Goth music fans descended on the majestic YouTube Theater for a rare performance by electronic music pioneers Soft Cell. Along with a handful of other experimental pioneers in the genre, like Gary Numan and Depeche Mode, Soft Cell helped create the music that would become the soundtrack of the 1980’s new wave dance music genre.
Charismatic lead singer Marc Almond brought the infectious rhythms of Soft Cell to an enraptured audience at the Inglewood, California venue on August 24th. The short tour, which included only five select cities in the United States, was billed as the final Soft Cell tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of the mega-hit dance tune “Tainted Love.” However, the anniversary was actually last year, and as Almond would disclose in one of his many interactions with the adoring crowd, delays and disappointments had plagued the planned celebration. First, the pandemic and then travel issues delayed the plans. Then one half of the duo, that is, Soft Cell, electronic music magician David Ball apparently injured his back and couldn’t make the tour. But Almond soldiered on with a new keyboardist, a saxophonist, and three backup singers to complete the tour so “He wouldn’t disappoint his fans again.”
Philip Larsen, the Grammy-winning producer, stood in for Dave on synthesizers for the five dates. As well as co-producing the current album Happiness Not Included, the fill-in keyboardist did a magnificent job creating the rich layers of Soft Cell music during the show. Meanwhile, Almond delighted the crowd with an inspired performance full of 80’s dance moves. The show featured two distinctive sets, the second including the entire breakthrough 1981 platinum album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.
The first set featured songs from Soft Cell’s new electronic music masterpiece, Happiness Not Included, interspersed with deep cuts from the duo’s other albums stretching back to 1982. The show began demurely with a stoic Almond opening with an early 80s tune, “Torch.” The group took full advantage of the state-of-the-art sound system with a phenomenally rich layering of sounds coming from the single synth performer. Very subtle multimedia began behind the group, which slowly grew to a multiscreen presentation midway through the set. Random images slowly began to include much more compelling storytelling. The opening song was followed by two tunes, “Bruises on All My Illusions” and “Happy Happy Happy,” from the new album that showcased Almond’s incredible vocal range. Almond slowly became more animated with ever-increasing dance moves, flashing grins, and offering insightful banter before each song. The song “Monoculture” came next from the duo’s previous album, Cruelty Without Beauty, recorded in 2002. Next came another blast from the past with the tune “Where The Heart Is” from the 1983 album, The Art of Falling Apart.
It was time to dance to the next tune, “Nostalgia Machine,” from the new album. Again, the infectious rhythms had almost everyone in the audience up on their feet, trying to emulate Almond, who had launched into a full dance groove by this time. Several more tunes from The Art of Falling Apart showcased the talents of the three backup singers, any of which could take the lead on their own, and the infectious wails of the talented saxophonist. Finally, the multimedia presentation came alive with multidimensional screens for the last tune of the first set, “Martin," also from The Art of Falling Apart.
Following an intermission, the lights went out, and the group emerged to perform the much anticipated Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret in its entirety. The audience let out a huge cheer, and most leaped to their feet with the first notes of the opening song, “Frustration.” That was followed quickly by the second tune on the album, Soft Cells' mega dance hit Tainted Love. While Soft Cell made the song a mega-hit, the backstory of the song is no less compelling. Gloria Richetta Jones first recorded the music, and the R&B-infused tune was a big hit in 1965. The incredibly talented singer was known as The Queen of Northern Soul. Jones became enamored with the legendary rock guitarist Marc Bolan and became the keyboardist for Bolan’s massively popular band, T. Rex. Unfortunately, the story took a tragic turn in 1977. Jones was the driver of the car, a Mini 1275 GT, that crashed near Barnes Common in England, striking a tree and killing Bolan. Later, Almond and Ball made the song their own with their inventive electronic soundtrack, making the tune a dance club staple for decades.
The elated crowd began to settle down after the dance fever induced by the famous track, and many fell into a more profound trance listening to the mastery of the other tunes from the monumental album. Led by Almond's exquisite vocal range, the music moved from gothic gloom to seedy synth and back to dance-infused rhythms. One fascinating video featured a slow-motion pre-dawn stroll through the streets of London in a pouring rain utterly devoid of life. The dance trance tunes “Seedy Films” and “Sex Dwarf” saw most everyone back on their feet in the audience while vintage footage of New York's red-light district flashed across multiple screens. An emotional Almond thanked the crowd repeatedly between songs, once quipping that “Los Angeles has always been a special place close to my heart.”
The tune “Chips on My Shoulder” elicited a sing-along that echoed through the perfect acoustically designed venue. The second set ended with the appropriately titled “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.”
Almond and the entourage returned for a two-song encore, beginning with another tune from the new album, “Purple Zone.” The audience may have felt that the song was reminiscent of another English 80s dance phenomenon Pet Shop Boys. In that case, it could be because that mega-hit duo were guest performers on the new recording. After the upbeat dance tune, Almond thanked the passionate audience and offered an extended second version of “Tainted Love,” the version most often played in dance clubs. The song was a perfect ending to the nearly three-hour performance, slowly trailing off as the group members left the stage one by one.