Culture Club proves to be a potent elixir at the Beacon Theatre in NYC
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Culture Club proves to be a potent elixir at the Beacon Theatre in NYC

28 July 2015 11 Comments
This blog belongs to Radio Creme Brulee – an internet music radio station that broadcasts globally.

culture-2015It seems like we have been writing about the highly anticipated Culture Club reunion for over 2 years not knowing if it would actually materialize. Our first glimmer of hope was back in October 2013 when we had the privilege of interviewing the band’s magnetic and controversial frontman Boy George. Fortunately, he put our skepticism to rest when he told us that the band had already written some great material and were going back into the recording studio to work on their first album since 1999’s brilliant “Don’t Mind If I Do“. The second glimmer of hope was when Culture Club returned in late 2014 with their new U2-esque single “More Than Silence” – a song that appeared to be quite a radical but positive departure from the sonic template that propelled the band to global stardom. A US and UK tour was announced for late 2015. Unfortunately, both tours had to be canceled at the last minute since Boy George’s vocal cords needed medical attention. The decision was a bold one that disappointed many including George’s bandmates but we believe it was a necessary one. A poor vocal delivery by Boy George in concerts would have undoubtedly tarnished the band’s legacy as a live act and would also undermine their return. Most recently, full-length clips of tracks from the new Culture Club “Tribes” have started to see the light of day. The selection of songs represents a staggering diversity that Culture Club had not formerly been associated with in the past. The band’s rescheduled dates seem to be yet another chapter in their journey to a true return to the limelight – and we were fortunate enough to catch the band emerge back on stage in New York City at the Beacon Theatre on July 27, 2015.

Culture Club’s rise to prominence could not have happened at a better time. The advent of MTV made the pop stars of the early 80s household names. The power of the visual in music was unparalleled and it practically immortalized the stars of this era in the consciousness of the masses. The hysteria around Culture Club was excessive and the often shocking frontman Boy George could never escape the limelight. Culture Club became an integral part of the history of pop culture. Hence, it was only fitting that the show opened with video footage that chronicled the rise of this band to the upper echelons of music royalty. The footage was not remastered and hence gave the audience a feel of how these video clips appeared on television back in the 80s. It was a fantastic synopsis of the bands highs and lows. Noteworthy highlights include the band’s Grammy Award victory and their appearance on UK television’s Terry Wogan show. After all, attending this concert was about more than just listening to great music. It was about acknowledging one of the sonic architects of music’s last truly creative chapter and an essential and delectable slice of pop music history.

Soon after the footage was screened, the band took to the stage. Boy George was the last to enter with one of his trademark hats with a long red feather attached to it. Culture Club kicked off the show on high gear with their hit “Church Of The Poison Mind“. The first thing that jumped out at this point was Boy George’s vocals. In recent years, the distinct maturation of his voice has had a somewhat polarizing effect on his fanbase. But in this concert, he sounded every bit as magical as he did when he first surfaced back in 1982. It is evident that canceling the tour in 2014 is the best decision George has made despite the amount of criticism that was hurled at him as a result. Boy George quickly acknowledged the fact that it was a miracle that the band had gotten back together to tour (and also record new material). This was his segue way into the instantly recognizable “It’s a miracle” and “I’ll Tumble For Ya“. The song’s music videos formed the visual backdrop on the stage making a perfect complement to the brilliant performance of the band. The song ended with a drum solo section by Jon Moss.

Boy George then acknowledged the fact that he could be “quite a bitch – something that isn’t attractive”. He then talked about how hard it is to get someone to love you. This was his introduction to a reggae-flavored track titled “Let Somebody Love You” (slated for inclusion on the new album “Tribes”). The visual backdrop was a cute and classically romantic “black and white” video most likely taken from a movie that we are blissfully unaware of. The band then played a Boy George solo track titled “Everything I Own“.

The next song was the concert’s first highlight. “Like I Used To” is a musical showcase of the band’s inner funk featuring goosebump-inducing horn arrangements and a wicked bass-line. This is one of the songs that has undoubtedly whetted the appetite for the new Culture Club album (scheduled for release in 2016). It is also bound to awaken the listener to what each member of the band brings to the table. The song’s raw musicality revealed the indisputable competence of each of the band’s members – something that often got lost in the visual glossiness of the band’s television persona and Boy George’s “larger than life” flamboyance back in the band’s commercial heyday. This song just might be the precursor to modern day relevance for a band exclusively associated with yesteryear.

The concert’s second highlight followed immediately after with the band’s US top 40 hit “Move Away” – the lead single off the ill-fated album “From Luxury to Heartache“. Next came “Black Money” – a song Boy George described as one of the best Culture Club songs ever. It goes without saying that the live rendition of this song was far superior to its studio version. It ended with a beautiful piano solo by Roy Hay as Boy George exited the stage for a wardrobe change exclusively for the next song. Roy Hay continued on the piano under a spotlight wooing the audience. It is safe to say he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand as he slowly slid into the achingly beautiful introduction of “Victims” just as Boy George returned to the stage dressed completely in black with head gear that resembled a crown that only a “queen” is likely to wear (once again, quite fitting for Boy George). This rendition of “Victims” is more a vocal showcase than something that is true to the studio version of the song. Needless to say, it served as Boy George’s undebatable statement that any skepticism around his vocal ability was unwarranted and misplaced.

Human Zoo” – another sophisticated track in the vein of the songs on their criminally under-rated “Don’t Mind If I Do” album followed. The song’s message that there is someone for everyone was an uplifting one – and it seemed rather optimistic coming from someone like George who has undoubtedly had his share of heartache. The concert’s third highlight was next – a musical bonanza featuring beyond stellar performances of “Time“, “Different Man“, and Roy Hay’s favorite Culture Club song “Miss Me Blind“. The last of these tracks, in particular, had the entire audience dancing like they were in a time capsule. It was beyond brilliant.

We are hoping that the performance of the song that followed forces Americans to revisit the brilliant “Dont’ Mind If I Do” – Culture Club’s first album of new material since the 80s and an auditory manifestation of class and sophistication at its epic best. This album was not given an official release in the US. Most fans consider that a travesty on the part of Virgin Records – the record label Culture Club was signed to at the time. The song was the album’s lead single “I just wanna be loved” – a return to the reggae component of the band’s musical roots. At the time, I could not help but wish that other songs from the album such as the beautiful “Cold Shoulder” and the supremely addictive “See Thru” were also part of the setlist.

After the band decided to showcase one of the last major solo chart hits by Boy George titled “Crying game“, they introduced the song that Boy George claimed was unlikely to be a hit but reaped significant monetary benefits thus allowing him to by a house for himself. The song was “Do you really want to hurt me“. The audience sang their hearts out on this one. “More Than Silence” – the band’s first new single in over 15 years was performed next. The audience reaction to this song was fantastic. They seemed to embrace this new sound for the band.

The band then thanked the audience and exited the stage. The audience responded by screaming the name “George” on repeat until the band sans George returned to the stage. The crowd sang “Karma Chameleon” until George returned saying “we’re not playing that one yet”. Instead, they started with the country-flavored “Runaway train“. The concert’s grand finale was as expected. It was the song that had cemented a musical future for the band. Everyone in the theatre sang every word of the band’s signature hit “Karma Chameleon“. This was the concert’s final highlight. They definitely saved the best for last.

Throughout the show, Boy George was the quintessential diva basking in the sonic afterglow of his band’s stellar and timeless legacy as the hits kept rolling with relative ease. He was charismatic and charming as he engaged in a prolonged and effortless flirtation with the audience through his cheeky banter. Roy Hay, Mikey Craig, and Jon Moss explicitly demonstrated their competence as musicians. The newer tracks were a fairly strong indication that the band’s best days are probably yet to come. “Nostalgia has a shelf life” said Boy George in his interview with us back in October 2013. He is absolutely right. The rejuvenation of a band dynamic that stems from new creativity cannot possibly be matched by that of a band dynamic that revolves solely around revisiting past glory. That was very clearly demonstrated through the band’s performance at the Beacon Theatre. More importantly, Culture Club feels more like a real band today than they ever did. One can only hope that this performance forces critics and skeptics to revisit the “hit heavy” back-catalog of these musical geniuses and appreciate them for being more than mere teen idols of yesteryear. The band and the stellar ensemble of backup singers and musicians gave the audience a treat that they will treasure forever. More importantly, their performance served as a good reminder of the possibilities when people put aside their differences to come together as a cohesive creative unit thus paving the way for a catharsis from the tumultous past that tore them apart. Now, all we have to do is wait for the band’s new album “Tribes“. It cannot arrive soon enough!

[JulY 28, 2015 UPDATE]: Apparently, the last song performed at this concert was a cover of the David Bowie track “Starman” but we weren’t around and hence cannot comment on it.

STAR RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

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11 Responses to "Culture Club proves to be a potent elixir at the Beacon Theatre in NYC"

  1. Frannie says:

    What a wonderful review! I am so looking forward to seeing them on Aug. 10 at Wolf Trap in Virginia.

    It was interesting how George said he realized he could be quite a bitch and it’s not attractive. That is one thing over the years that seriously has put me off of George. I like a lot of his music, not just Culture Club but also solo but the self absorbed diva attitude demeaning other people is just too much sometimes. Especially when you are singing about tolerance and accepting everyone the way they are, and talking about your Buddhist and Hare Krishna spirituality. It just seems so hypocritical. For years he acted like the bitchy thing was all in people’s minds or a media misconception. But I am glad he’s realizing it is something that he has done himself.

    I also agree with you I love Cold Shoulder, and would like to hear that.

    I also would have loved a few more obscure singles like the War Song or White Boy instead of the George solo hits such as Everything I Own or the Crying Game, but over all I think the set list was great.

    Thanks again for a great review.

  2. Frannie says:

    I don’t know if they have put all their differences aside and escaped the tumultous past though. I love seeing them together but I have a feeling this reunion will be short lived. Just hope Tribes is released!

    They did an AOL chat which is hysterical. They don’t seem to get along too well, especially George and Jon.

    http://www.boygeorgeuk.com/?p=4779

    The most interesting question is when someone asks them what current artists do they like and think have potential to last.

    Jon references Wolf Alice, whose debut album My Love is Cool I love. I knew there was a reason he was my favorite!

  3. @Frannie: So glad you enjoyed the review. I actually think there have been quite a few occasions in which George has called himself out – which is a good thing. It demonstrates a level of self awareness – and improvement begins there right? The one thing that struck me during the show is that there were literally no “low energy” sections. I guess that is what happens when people in the audience know literally almost every song in the setlist. In ways, it speaks to the hit-heavy legacy of the band. Very impressive! You will have an awesome time at the Wolf Trap in Virginia. I actually got an e-mail from one of my local area listeners about Wolf Alice too. I remembered that you had mentioned them too. I need to start doing some digging into their catalog. Any good starting points given what else we play? Please do let us know. As far as the band’s personal differences, I hope they don’t resurface anytime soon. There was a real magic between them on stage on Monday and I am sure “Tribes” will get released. I think George is just waiting to have the right release strategy.As always, thank you so much for the comment!

  4. Frannie says:

    I feel George has called himself out in interviews, but a lot of times it seems he doesn’t always put it into practice especially in how he deals with the other members of Culture. It’s one thing to say something in interviews, but another to actually do it. I feel a lot of times he talks the talk, but he doesn’t walk the walk.

    I do feel some of the differences are still there, but they are kind of being papered over by a PR strategy. But I still enjoy the concerts and look forward to the album.

    As far as Wolf Alice, I really like their song Bros, I think it would fit well on your station. Their catalogue is not that extensive. Their debut album Love is Cool came out a few months ago. They also have an EP. They also have 2 EP’s, Blush and Creature Songs which have some of the same songs as the album but a few tracks not on the album.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TD_Q9CxXTo4

  5. Frannie says:

    I think the setlist is great, but I read from a source close to George that George never wanted to do a tour that he feels he is too nostalgia based. He wanted to wait until the album came out and then done an album based tour. But they do 6 new songs I believe in this tour. I think that is the right amount. I think G is very naive if he thinks they can tour later and not do the 80’s stuff he is doing on this tour. The great reaction to this tour is because they are doing a lot of the old stuff.

    I’m sure George wanted to do the tour like his solo tours where he does the whole of the album and just around 3 older songs, but that would never work with CC. When he did that in his solo shows, people were talking and he ended up yelling at them.
    He always has such an issue with the older songs.

    This same source also says the relationships are still volatile in the band, so whether there will be more touring isn’t guaranteed it depends on how well they get along. I love seeing them together, but I don’t believe all is as rosy as it seems. The issues are still very much there.

    In that AOL interview, there seems a lot of tension especially between George and Jon. George says when he’s in a bad mood he doesn’t take it out on the audience, Jon says no, you take it out on me.

    I love seeing them together, but somehow I don’t think this reunion is totally making Jon happy. He seems pretty frustrated. I think George really is still not that nice to him. He is dealing with a pretty serious back injury and from what I’ve heard is still in a lot of pain.
    I love seeing them together as a fan, but on a personal level if this is bad for Jon emotionally and is going to make me feel old, ill, or bitter, I would rather he didn’t do it. He’s a nice, charming, witty man who deserves happiness, not being bitched out by George.

  6. @Frannie: Just added “Bros” by Wolf Alice to our high-rotation playlist this morning. I don’t love it but I agree with you that it does fit our radio format. In a weird way, I understand where George is coming from but I don’t necessarily agree with him. In an a Duran Duran interview, Simon Lebon from Duran Duran said something interesting. He said “if you are still working, it is very difficult to come to terms with the fact that what you did before was far better”. For a creative entity, that should not be a bad thing but if you think of yourself as a professional, that can hurt. For those of us in conventional careers, we would hate that syndrome. Hence, I can understand Boy George’s aversion to a nostalgia-based approach to setlists. That being said, I like the band has done with the setlist. 6 new songs and “I just wanna be loved” in addition to the stuff in the 80s showcased a breadth that a band should aspire for – and all of it went down really well with the audience. But yes, a show based purely on new material, as an idea, might be interesting, but it is also quite naive – at least in the context of an American audience.

    As for the tension between band members, I was always amazed that George and Jon could work together. In a weird way, I think both guys deserve an award for being able to do that. Their split both professionals and personally was an acrimonious one and the wounds from a personal relationship don’t go away very easily. I don’t think they went through the process that bands like Take That and Spandau Ballet did to purge the demons of their past before moving forward on their creative endeavor as a team. That can pose issues.

  7. Frannie says:

    I don’t know. I like artists that embrace their old music and their new music in a seamless way. Your past experiences make you the person you are today, so I think it’s silly to pretend your old music never happened. To me the best performers can sing their old music with the same joy as the new music.
    I don’t see why because people want to hear the old music would necessarily indicate to you that the old music is better. A lot of the reason people like older songs is because they grew up with them and they have memories attached to them since those songs have been part of their life for 20 to 30 years, not because the newer songs are bad but because you don’t have those same type of memories attached. Music is different in that way than film and theatre in that people tend to listen to albums over and over again in a way they don’t other art forms and relate to their personal experiences in life.

    Also, if the older music hadn’t been successful, these artists wouldn’t have the chance to record new music.
    Natalie Imbruglia was performing on the Today Show this morning and they asked her about Torn. She said she learned to make friends with it and not have a chip on her shoulder about it, because with it all the wonderful things wouldn’t have happened to her. I think that was a very graceful but classy answer.

    Most artists don’t have enough hits to fill out a whole show anyway. I have no problem with an artist doing some newer material but not if it takes up so much of the set list that it leaves no room for older material that I also love.

    I actually like some of Wolf Alice’s other songs better than Bros, but some of it is harder and more rock leaning which I tend to like but might be too hard for your station. But you might want to check out the songs Fluffy, Giant Peach and Moaning Lisa Smile

    As far as George and Jon, George has never been willing to have an open conversation about it. He just wants to brush past it and say it’s all about the now and the past doesn’t happen. If he has a fight with someone, he just expects them to forget it and doesn’t want to actually talk openly and honestly about it. He has a hard time facing up to his own shortcomings and realize that other people besides him actually have feelings.

    I love a lot of Culture Club and George’s music, but I don’t agree with a lot of his opinions, approach to other people and I don’t find a lot of his personality appealing to me. You obviously like him as a person a lot more than I do. But at the end of the day, it’s about the music, so I try to overlook the unpleasant side of him as a person.

  8. @Frannie: I think Natalie Imbruglia definitely comes across as a very grounded individual and I think that manifests itself in her responses. Good for her! I am amazed that she doesn’t get annoyed with those questions especially since she had a huge hit with “Shiver” from her 3rd album overseas so the fixation on “Torn” must be annoying.

    As far as George is concerned, I did not know what to expect when I first started interacting with him. In the position that I am in, I do need to interact with a lot of music industry folks since they hold the power reins for a lot of what I need in terms of resources for the station. The outreach process is not fun and many e-mails go ignored. Many relationships are also quite ephemeral. George was resourceful in terms of taking the bureaucracy out of the equation for my interview with him. Furthermore, he was incredibly prompt with correspondence despite being on a hectic DJ tour. It is very difficult for me to take that for granted. He made the process totally painless. It is very rare that I’ve had someone go out of the way to accommodate me in the way that he has. That being said, I would still be very critical of his work. I would not let it cloud my objectivity. Hopefully, I wouldn’t!

    I will definitely check out the additional Wolf Alice tracks. Thanks so much for the recommendations!

  9. Frannie says:

    George definitely has two sides. You were very lucky to get the nice professional George. Unfortunately not everyone has had the same experience. There have been instances where he has been very rude to fans. Often at his concerts, he will get upset, be arrogant or yell at fans if they don’t respond in the right way. He has also been rude to fans on social media if they ask him a difficult question he doesn’t like. He can be nice if he is interacting with a professional objective journalist like yourself that he is looking to impress.
    However, when he has his guard down he can be very different with fans and people he works with. I am glad that you had such a wonderful experience with him. Not everyone has had the same pleasant experience.

    I found a wonderful interview with Roy Hay of Culture Club. It is so rare you see the other guys interviewed. I think it’s very unfair as they are very intelligent interesting guys who have a lot to say particularly about the music. He sounds so excited and enthusiastic about the tour and the new album. I’m sure as a Culture Club fan you will be very interested to read this. I was!

    http://www.toddstarphotography.com/blog/2015/8/interview-roy-hay-of-culture-club—july-2015

  10. Frannie says:

    The show here in Virginia was great!

    George was in a good mood, not like at his last solo show where he yelled at the audience.

    Jon,Roy and Mikey all played well and seemed to be having a great time. It was a big crowd, the venue of 7000 was almost sold out.
    People seemed to enjoy every song, even the new stuff which is surprising. A lot of times people fall asleep or go to the bathroom when older bands do new songs, but the crowd really got into the new songs even singing along.

    I thought it was much better than the 90’s reunions because for me I enjoy the new songs from Tribes more than the songs from DMIID. To me the new songs fit better in with their 80’s music so it all flows together seamlessly so it’s not obvious if you weren’t a huge fan what is new and what is old.
    Whereas although DMIID has its merits, the change in style was a bit jarring and the songs from it don’t flow together with the old songs as well.

    The set list was slightly different. They removed I Just Wanna Be Loved for some reason and Starman was replaced with a cover of Get it On, which they extend to allow everyone in the band to do their solo thing and be introduced individually which is nice.

    I think Get It On works better than Starman but I would have liked to hear I Just Wanna Be Loved.

    The only odd thing is at the end George leaves the stage first, and Jon, Roy and Mikey take the last bow and hug without George. It does seem George still does keep himself separate from the other guys. He doesn’t really show them much warmth as people. Guess it;s part of the diva thing he does. On the other hand, Jon and Mikey like each other a lot! Jon hugs Mikey before the encore and then with Roy at the end of the show.

    I guess some things never change with CC. Musically they are outstanding and really put on a faultless concert, but those personal issues never seem to be quite resolved.

  11. Frannie says:

    I was discussing with another fan how everyone focusing on George being gay and what he has done for the gay community, but no one mentions that CC is one of the few pop groups that have an integrated membership of races with Mikey being black. We are in 2015 here but still there are very few pop or rock groups that have black and white members playing together, but there are many with both gay and straight members. You often have African American female backing singers with bands but very rarely black people actually in the band playing instruments. And they had this in 1982! But somehow that is never talked about. It just seems to me people are still uncomfortable with addressing race and racial segregation in terms of the fact a lot of white people don’t have black friends and vice versa, in a way they aren’t sexual orientation.

    I did notice at the concert compared to other concerts of older artists like Madonna or Duran Duran there were a lot more African Americans in the audience. It was great to see such a diverse audience of young, old, black, white, gay, straight that you don’t often do at concerts. We need to overcome the segregation of music based on demographics.

    I love Madonna, but I couldn’t help contrasting this audience with the one at her concerts. Her audience is much more limited to the 30/40 age group, whiter, and more gay although her audience is bigger.

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