Quick, what’s a good name for a group with a Jamaican / Briton bassist, ethnic Englishman guitarist, Jewish drummer, and cross-dressing singer?
How about Culture Club?
In the ‘80s people weren’t too sure about openly professing their love for Boy George O’Dowd and his pop-soul combo. George looked different. He was flamboyant, sported pirate and gypsy attire, and wore lots of makeup.
Even more mascara than the heavy metal dudes…or your sister.
By the late ‘80s and early ‘90s George’s star had diminished, due in no small part to his substance abuse issues (and concomitant passport problems) and shifts in musical tastes. But in grunge’s gloomy wake people began to realize just how much they missed Culture Club’s light, Technicolor dance-pop, and how little they cared about how much eyeliner he (or anyone else) applied during their morning mirror.
Today it’s okay to admit you loved (and love) George’s band. Alongside Michael Jackson, Madonna, Duran Duran, and a host of New Wave / Romantic artists, Culture Club helped define one of music’s most memorable eras—a bubbly, less brooding age wherein an act could score a Top Ten hit with a song about a girlfriend’s phone number (Tommy Tutone’s “Jenny 867-5309”), a sexually-charged ode to exercise (Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”), or cantos about other continents (Toto’s “Africa”). Nowadays it’s practically taboo to profess one’s love in song, or to express any modicum of satisfaction or joy in anything at all, lest one dilute the trendy tidal wave of vitriolic nu-metal and vocoder-slathered computer pop.
George—the gender-bending, fashion-savvy singer who danced his way into the zeitgeist in his funny hats, fingerless gloves, and flowing jackets on MTV—is a gay icon in 2018. And it’s finally kosher to think he’s cool for having carried David Bowie’s androgynous torch for the Jordache generation, and that Culture Club was responsible for some catchy, enduring songs.
George and the band revisited those breezy old hits last night (Aug. 8) at the Hard Rock in Northfield, Ohio. Here are five reasons to catch the Club in concert in your town.
1. Boy George is funny as hell.
George (who guested on The Voice UK and Celebrity Apprentice) was in terrific spirits in Ohio. Perhaps that was because he saw Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper at Madison Square Garden the night before.
“I don’t get too many concerts because of work,” he reported. “But we all need a little Rod in our lives!”
The singer (whose voice is only slightly huskier than it was in his early 20s) delivered other cheeky punchlines, too (“Every show is like a one-night stand!”). But mostly goateed George (in black hat and jacket with gold accessories) called upon the Rocksino audience to get involved—whether it be by dancing to the Kissing to Be Clever (1982) hits, singing along with the Colour by Numbers (1983) smashes, or just shuffling in one’s seat to the raga rhythms.
“You can still do a lot of damage on your bum,” he said.
“Dance like no one’s watching and dress like every day is Halloween!”
2. It’s the hits, silly.
Culture Club has more hits up their sleeves than you probably remember. Early entries “It’s a Miracle” and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” brought the audience to its feet immediately, and most fans kept swinging and swaying throughout the decidedly soulful, R&B-charged set.
“We all listened to the American bands while growing up,” explained George.
Among the acts cited as influences: The Stylistics, Gladys Knight, and Sly & The Family Stone.
For many in attendance, this Culture Club concert was a first. So the band made damn sure they connected quickly and kept folks engaged by rendering their most memorable songs as faithfully and fervently as possible, notwithstanding a few in-concert embellishments.
You could hear elements of Motown, doo-wop, calypso, gospel, and blues when the band busted into “Time (Clock of the Heart),” “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” “Different Man,” and “Church of the Poison Mind.” It was those organic ingredients that distinguished Culture Club from other so-called New Wave acts (many of whom relied on synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines for their sounds). Those natural vibes lent immediacy and impact to last night’s soiree, too.
3. They’ve got new songs, too.
George and the guys road-tested a few new tunes on their Life Tour stop, too. And those selections dovetailed so nicely with the ‘80s fare that you’d think the intervening decades never really happened and that Culture Club was merely picking up after 1986’s From Luxury to Heartache.
Which in essence is precisely what they’re doing.
“Love is revolution!” sang George on the island-seasoned digital single “Let Somebody Love You.”
Other fresh tracks included “Runaway Train,” “Human Zoo,” and encore number “You Give Me Life.”
4. The cover songs are choice.
The boys broke out a few inspired cover songs, too—one by a famous American folk group from the ‘70s, and two by a pair of deceased (but legendary) British vocalists. In fact, Culture Club kicked things off for Cleveland / Akron fans with the title track from David Bowie’s 1983 LP Let’s Dance, substituting a sweltering saxophone spot where Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sizzling guitar solo exists on record.
George scored a minor hit with a reggae version of Bread ballad “Everything I Own” in ’87, and the interpretation sounded just as buoyant in concert thirty-plus years on. Later, the band submitted an impressive, muscly take on Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love.”
5. The Culture Club musicians are sublime.
Joining guitarist Roy Hay, drummer Jon Moss, and bassist Mikey Craig were four frisky background singers (including George’s Voice protégé Vangelis Polydorou), a keyboardist, sax man, percussionist, and auxiliary guitarist. All told, there were a dozen players on the Rocksino stage at once—and the number jumped to 13 when a harmonica man appeared out of nowhere for “Church of the Poison Mind.”
Hay was solid on his Stratocaster guitar (with an enigmatic “Chicks Hate Me” sticker) and submitted a killer lead break during “Miss Me Blind.” Moss counted in the songs, maintained the momentum, and supplied a rhythmic backbone for Craig’s slinky, five-string Fender bass lines.