Erasure Live!: The Tank, The Swan, and The Balloon (2004)
"I tried to discover
a little something to make me sweeter..."- lyric from A Little Respect
Stars: Andy Bell, Vince Clarke
Other Stars: Annick Clarisse, Veronique Clarisse
Director: David Mallet
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:14m:02s
Release Date: 2004-12-07
DVD ReviewFormed in 1985 by ex-Depeche Mode/Yazoo synth whiz Vince Clarke and vocalist Andy Bell, the duo Erasure has managed to carve out a fairly long career (more so in Europe than in the U.S.) of basically doing the same-old-same-old, which for them are a steady stream of infectious, hook-laden synth pop songs like A Little Respect, Oh L'Amour or Chains of Love. The terms "flashy" and "flamboyant" are key descriptors here, and Erasure has never been anything but resplendently gaudy and over the top.
In The Tank, The Swan and The Balloon, Erasure was filmed on one of their most elaborate tours—with a full stable of dancers and sets—recorded at The Manchester Apollo in June 1992. This is the kind of performance that is more theatrical than most concerts, with Bell (and background vocalists Annick Clarisse and Veronique Clarisse, who do much to carry the theatrics when Bell gets too static) going through a wardrobe full of costume changes, as the show moves thematically through a series of distinctive concepts.
The show takes its title from the primary modes of entrance used during key parts of the show, which establish a new set of themes. Bell opens the show seated in a swan-shaped vehicle that roams the stage, while later on he drops from the rafters in an Oz-like hot air balloon. Clarke spends most of the time hidden within the confines of the titular Tank—a strange little vehicle that rolls in during the opening number—noodling with a mountain of computers and keyboards, though he does wander out periodically to film Bell with a hand-held camera as the often pre-programmed music churns on without him. During the middle portion of the show, with its Wild West theme, Clarke does, however, show up in full-on drag, dressed as a buxom saloon girl. Yes, a buxom saloon girl.
Musically, this is essentially an all out "best of" show, including the expected Erasure hit singles, plus a spot-on set of Abba covers (Voulez Vous, Take A Chance On Me, S.0.S.), a gender-bending new take on Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man (performed by Bell in ass-less blue leather chaps) and the obligatory tackling of Judy Garland's Over The Rainbow (with Bell sporting a white corset and high-heel ruby slippers). As I said, the words "flashy" and "flamboyant" are key descriptors here.
None of the openly gay nuances of Erasure has ever bothered me, being the liberal The Rocky Horror Picture Show/Hedwig-loving heterosexual that I am, but there is what I call the "secret shame quotient" operating here. Watching a grown man dressed as a leather cowboy, cavorting about in ass-less chaps, does require a certain level of open-mindedness, and one has to be willing to take in and enjoy the campy spectacle for what it is meant to be. Fun.
Back in the early 1980s when Yazoo disintegrated I was moderately crushed, partly because I always thought vocalist Alison Moyet possessed such a beautiful voice, and her disparate solo releases never found the right niche to properly exploit her talents. When Clarke hooked up with Bell, who on first listen bears more than a passing vocal similarity to Moyet, I initially passed it off as a cheap attempt to continue the basics of Yazoo with a copycat singer. Erasure's longevity and success has proven me wrong, so obviously long-term predictions are not always my strong suit.
Ship of Fools
Breath of Life
Chains of Love
Love to Hate You
Take a Chance on Me
Lay All Your Love on Me
Am I Right?
Waiting for the Day
Heart of Stone
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Who Needs Love Like That?
Stand by Your Man
The Soldier's Return
Turns The Love to Anger
Over the Rainbow
Love Is a Loser
A Little Respect
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: I was slightly put off by not just the boxiness of the full-frame transfer that really diminished the gaudy theatrical grandeur of the show, but more importantly by the frequent bouts of heavy grain that was evident throughout. Image detail varied from mediocre (Vince Clarke always seemed to be in blocky blackness) to good (Andy Bell's sweaty face gleamed almost metallic under the blue stage lights). Colors were occasionally rich (as during the Wild West portion of the show), but the veil of grain really muted the experience.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in either PCM Stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and thankfully the sound mix is an improvement over the image transfer. The 5.1 track is the preferred option, and it delivers the broadest presentation of the two, with more of a pronounced separation between the music and the audience; crowd sounds are relegated to the back speakers, creating more of a "live" feel. Bell's vocals are fairly clean, with just a hint of clipping on some tracks. The .LFE doesn't necessarily deliver consistent wall-thumping bottom end, but occasional electronic beats do bring the sub to life from time to time.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 30 cues and remote access
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
There is also a postcard-sized booklet containing arty promotional shots, as well as a small foldout poster reproduction of the band's Beacon Street Theater appearance from October 1992.
Disc 1 (the concert) is cut into 30 chapters, one per song, with no subtitle options.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsThe video transfer may not be the prettiest thing I've ever seen, but the visual spectacle almost manages to overcome these shortcomings. Maybe not the kind of disc you pop in when your metal head friends stop by, but if you're looking for 2+ hours of flamboyantly sugary synth pop there aren't many who do it as well as Andy Bell and Vince Clarke.
Call it my secret shame, but even with a weak video transfer this one is easily recommended.
Rich Rosell 2005-02-02