London’s Wembley Arena gets to host one night of the “Life” tour – plugging the band’s first studio album for almost two decades.
Fresh from a trek around the US, the 12-date UK leg kicked off last week in Nottingham. Ex-Thompson Twins member Tom Bailey opens the night’s proceedings, joined by an all-female band.
Delivering decent versions of his former band’s infectious hits “Doctor! Doctor!”, “Hold Me Now” and “You Take Me Up” from their hit 1983 fourth studio album “Into The Gap”.
Alongside the hits from yesteryear, also offering songs from his debut solo album “Science Fiction”, which dropped in the summer this year. A big sound and a super-tight band featuring the talents of Angie Pollock (Peter Gabriel/Goldfrapp) and Amanda Kramer (The Psychedelic Furs/Information Society), both on keyboards and vocals, and Emily Dolan Davies (Brian Ferry) on electronic drums.
US star Belinda Carlisle gets a loud welcome when she graces the stage, as the second warm-up act of the tour. A veteran international hit maker and artist, former lead singer of the Go-Gos, and a clutch of solo hits from the 80s and 90s, at 60-years-old she still has an on-point and powerful voice.
Her energy levels knock 30 years off of her age, as she dances across the big arena stage, interacting with the band and giving her tambourine some stick against her leg. The sparkling set features “Summer Rain” and “Leave A Light On” from her third album “Runaway Horses” in 1989, along with “Big Scary Animal” from the 1993 album “Real”.
Her fans and nostalgia hounds eagerly awaiting the biggie from her back catalogue, and somewhat of a signature song for her; the global smash hit “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”, from her second and best-selling album to date, 1987’s “Heaven On Earth”, were not disappointed. A guaranteed sing-along moment with her closing track. The sound quality for Belinda’s set added huge value and maintained that standard for the whole night.
So, now for the main reason we are all here tonight. The house lights go down, there’s mystical video footage with swirling images of space, and a blurred outline of a chap called Boy George lighting up the huge video screen.
Culture Club guitarist Roy Hay appears at the top of the stairs, part of the modern-look stage set, and slowly descends with guitar in hand. Followed by bassist Mikey Craig, and to even louder roars of excitement, Boy George appears and the band kick off with opening song “God And Love” from their new album “Life”.
As if we didn’t guess, Boy George reveals, “We are Culture Club”. But he doesn’t mention that one of the CC gang is missing, original drummer and George’s former lover Jon Moss. Replaced for this tour with no reason given and no mention of him at all tonight.
The hits “It’s A Miracle”, and “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” sound fabulous to whet our appetite. There’s light and shade in the set, highlighted by the magical moment George delivers the beautiful 1983 ballad “Victims”, value greatly added by Roy Hay playing piano. No hiding place for the exposed vocal, and that is just fine tonight.
“Are you good?”, George bellows, after a roaring response “Well get involved then,” he enthuses. New track “Different Man” from the current album, sees him sharing the spotlight with the four excellent backing vocalists, who join him at the front of the stage, each taking turns to showcase their vocal skills with short solo spots.
The fabulous hit “Church Of The Poison Mind” seamlessly segues in and out of Wham’s hit “I’m Your Man”, which triggered the 7,000 of us present (the venue holds 12,500), to stand and “get involved” as instructed. Lots of fist pumping and crowd sing-a-long, re-capturing the fun vibes of the 80s. The superb but simple lighting came into it’s own about now.
The final song of the main set, title track of “Life”, is accompanied by thousands of flashes from a sea of mobiles. The atmosphere in the arena by now is electric and to a man and a woman, everyone wants more, more, more. And we get it…
The band come back on for the cracking tribute to George’s boyhood hero and main influence, David Bowie; who an 11-year-old George O’Dowd first saw in concert in London. Tonight, he chooses the Nile Rodgers’ produced Bowie hit “Let’s Dance”, and it sounds magnificent and full of soul and groove.
The kick drum eggs on the collective stamping of many feet to the second encore offering, the T. Rex hit “Get It On”, paying homage to another of George’s inspirations, Marc Bolan.
The harmonica player in the large band on stage, complete with backing singers and sax’ player augmenting the three-piece Culture Club line-up, steps forward to kick off the very last song of the night. It’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, seemingly still as popular as it was back in 1986 when it got to number one in the US and UK chart. “Karma Chameleon, of course.
Tonight and every night on this much anticipated tour, we step into a time capsule to revel in nostalgia and enjoy an array of great past hits, but also treated to excellent current material from BG and CC.
The success or not of the entire 90 minute set, pretty much hinges on the vocal strength – a deeper, huskier and slightly more vibrato-soaked voice today, but he’s still got “it” – and larger than life showmanship from the one-off character that is 57-year-old Boy George.
George, Roy, Mikey and their dozen talented musical mates – but most of all, those timeless songs; an integral part of many people’s life’s soundtrack – feed a hunger and generate a rarified-atmosphere that delivered far more than my expectations tonight, I have to be honest.
The Boy is well and truly back and let’s hope he sticks around…We like outrageous. Not enough of it about!
Words: Chloe Lauren