Concert report: Soft Cell Live Berlin Tempodrom 22.04.2023

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It's been 20 years since Soft Cell last played in Germany. The band's his­tory has always been tumul­tu­ous, to put it mildly. Fallouts and reunions, announce­ments of last shows and drama.

Hey, if it involves Marc Almond and Dave Ball we wouldn't have it any oth­er way!

Their latest album, 'Happiness not included' seem­ingly came out of nowhere and, less sur­pris­ingly a UK tour fol­lowed towards the end of last year. Then, in early 2023, two German dates were announced: Bochum and Berlin. Then Bochum was can­celled without much of an explan­a­tion but luck­ily the Berlin show went ahead.

Backing singers Louise Marshall, Simon King and Bryan Champers during 'Torch'. (Picture taken by Sabine Conradi)
Backing sing­ers Louise Marshall, Simon King and Bryan Champers dur­ing 'Torch'. (Picture taken by Sabine Conradi)

On the night of the show, I arrived at the ven­ue fairly early. A friend and I had treated ourselves to early access tick­ets and wanted to make sure that we ended up in the first row. We were allowed in half an hour before the offi­cial entry, but then we're left stand­ing in front of closed doors for more than 20 minutes. Still, now com­plaints, as we made it into the first row without a prob­lem. Then all we had to do was wait. A strange mix of 60s strip music and what soun­ded like B‑Movie soundtracks was played. It kind of fit­ted. Soft Cell have always been some­what sleazy after all.

The show star­ted shorty after 8 o'clock with the unmis­tak­able sax­o­phon solo of 'Torch'. Aided by three back­ing sing­ers – Louise Marshall, Simon King and Bryan Chambers -, the song soun­ded as com­pel­ling as it did in the 80s. Almond even added the spoken bit that made the 12" of that song so spe­cial. Not sur­pris­ingly, the crowds reac­tion was noisy and enthusiastic.

Almond was dressed in black, but rather cas­u­ally so, the former black eye­liner replaced by avi­at­or style sunglasses. But where was Dave Ball? Apparently he could not be there due to health com­plic­a­tions but I doubt that any but the most ded­ic­ated fans noticed Dave's absence as it was not addressed. Dave's key­board assist­ance and co-pro­du­cer Phillip Larson took over and did a fant­ast­ic job.

Almond during 'Nostalgia Machine' in front of a futuristic cityscape. (Picture taken by Sabine Conradi)
Almond dur­ing 'Nostalgia Machine' in front of a futur­ist­ic city­scape. (Picture taken by Sabine Conradi)

Even though the show was billed to cel­eb­rate 40 years of Soft Cell's debut album 'Non-stop Erotic Cabaret', it was made clear that Soft Cell is not (just) a nos­tal­gia act, as the band launched into a sequence of new(er) songs: 'Bruises on all my illu­sions', 'Monoculture' and 'Happy, Happy Happy'.

The sound was excel­lent, Almond was in good voice and was vis­ibly enjoy­ing him­self on stage. A back­drop of chan­ging pro­jec­tion gave each songs its own look and atmosphere.

Highlights of the first half for me were 'Purple Zone', anoth­er song from the new album, which Pet Shop Boys remixed and turned into a duet. Here, we were of course treated to the ori­gin­al Soft Cell ver­sion of the song, which is less high engery disco and more mel­oncholy and gloom.

The two last songs before the inter­val – 'The Art of Falling Apart' and 'Martin' really cap­tured the frantic, self-destruct­ive vibe of the later Soft Cell releases. A nervous break­down put on vinyl and a tale about a psychot­ic teen­ager mur­der­er who believes he is a vam­pire were dark, mes­mer­iz­ing and had the fans go crazy.

Almond in front of backdrop of sex ads during 'Seedy Films'. (Picture taken by Sabine Conradi)
Almond in front of back­drop of sex ads dur­ing 'Seedy Films'. (Picture taken by Sabine Conradi)

The second half kept the prom­ise of a 'Non-stop Erotic Cabaret' cel­eb­ra­tion. The album was played in its entirety. Trips down the seedy side streets of London's Soho, its strip clubs and after-hour bars. Tales about the absurdity of every day life, sex, the night­life and its casts of strange char­ac­ters painted a pic­ture of a dif­fer­ent type of 80s, which involved more gut­ter than glamour.

'Sex Dwarf' was the first high­light of the set. The disco dol­lies might not be as young as they used to be but they were surly enjoy­ing them­selves that night. Tons of screams proved that bey­ond a doubt.

'Bedsitter' was anoth­er high­light for me. Again, the exten­ded mix was used, which includes a spoken mid-sec­tion. "Do you look a mess, so you have a hang-over?…"

Of course there is no Soft Cell con­cert without 'Tainted Love'. Here the song made an appear­ance twice, once as the album track and secondly in the form of the extened ver­sion which blends into 'Where Has Our Love Gone?'.

The obligatory pink flamingo during 'Say Hello, Wasve Goodbye.'. (Picture taken by Sabine Conradi)
The oblig­at­ory pink flamingo dur­ing 'Say Hello, Wasve Goodbye.'. (Picture taken by Sabine Conradi)

The last song of the even­ing was 'Memorabila', which might or might not have been the first Techno song ever recor­ded. The energy was still there and left many want­ing more.

These days Soft Cell are no longer that raw, rough-around-the-edges duo they were when they star­ted. Almond's voice is smooth­er and more pol­ished, there are less shouts and growls and the music has lost some of its punk rock rough­ness but that not a bad thing. Old and new songs blen­ded togeth­er rather well and in my opin­ion remain true to the essence of Soft Cell. It's pop music after all. If it's done right, it takes you out of your dull daily life and cata­pults you some­where else. Soft Cell are still able to do that and it makes for excel­lent entertainment.

Setlist:

  • Torch
  • Bruises On All My Illusions
  • Monoculture
  • Happy Happy Happy
  • Where the Heart Is
  • Purple Zone
  • Nostaligia Machine
  • Loving You, Hating Me
  • The Art of Falling Apart
  • Martin
  • Frustration
  • Tainted Love
  • Seedy Films
  • Youth
  • Sex Dwarf
  • Entertain Me
  • Chips On My Shoulder
  • Bedsitter
  • Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
  • Tainted Love /Where Did Our Love Go?
  • Memorabilia

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