Sunday, July 24, 2011

INXS/Bow Wow Wow concert review

Photo by Lon Cayeway, courtesy
My review originally appeared at

It takes mighty big shoes to fill the role Michael Hutchence served for 20 years with INXS. The singer was one of the most charismatic and sensual performers to emerge from the new wave era before his untimely death in 1997.
After winning the television reality series “Rock Star: INXS” in 2005, the brash JD Fortune (pictured, left) assumed that lead position and teamed up with the veteran Aussie band for a solid studio album (Switch) and world tour.
I caught them live together in January ‘06 at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, where Fortune was erratic, seemed unhealthy and the concert definitely suffered as a result.
Three years later, he left INXS (the reason was a dismissal or completed contractual obligations, depending on who you asked; the vocalist later admitted to having a drug problem).    
Without a regular voice for the music, the five original members of INXS started work on Original Sin, named after their 1984 single. The ambitious concept album, released domestically this past spring on Rhino Records, finds the group re-imagining their past hits and deep album cuts with a truly international flair.
Contributors hail from America, Canada, England, Australia, France, Cuba and Argentina. Ben Harper, Train’s Pat Monahan, Tricky, Rob Thomas - and yes, even Fortune - are among the more prominent singers (others, such as Brandon Flowers, didn’t make the final cut).
The Matchbox 20 leader’s interpretation of the title track was combined with Spanish lyrics by DJ Yalediys. A remix topped Billboard’s Dance Club Play tally – the highest INXS chart placing here since 1990.   
Now older and wiser, Fortune, 37, is back on tour with INXS. What a difference five years makes. Looking trim, fit, focused and oozing raw sexuality at The Wiltern (a woman standing in front of me concurred in a text), he definitely came off as a worthy successor to Hutchence.
“Drum Opera” opened the 95-minute set. A percussive instrumental by the band’s three Farriss brothers, it was the first of seven Original Sin tracks played. Seamlessly transitioning into “Suicide Blonde,” Andrew Farriss elevated the stomping blues/rock sound with feisty harmonica work.
Clad in sunglasses, a captain’s hat and tight, skinny jeans, Fortune slowly slinked onstage and immediately saluted everyone. The rest of the band looked sharp in matching suits.
Although a poor sound mix tended to bury Fortune’s voice and the group’s funky rock grooves, “Devil Inside” was still appropriately fiery. Many people in the large Los Angeles crowd – both young and older ones around the founding members’ fiftysomething age range - danced up a storm.
Two female backing vocalists appeared during “The Stairs.” Fortune was soulful, Kirk Pengilly did some tasty slide guitar licks and Andrew Farriss added swelling orchestral keyboards. Full-bodied vocals and taut rhythms really made “Listen Like Thieves” swing.
The elder musicians basically stuck to their stage spots, but the younger singer made a point of connecting with each guy, whether it was straightening their ties or placing an arm around them. Fortune spent a bit too much time facing away from the audience, but really seemed immersed in the songs. He brought to mind Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan while punctuating lyrics with yelps.
Despite INXS being in L.A., none of the Original Sin collaborators turned up at the Wiltern (Monahan was down in Chula Vista with Train and Maroon 5). Yet an awkward surprise did find Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Renner onstage to sing a verse of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” play keyboards and shake maracas during a forceful “Pretty Vegas.” The few minutes getting him set up seemed to last an eternity. 
A newly acoustic, ethereal “Don’t Change” worked well with Andrew and Pengilly on rare dual lead vocals and guitar/clarinet, respectively. On the other hand, a slow, folksy “New Sensation,” with one of the female backing singers front and center, did not.
Lyrics to “Mediate” (oddly slotted before its recorded Kick antecedent “Need You Tonight”) were flashed on the bright LED backdrop as Tricky’s recitation played. Then, injecting some humor into the night, some members of INXS reappeared in different hats and outfits (Andrew looked like a Spanish monk; guitarist Tim, a motorcyclist) to finish the song.
Later, “What You Need” was a high intensity workout and Pengilly’s exuberant sax solo made it soar. Later, Fortune’s emotional deliveries on “Never Tear Us Apart” and “By My Side” were highlights of the evening. The familiar arrangement of “Don’t Change” – a regular concert closer since the early INXS days, capped the show off on an exhilarating note. (Bassist Garry Gary Beers was flying even higher: his wife went into labor with twins during the show and left for Cedar-Sinai Medical Center after they left the stage.)

English new wave act Bow Wow Wow was a strange choice to open for INXS. A late ‘90s reunion found them touring sporadically over the next decade - frequently with No Doubt’s Adrian Young on drums - before going quiet again and promises of new material left unfulfilled.
At the Wiltern, founding singer Annabella Lwin and bassist Leigh Gorman, plus two other musicians, turned in a satisfactory 35-minute set.
Wearing a red-fringed dress, black boots and feathers in her pulled back hair, Burma native Lwin remained an eternal cheerleader on the silly, but infectious tunes she initially recorded as a teenager in the early ‘80s (“W.O.R.K.,” “See Jungle!,” “Go Wild in the Country”). Playful and fun, she traded chants with Gorman as their drummer played Burundi-influenced beats. Despite a lack of much needed backing harmony assistance and clipped lyrics, the best known tunes (“I Want Candy,” “Do You Wanna Hold Me?”) still came across well.
Setlist: INXS, Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles, July 22, 2011
Main set: Drum Opera/Suicide Blonde/Devil Inside/The Stairs-Original Sin version/Listen Like Thieves/Kiss the Dirt/Pretty Vegas/Bitter Tears/Mystify/Don’t Change-Original Sin version/New Sensation-Original Sin version/Beautiful Girl-Original Sin version/Mediate-Original Sin version/Need You Tonight/Not Enough Time/Disappear/Taste It/Original Sin-Original Sin version/What You Need/Never Tear Us Apart
Encore: By My Side/New Sensation/Don’t Change

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