Swooning, Andy Bell put the back of his hand to his forehead in mock distress. "Mother, I didn't mean to hurt you," the lead singer of Erasure soliloquized, not all that seriously, between songs Sunday at the Forum. "I'm sorry for coming out the way I did. . . ."
As in from the closet , in case there was any doubt.
The song being followed, "Hideaway," is an upbeat anthem recalling that "mother used to cry herself to sleep"--but concluding with the inspirational kicker, "Don't be afraid, you don't have to hide anymore."
Mom also figured into a subsequent song, "Que Sera Sera," to which Bell added a bit of a gender bend: "When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, what would I be . . . a homo-sex-shual or a straight? This is what she said to me. . . ."
And the sold-out crowd, dominated not by trendy West Hollywoodians but by very straight adolescent girls, roared approval at Bell's every ironically intoned line, not to mention his costume changes into several different sets of leg-baring leotards.
Bell also drew near-Beatlesque cheers for his campy between-song bits and goofy dance steps and glittery headdress and Jerry Lewis-does-Judy rendition of "Over the Rainbow." At one point, singing the Erasure hit "Stop," he became Diana Ross to his two black female backup singers' Supremes for a few bars of "Stop in the Name of Love."
Some of the boys in the audience shifted uneasily alongside their dates, wondering whether to ease over onto the side of tolerance--and therefore feel comfortable dancing to the pulsing techno-pop beat--or whether to just fidget in place. But those gals, they do love Andy.
Every mother's nightmare, every teen-age girl's dream?
Erasure is aptly named. What's being rubbed out is the line that represented a sexual barrier not to be crossed on the charts or in music fans' hearts.
This English pair is the first pop attraction with an avowedly and demonstrably gay front man to sell out the Forum--quite an accomplishment indeed, given the once-naughty nature of the act. In Sunday's show, the first of two there, Bell didn't hide from but rather played with the audience's suspicions and expectations.
If your criteria for good pop performances center around the danger factor, then Sunday's show was a good, provocative one. But by several other standards, it was closer to a snooze.
It's a given that virtually all of Vince Clarke's keyboard and drum machine music will be pre-programmed, and those lone parts in each number that weren't might as well have been (no danger of improvisation here).
Knowing that they have to somehow make up for this lack of on-stage players, Clarke and Bell have bought themselves a real show , but one that doesn't look thought through beyond the most elementary conceptual stage.
The stage set is in a jungle motif, which seems to have been picked arbitrarily. Joining the duo, in addition to the two female singers, are two male dancers whose moves, unremarkably choreographed in part by Michael Clark, are barely in sync; it looks like someone free-form dancing in front of a mirror with a slight time delay.
These distractions do serve their purpose--to make us forget just how little "live" music is being performed. But it's like being distracted from a dull billboard by a bad freeway accident.
That's tough, because Erasure's latest album, "Wild!," is very much the duo's best, with far richer musical textures and interesting themes that deserve more than the campy sideshow treatment seen Sunday. As a two-man outfit, Erasure may look malnourished alone on stage, but throwing money at the problem in the form of scenery and dancers is not going to help.
Real ideas will.