By Mark Guarino
Back in 1982, when Tron, the Atari 2600 and Max Headroom telegraphed a future where humans fell enslaved to primitive (and sometimes brown plastic) machines, the music of Yaz suggested softness lie under the harsh beats.
In this era of continual reunions, of course they are back. Twenty-five years after a second and final album, singer Alison Moyet and keyboard programmer Vince Clarke shed light on their brief two years of music together at the Chicago Theatre Monday, performing 21 songs from a slim catalog that holds its own yet still remains a footnote in Clarke’s tenure with mega-hitmakers Depeche Mode and Erasure.
Still, there was just enough from Yaz to carry a one-hour, 40-minute show that demonstrated what made the project so curious and endurable in the first place. The futuristic British duo perfected a sound that demanded contrasts. On songs like “Too Pieces,” Clarke always accompanied his skull-crushing beats with a lush undercurrent of relaxing keyboards. Moyet, a husky R&B singer who sounds more robust in this second incarnation, looked, thanks to heavy eye makeup, vaguely menacing but on songs like “Mr. Blue” and the electro-funk “Good Times,” she sang lyrics tailored with sweetness and sold them with teenage excitement. Her pigtails helped.
Yaz was never a live band and toured just briefly in their heyday, and they did not benefit from an inventive stage show. Moyet and Clarke each occupied separate platforms, yet Moyet broke the ice early to hug her partner; he returned the gesture on her side later.
Clarke’s kaleidoscope of fizz, chimes, clicks and thuds became Moyet’s source material. On “In My Room,” she sat in an armchair and eyed the room with the anxiety of her narrator’s isolation and anxiety. When Clarke lowered the boom, she thrust her head back on cue.
Despite some textural ballads, the pair demonstrated their ultimate contribution was making jubilant pop music, especially “Only You” and “Don’t Go,” their two U.S. hit singles. “We dance until the end,” Moyet said, a promise she proved to keep.