In his video titled “Why Old Music Is Killing New Music” youtuber and former music producer Rick Beato calls to attention the limited cultural relevance of new music. Some of this can be attributed to the slow but steady disappearance of mass pop culture as it applies to music. As each of us retreats inwards into our algorithmically curated sonic bubbles, the notion of a shared musical backdrop is growing increasingly antiquated. The network effects of a shared musical experience that cuts across generations and cultural contexts constitute a key catalyst for sustained cultural relevance. We do not really have this anymore and this gap has created an opportunity for popstars that rose to prominence in yesteryear to remind us of what global relevance looks like. One of the shining stars of this glorious era of larger-than-life popstars is celebrating four decades in the music business. Hot on the heels of a successful documentary chronicling the rise of The Go-Go’s (the ultra-successful all-girl band that she was the lead singer for), the induction of The Go-Go’s into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, and a new 5-track EP titled “Kismet” (the fruits of which have emerged from a collaboration with legendary hit songwriter Diane Warren), the talented and ethereally beautiful Belinda Carlisle is back with a bang. Her concerts in the UK (a country where her run on the music charts was significantly longer than it was on her home country) met with a lot of fanfare and enthusiasm. This is week 3 of her US tour – a tour that was initially supposed to happen during the worst period of the Covid pandemic and hence had to be rescheduled. Needless to say, for fans, patience was a virtue, and the audience at Sony Hall in New York City were richly rewarded for this virtue.

At 8 pm, the opening act Chris Trapper (a one-man acoustic act) took to the stage with a finger on the pulse of the crowd’s mood and an effervescent sense of humor that lured the audience in and kept them engaged through this 5-song set. The most striking moment of his set was the introduction to the third song that he played. He shared that the song had been featured on the soundtrack of the movie “August rush and the version of the song included in the soundtrack was performed by actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers. It was nominated for an academy award and marked a relatively uncelebrated (by the masses) musical zenith for Chris. The lack of fanfare around him for this seminal moment in his career stemmed from people thinking that the song had been written by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (as opposed to only being performed by the actor). This is yet another reminder that songwriters (that do not end up becoming front-and-center performers) are still very much the unsung heroes of the music industry and deserve far more recognition than they find themselves to be the privileged beneficiaries of. After all, songwriting is the bedrock of the music business. Needless to say, Chris was a great opening act. The audience warmed up to him incredibly quickly – which is truly a feat on the part of Chris given that many members of the audience had been waiting in line since the early afternoon to get as close to the stage as possible to bask in the sonic glow of the star performer of the evening – Belinda Carlisle.

At 9 pm, a stunning Belinda Carlisle emerged barefoot on stage looking radiant and dressed in a sparkly dress and a black top proving that there is charm and beauty in sartorial simplicity. She kicked off her set in high gear with the up-tempo “We want the same thing” – the final single from her third album “Runaway Horses”. It offered a little glimpse into her overall approach to the setlist for the concert. Given that her global ubiquity was largely propelled by the success of singles off her “Heaven on earth” and “Runaway Horses” albums, it wasn’t a surprise that she emphasized these albums heavily in the setlist. In fact, songs from these two albums constituted around 50% of the setlist. What that meant is that there was virtually no “filler” in the concert. She performed one hit after another reminding the audience both of a time of inspired songwriting and of a time in which an artist’s glory did not hinge on one signature single (a concept that is becoming more commonplace of late). Belinda has successfully managed to retain her voice, has no problem hitting the high notes with relative ease, and still has it in her to showcase an emotional vocal delivery. She had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand as she effortlessly and gracefully pranced across the stage with a tambourine in her hand flitting from one side to the other and only dwelling in one spot momentarily.  She had a spring of youthful innocence in her step and seemed to be a living embodiment of the dreamy-eyed optimism that most of her songs brim with.

The concert had several highlights. The rendition of “Circle in the sand” warrants an official recording. The pure guitar arpeggios of the song’s memorable introduction (keyboards are used for this section of the song’s studio original) and euphoric electric guitar solo after the song’s second chorus undoubtedly left me wanting more. The extended version of “I get weak” felt like the gift that kept giving. Her emotional rendition of “Vision Of You” mirrored its 1991 remix (which is far superior to its relatively minimalist studio original) with beautiful keyboard melodies on both the song’s intro as well as in the verses. The achingly beautiful “World without you” sounded just as magical as it did when it first saw the light of day over 30 years ago. The live drums added a sonic bite to “Big Big Love” (whose studio original is rooted in synth-pop).

Belinda did not indulge in much prolonged banter with the audience except for indicating what song each album was from. But in the few instances where she did, she revealed three defining elements of her career. They are as follows:

A stalled retirement:

In her introduction to the lead single from new 5-track EP “Kismet”, she indicated that she was contemplating retirement when a serendipitous meeting between her song and legendary songwriter Diane Warren derailed those plans and put her back in the recording studio (which is where she still belongs). It was this reconnection with Diane Warren that formed the foundation for “Kismet”.

Her time in limelight was far longer overseas than in her home country (the US):

In her introduction to “Summer Rain”, Belinda Carlisle indicated that the song was a hit everywhere except the US. While this song was released in the 80s, her introduction to this song could have also applied to much of what she recorded in the 90s (which went relatively unnoticed in the US but made dents in the music charts overseas).

Her privilege of being able to work with some of the finest musicians and songwriters through almost the entire length of her musical career:

In her introduction to the hit single “Leave A Light On”, she indicated that the late George Harrison from the Beatles features on the song’s memorable slide guitar solo after the song’s second chorus.

These glimpses into some of the defining aspects of her career seemed appropriate for a concert tour celebrating 40 years in the music business.

Belinda’s deviations from concert norms were refreshing. She performed her biggest hit single “Heaven is a place on earth” before the encore as opposed to at the end of the concert (which would have been incredibly predictable). Instead, she concluded her set with the rather apt (for a concert closer) “Live your life be free” (the title track of her 1991 album).  The inclusion of the non-single album track “Fool for love” (from the “Heaven on earth” album) was another unconventional and pleasant surprise.

With a hit-heavy catalog, Belinda was undoubtedly in the unenviable position of having to make trade-offs with regards to the songs (from both her solo catalog as well as her time as the lead singer of The Go-Go’s) that made the cut for the setlist. This clearly led to a key missed opportunity in this concert. Belinda was one of many artists that rose to prominence in the 80s that fell out of favor with the gatekeepers of consequence in the US in the 90s. While the rest of the world viewed Belinda as a 90s hitmaker, she did unfortunately get stuck with the “80s popstar” label in the US. While she did end the concert with “Live your life be free”, performing at least two or three of her strongest musical offerings from the 90s would have been a great way to challenge this unfortunate narrative. In my humble opinion, the inclusion of the criminally under-rated “I won’t say I’m in love” (from the original motional picture soundtrack of “Hercules) from the late 90s would have single-handedly triggered a new musical journey for the audience through the less-celebrated parts of her stellar back-catalog.

At the end of Belinda’s stellar performance, one cannot help but feel a mix of gratitude, euphoria, and a tinge of sadness (that stems from the realization that Belinda belongs to a gradually shrinking group of mega-icons of the sort that are exceptionally rare today). At Sony Hall, Belinda proved that she just might be the posterchild for what a popstar in her 60s should be. We hope that the spirited reaction of the audience forces her to delay the fulfilment of her retirement aspirations. She proved beyond doubt that she is still a fountain of vitality and a musical force to be reckoned with. There is an audience out there that does not succumb to the bias of ageism that has plagued the most powerful musical gatekeepers of today. We just hope Belinda Carlisle does not forget that. For us music aficionados, our vistas of musical discovery are far better with her in them.

STAR RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Here is a 14-minute video highlights reel of the concert that we put together:


Broadcasting Worldwide

In case you did not pick up on this earlier, the blog you are reading is affiliated with Radio Creme Brulee – an online radio station that 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. Alongside newer artists, we also play plenty of newer music by bands that rose to prominence in the 80s,90s, and the 00s. Noteworthy examples include Simply Red, Wet Wet Wet, Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Dubstar, Tears For Fears, Go West, Duran Duran, Belinda Carlisle, Camouflage, Spandau Ballet, INXS, Depeche Mode, Suede, The Corrs, Jamiroquai, Keane, Johnny Hates Jazz, Simple Minds, and Culture Club.

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