Friday, May 2, 2014

Boy George concert review: The Mayan, Los Angeles

Boy George concluded a brief North American tour in support of his latest album This is What I Do on Wednesday at The Mayan in downtown Los Angeles.

While listening to fans chat before show time, I immediately thought of the chorus from an old Culture Club hit: “I know you’ll miss me blind.”

Longtime enthusiasts had plenty of reasons to be excited. These dates marked the singer’s first U.S. appearances since his famous band played here in 2000 (a solo tour in ‘08 was scuttled due to problems obtaining a work visa in the States).

Making it clear that he’s all about the here and now, George opened the two-hour-plus concert with a slinky “Feel the Vibration.” It was the initial taste of a dozen selections off This is What I Do (1995’s Cheapness and Beauty was the last all new studio effort).

The songs are often very personal in nature. Some delve into spirituality (no surprise to those following George’s solo career through the years). Musically, they revolve around lovers rock/dub reggae, classic R&B and George projects a husky, mature vocal tone.

All were either co-written by frequent collaborators Richie Stevens (Culture Club) and John Themis, as well as Culture Club bandmate Mikey Craig and esteemed producer/musician Youth (The Fireman, The Orb, U2).  Stevens served as producer. The latter was on hand at the Mayan to play live drums; Themis handled guitar.

Sporting a red hat and tasteful dark attire, the Brit looked svelte in his second sold out LA club show of the week. His tight eight-piece group included a three-man horn section. The set was front-loaded with new material. Fans unfamiliar with it didn’t seem to mind too much and provided rapturous responses. One guy even turned to me and said, “this is better than I expected.” There was a lot of chatter though.

Still mischievous at age 52, George introduced “Play Me” as the start of the concert’s “dirty section” and wiggled his backside toward the audience. A snazzy “Bigger than War” saw the singer name check the Beatles and Yoko Ono and flash a peace sign. He covered her 1973 tune “Death of Samantha” in luxurious fashion.

Nine songs in, George did another single from that year - a fine cover of the late Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love.” Afterward he quipped, “if you’re under 25, that was an educational moment.”

Before the acoustic-based folk gem “”It’s Easy,” the singer apparently spotted someone dressed fabulously in the crowd (there were quite a few) and joked, “I used to be a woman just like you.” After an admirer presented a mini-Oscar statuette, George mock thanked the academy (too bad he didn't actually get one for "The Crying Game") then went into the old school R&B of Barbara Lynn’s hit “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” and stretched the ‘ol vocal pipes.

Once the musicians finally kicked into Culture Club’s “Church of the Poisoned Mind” in a faster-than-usual tempo, the electricity level elevated a few notches when George and Zee Asha really dug into some soulful inflections. 

“Any anxiety you have about the ‘80s – get over it,” directed O’Dowd. “This song started my love affair with the planet,” he continued, and the musicians started “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” The extended intro featured jazzy trumpet flourishes, and the band played at a more relaxed pace.

Come encore time, George’s UK chart topping cover of Bread’s “Everything I Own” from 1987 was a highlight, as was the countrified “Karma Chameleon,” accompanied by Themis on acoustic guitar.

It segued into a mildly rocking take on T-Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get it on),” bolstered by punchy horns and George brought plenty of swagger. The Hare Krishna-influenced dance tune “Bow Down Mister” (recorded under the guide of Jesus Loves You in ‘91) was pure joy. George chanted and the entire band pogoed along with the audience.

Backed by only acoustic guitar, George’s tender version of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” was simply breathtaking. The same held for dramatic Culture Club ballad “Victims,” done with piano.

All told, it was great to see the Boy back in business.  

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