They didn't rehearse. They didn't need to
'This has made my existence worthwhile,' gushes an Ultravox devotee sitting in the row behind me. Every song intro brings another boot in the back of my seat and a whoop in my ear. The hardcore reception to the reformed new wave synth-poppers is astonishing.
The classic line-up of singer/guitarist Midge Ure, keyboardist/violinist Billy Currie, bassist Chris Cross and drummer Warren Cann recorded four albums between 1979 and 1986, before the band splintered in the usual mess of musical differences and solo aspirations. Ure went on to great success, of course, while Currie staged various dubious Ultravox comebacks over the years – but this is the real deal and fans have responded accordingly.
Tonight’s performance at Belfast’s Waterfront brings to an end a month-long UK tour, and there are European festivals lined up for the summer. Billed as a ‘Return to Eden’ – a nod to the group’s 1981 album, Rage in Eden – the venue isn’t quite sold out, but it’s not far off and the ecstatic response compensates for a handful of empty seats.
The quartet are shrouded by dry ice and bathed in white light, peering out from behind banks of keyboards. The only concessions to the passing of time are four shiny Apple Mac laptops and the obligatory receding hairlines and ballooning guts. The opening number – a 10-minute instrumental – wrong-foots those who mainly know the hits, but it has a hypnotic quality that enraptures the entire room.
Forty minutes pass before Midge – who famously revitalised the struggling act after original leader John Foxx left in 1979 – addresses the audience. He’s witty and charming, perhaps conscious that some here will have came just to see him and hear solo tracks such as ‘If I Was’.
It’s Ultravox material all the way, though, with ‘Reap the Wild Wind’, ‘Dancing with Tears in my Eyes’ and ‘Vienna’ being anthemic highlights. The emotive tribute to Austria’s capital city has lost none of its eerie power in the 29 years since it reached number two, and sends the bloke behind me into meltdown.
At times, the 100-minute concert is like being lost in space, with Currie’s keyboard washes and Ure’s cold, angular guitar stabs complemented by the computerised images beaming out of a bank of video screens behind them. Midge’s six-string ability is quite incredible, and reminds you why he was plucked by Phil Lynott for a brief spell in Thin Lizzy.
During the press interviews to promote the tour, the Scottish-born frontman was characteristically candid about the fact the reunited band had yet to rehearse. Yet only the occasional drum fluff by Cann would suggest this is the first time these musicians have played together since appearing at Live Aid in 1985.
The show ends with all four members at the front of the stage, banging out the mechanical rhythms of ‘The Voice’ on a series of synthetic drums. It’s an almost-human climax to an enchanted alien evening.
The Very Best of Ultravox is out now on EMI.