Review by Gillain Potter-Merrigan
Back in the 1980s when pop was young there was one group that strode like a colossus across the charts and the tabloids; that group was Culture Club and now they are back in the UK on their Life Tour after an extensive American leg. They’ve done it all; the infighting, the fall from grace, the fall outs, the get togethers and now the new album. Last night saw them hit Manchester in an 11 date UK tour of the hits, the soul and the wisdom of George.
First act on is Tom Bailey late of the Thompson Twins, backed by an all-female band. Everyone is clad in white which is an effective foil to the amazing graphics behind him. Starting with Love on Your Side and playing a mixture of his Thompson Twin classics and songs from his latest album, Science Fiction, sound-wise his voice is as strong as ever, the band are tight and to see a first support who gets the crowd on their feet and singing for his final track, Hold Me Now, is a rare.
Second on the bill is Belinda Carlisle, the southern Californian songstress. Is this woman really 60? She’s elfin, she’s bouncing around that stage like a teen and the clarity and power of her vocal delivery is a standout. Clad along with her band all in black as a nice counterpoint to Tom’s white all the hits are here; Circle in the Sand, Leave a Light on and, of course, Heaven is a Place on Earth and like Tom before her the crowd yell for more but alas she leaves the stage.
Now we are here for the main event and event is the correct word. The entrance of Culture Club onto the stage is perhaps one of the most amazing marriages of music and visuals I have seen for a long time. God & Love from their new album, Life, starts in an almost NASA countdown style. A cosmic backdrop of visuals reminiscent of the steampunk Dr Who opening titles and encompassing Judaic, Christian, Hindi and Buddhist symbols play out interspersed with images of George himself and a vocal overlay of what sounds like a variation on the Islamic call to prayer.
To call it stunning is not enough. It is perfect. First Mikey Craig and then Roy Hay appear treating us to short guitar solos. Then arrives the outline of a cloaked Boy George himself to the roar of the crowd, a cross between a high priest of pop and a ringmaster launching into God & Love. No time to breathe and onto It’s a Miracle with visuals on the stage reflecting the very iconic video for the song – a Brit! A Grammy! The screen declares “collect 250 points”…. Only 250? The rest of the concert is a tour de force of what made the band the behemoth it was – Time, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me and Victims along with songs from the new album Let Somebody Love You and Runaway Train – showing that they have lost none of their swagger and song writing kudos. It is also a testament to George that unlike a lot of groups he ensures that the backing singers have their moment of glory joining him en masse for Different Man.
Troubles and tantrums are touched upon but no more and from his interaction with the crowd and his fellow band members Boy George comes across as a hint of cheeky chappie along with somebody who has been through more than most and come out of the other side wiser and more at peace with himself. He even admits to liking a bit of Morrissey “Who doesn’t love somebody with an axe to grind?” he asks the cheering crowd. “It makes a change that it’s not me”……
Last song of the main set is Church of the Poison Mind but wait, what is that we hear? I’m Your Man sings George and in a very touching tribute to the George we lost the band give an excellent version of Wham’s 1986 hit. George Michael would be loving this. Then they’re off….not quite…. They haven’t done Karma Chameleon and after short interlude they’re back. But not straight into the omnipresent hit. No, first of all we are treated to George’s conversion to stardom when he saw David Bowie and so he sings Let’s Dance. The crowd oblige. Then of course glam rock. The King of glam rock? T-Rex so naturally Get it On has to be sung. George sings these with so much passion and energy it’s hard to believe it’s the end of the set and the wave of energy carries the crowd all the way to Karma Chameleon. Then that’s your lot. The men wearing the bowler hats with dreadlocks attached, the women in their sparkly dresses and the just plain bedazzled by the spectacle leave. It’s been 20 years since we saw them tour in 1998 after the cancellation of a 2014 tour due to ill health and since their last studio album. Let’s hope they don’t leave it so long again; George said music is about hope, about love. We need that now.