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Next wave of Yaz is ashore

The British duo put aside their differences for a reunion tour and four-disc box set.

July 08, 2008|Charlie Amter | Times Staff Writer

Yaz always did leave fans wanting more.

During the course of their brief but auspicious career in the early 1980s, the onetime Basildon, England-based duo released just two albums and three singles. Songwriter Vince Clarke and singer Alison Moyet never toured the United States outside of New York, and one of their best-loved hits in England, where they are known as Yazoo, "Don't Go," fades out around the 2 1/2 -minute mark.

Now, after a public split just as their record "You and Me Both" was released in 1983, the group is back to settle some unfinished business.

"Alison has been interested in doing something with me for quite a while now," Clarke, 47, said via telephone from London's sprawling 3 Mills Studios in May, where he was rehearsing with Moyet for Yaz's "Reconnected" world tour. The band stops at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles for shows tonight, Thursday and Friday and winds up its trek July 24 in Costa Mesa.

With Clarke on a break from touring with his band Erasure -- and a four-disc Yaz boxed set, "In Your Room," due out today on Mute records -- the timing seemed right. But Moyet, who also releases her latest solo album, "The Turn," today, said that the new concert dates represent more than just the opportunity to reconnect with fans: The tour has brokered a reconciliation for artistic collaborators whose union was always fraught with considerable tension.

"For me, the live element of the work is just as important as any other area," said Moyet, 46. "The fact that we never got to play 'You and Me Both' live, I felt cheated."

Unlike other 1980s synth-pop acts, Yaz never faded from the public consciousness, especially in the U.K., where the band's unique brand of music -- think icy cool synthesizers coupled with warm vocals over electropop beats -- remains influential to this day.

Clarke in particular made synth-pop acceptable in the 1980s to music critics (he was an early booster of sampling and owned one of the first very expensive Fairlight synthesizers in England) and arguably helped set the tone for what would become a wave of chart-topping synth-centric pop songs throughout the decade.

In today's reenergized electro scene, Yaz's debut, "Upstairs at Eric's," remains a must-hear for groups mining the pop vein of electronica.

"I think the best pop music is forward-looking," Clarke said. "For me, the best music is something that uplifts me in some emotional way. At the end of the day, the song has to work on an acoustic guitar or piano, or it's not worth much."

In the U.S., Yaz has enjoyed longevity owing to a seemingly eternal nostalgia for 1980s pop and to Clarke's association with Depeche Mode. He was one of that group's founding members and penned the band's early signature song "Just Can't Get Enough" in 1981.

Those fans, who also grew to love Erasure, have supported Yaz throughout the years, as have DJs. Key remixes of Yaz hits such as "Situation" were released in 1990 and 1999, keeping interest in the band high among electronic music fans. At an April concert in downtown Los Angeles, dance music heavyweights Groove Armada dropped Yaz's "Situation" as their opening track, to wild applause from the audience.

Moyet too has her loyalists. Yaz received crucial early support in gay clubs from New York to San Francisco in the early 1980s, many of whom embraced the band for Moyet's soulful vocal work on tracks like "Midnight," in which she goes from a whisper to a wail with astonishing grace. Over the years, she's emerged as something of a gay icon, enjoying a particularly fervent following in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"I'm aware that I have a lot of gay fans, and I love it," Moyet said. "In the 1970s when I grew up as a punk rocker, we were all on the outside and I think that we found common ground with one another."

Now that Moyet and Clarke have found their own common ground, they're funneling all their energies into touring. Earlier this summer, they spent several weeks performing across Europe to generally positive reviews -- which seems to be enough for now. There have been no announcements about the pair going back into the studio, nor are they looking to do anything beyond this string of live dates.

"I've been asked to do '80s package tours, but it doesn't appeal to me," Moyet said.

The other thing that doesn't appeal to Moyet and Clarke? Describing Yaz's music as "new wave." "I feel very 'old wave' these days," Clark said. "I'm old and wavering."

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charlie.amter@latimes.com

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Yaz

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. today, Thursday

and Friday

Price: $52 to $75

Contact: (877) 677-4386

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