Friday, October 18, 2013

Simple Minds concert review: Los Angeles

My review originally appeared at 

Back in the ’80s, Jim Kerr was one of the most charismatic frontmen around.

From Live Aid to Freedom Fest (for Nelson Mandela), he and Scottish group Simple Minds captivated arena-filled audiences worldwide with grandiose anthems.

Initially emerging in the late ’70s post-punk era, the eclectic Glasgow band, which returned to Southern California for the first time in more than a decade this week, first gained attention here through dance clubs and college radio before breaking in a big way with 1985 chart-topper “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” from the John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club.

Soon after, Simple Minds’ most successful effort, Once Upon a Time, began an impressive U.S. run on rock stations that would continue well into the ’90s with subsequent titles. The group even played KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas concert in 1994.

They have enjoyed a far more gargantuan track record in Europe, where albums and tours have appeared on a regular basis. Last spring, Virgin Records released Celebrate, a new retrospective available in three configurations. The triple-disc, 50-track version, spanning from 1979 to now, is highly recommended for fans who don’t have all the albums.

Testament to the music’s enduring appeal is evidenced by Moby, the Horrors, Primal Scream and Manic Street Preachers all citing Simple Minds as an influence, while David Guetta and Nicki Minaj have paid tribute through sampling.

Tuesday night, Simple Minds opened their seven-date North American tour at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown L.A. to a hero’s welcome. It’s the first domestic jaunt since 2002, which included a gig at the Grove of Anaheim. Longtime enthusiasts were loud and stood for most of the two-hour show; a couple people even waved a Scottish flag.

When this tour was first announced, Kerr said that if fans didn’t turn out in full force, Simple Minds might not be able to persuade promoters that a return was worthwhile. The Orpheum was sold out, so future trips shouldn’t be out of the question.

Although Kerr, 54, told British newspaper The Guardian last year that he couldn’t be “the cheerleading man I became,” the singer still connected with the crowd here. He shook hands, crouched down to make eye contact and encouraged sing-along choruses at every opportunity.

Shrouded in smoke, Simple Minds began with the lush, vibrant new single “Broken Glass Park” and lyrics reminiscing about the past. Everyone cheered when Kerr got to the line “I was still wondering – do you remember me?”

Then Ged Grimes started a familiar rattling bass line and founding member Charlie Burchill added guitar squalls for a stratospheric “Waterfront.” Kerr sang “so far, so good” and was right on target.

Backing vocalist Sarah Brown got prime soulful spotlights on “All the Things She Said” and “Once Upon a Time” and did an admirable job during other selected songs (if only they could coax the incomparable Robin Clark back on tour).

The exciting rendition of “Up on the Catwalk,” bolstered by keyboardist Andy Gillespie’s watery sounds and longtime drummer Mel Gaynor providing circuitous beats, was the perfect example of Simple Minds’ inventiveness in relation to other new wave acts of that era.

“You didn’t get rid of us that easily – they didn’t get rid of Nelson Mandela, either,” Kerr said before the band launched the simmering atmospheric groove of “Mandela Day.” Carried by Burchill’s subtle slide work, all the musicians quieted down and the singer sang in a whisper at one point. Remarkable.

An up-tempo cover of the Call’s “Let the Day Begin” – Kerr called that group’s late vocalist Michael Been “a beautiful guy” – was the only misfire. A regal “Glittering Prize” was a standout and Simple Minds pumped up the dance element on first-set closer “New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84).”

Continuing in that vein was the Giorgio Moroder-meets-Devo feel of “I Travel.” The robotic “This Fear of Gods,” another selection from the 1980 album of (more or less) the same name, found Kerr putting reverb effect to good use. Sticking to that time period, both a joyous take on “The American” and the mechanical “Love Song” came across well.

The band’s vigorous, extended handling of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” energized the crowd even more, and Kerr gave a shout-out to the song’s writer and producer, Keith Forsey, who was in attendance.

Come encore time, ominous instrumental “Theme for Great Cities” was followed by a hearty, R&B-tinged “Sanctify Yourself,” for which Gaynor’s stomping beat and Brown’s vocals stood out.

Nearing the end, Simple Minds closed with “Alive and Kicking.” The song served as an unofficial mantra in L.A.: 35 years later, they’re still going strong. 

Setlist: Simple Minds at the Orpheum Theatre, Los Angeles, Oct. 15, 2013
First set: Broken Glass Park / Waterfront / Once Upon a Time > Up on the Catwalk / All the Things She Said / Mandela Day / Let the Day Begin (The Call cover) / Glittering Prize / New Gold Dream (81, 82, 84, 84) 
Second set: I Travel / Someone Somewhere in Summertime / This Fear of Gods / She's a River / Hypnotized / The American / Love Song / See the Lights / Don't You (Forget About Me) / Promised You a Miracle 
Encore: Theme for Great Cities / Sanctify Yourself / Alive and Kicking 

Photos by Armando Brown 

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