It 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
We are an American internet radio station that broadcasts worldwide. The station features an eclectic mix of current pop and rock music from both sides of the Atlantic alongside hits, forgotten gems, and rarities from the last three decades. The music of Culture Club (both old and new) is a regular staple on our radio station. We also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s. Noteworthy examples include Tears For Fears, a-ha, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Duran Duran.
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