 paperback collection. Available from The Great Escape