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Old school synth machines have feelings too

by: Courtesy of Joe Dilworth 80s Brit pop group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark will perform at the Wonder Ballroom Saturday, Oct. 1.

Paul Humphreys of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark cheerfully notes: 'We're a bit old school - we love to play!'

That's why the Brit pop artist still runs his fingers over a real live musical keyboard, not a laptop, on stage although he notes his synthesizer is programmed to 'play any OMD song at the drop of the hat.'

When a man who helped to usher in the era of synth-pop says his band is 'old school,' it's a sign of how much the world has changed since he and OMD partner Andy McCluskey helped turned music listeners onto 'artificial' music in the early 1980s

Indeed, albums like 'Architecture and Morality' and 'Junk Culture' are now considered classics of the 1980s, and anyone who's seen the Brat Pack movie 'Pretty in Pink' is certainly familiar with OMD's 'If You Leave.'

OMD is touring North America with its original lineup, including Martin Cooper on keyboards and Malcolm Holmes on drums, for the first time since 1988, playing its old hits along with selections from 2010's 'History of Modern.' Australian pop queen Washington joins them at the Wonder Ballroom Saturday, Oct. 1.

'We're just playing as a traditional rock band,' Humphreys says, noting there's nothing fancy about OMD's staging. 'We're just going out as a band on stage to put on a good live show. I think we're a better live band now than we've ever been.'

Such experimental German groups as Kraftwerk and Can, among others, back in the 1970s, inspired him and McCluskey.

'Germany was really forward thinking and trying to make music of the future,' he says, noting he and his buddies were tired of guitar-dominated rock. 'We didn't like all the rock 'n' roll clichés.'

However, there was one cliché to which OMD subscribed - the idea that pop music had to be warm and emotional if it was to be any good. While some synth bands strove to sound cold and robotic, Humphreys notes OMD saw synthesizers as 'just other instruments to make beautiful melodies.'

Indeed, few guitar rockers in the '80s ever came up with a song as hauntingly beautiful as the lilting 'Souvenir,' the band's highest-charting UK single, and one of the few on which Humphreys sang the lead vocal.

To this day, OMD are still trying to write such melodies and are still concerned with the big topics, including 'war and religion,' Humphrey says, noting the band's Catholic-flavored 'Sister Marie,' one of the featured singles on 'History of Modern.'

Humphreys says he's excited to be back on the road again and assures Portlanders they'll get a good show.

'I think after 33 years we've all learned how to play,' he adds with a laugh.