|photo by Armando Brown|
"It's a miracle we're all here," admitted Boy George, early in Culture Club's spirited Greek Theatre show on Thursday. Indeed, the singer's career became a cautionary tale about what the self-indulgent Eighties wrought.
Emerging during the early part of that decade, the London band's unique blend of pop, soul and reggae, plus an androgynous, unpredictable front man resulted in a half dozen top 10 singles, platinum albums and a Grammy Award over a short time. The quartet broke up amid George's drugs and legal problems, then resurfaced in the late '90s with an underrated studio CD and tour before going their separate ways again in 2003.
Now the guys are back, healthy and highly visible, thanks to appearances on "Today," "Conan," "American Idol" and elsewhere. George was honored with the U.K.'s prestigious Ivor Novello Award. Last month, he joined Mark Ronson onstage at England's Glastonbury Festival to a rousing response and will be the subject of a new reality series.
The Greek gig, part of Culture Club's first American tour in 15 years, proved they're not all about nostalgia. Six new tracks were nestled into the 20-song, 105-minute set. All should appear on forthcoming reunion album "Tribes," scheduled for release next year (pre-order at www.pledgemusic.com).
Although George made the media and concert rounds with his 2013 solo album, some fans in LA still might have been surprised at his now-huskier baritone voice. It took a few songs to get warmed up, but the female backing vocal trio rounded everything off nicely. The four original band members were bolstered by seven other musicians (including a horn section) onstage to provide a robust sound.
"I've dressed down," joked George, while sporting a large twisty black hat and tasteful attire. Fans provided plenty of vibrancy. Before showtime, one guy outside the venue's gates sat on a horse in a "Cow Boy George" jacket and Western chaps. Others paid homage with gladiator outfits, colorful hair extensions, Devo energy domes, BOY hats, etc.
|photo by Armando Brown|
Some amusing '80s Culture Club clips served as an introduction before Jon Moss started the exuberant, Motown-styled "Church of the Poisoned Mind" and guitarist Roy Hay got everyone clapping along. The brass really shined here and during the Latin-tinged "I'll Tumble 4 Ya," with the band's old music videos projected on a screen.
"Let Somebody Love You," the initial new song, proved promising with its loping reggae rhythm and George toasting about being "a poet in New York City." A similar relaxed groove enveloped the cover of Bread's "Everything I Own" (although George's solo version topped the UK charts in '87, several fans seemed pleasantly surprised). The practicing Buddhist singer prefaced that song with his own proverb: "The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom. If you take a wrong turn, it can get messy. I'm here to preach that."
The musicians really got a chance to stretch out during funky new one "Like I Used To." Culture Club's last U.S. hit from '86, "Move Away," was sublime as ever, but received blank stares in my section. A supremely soulful "Black Money" benefitted from George's burnished, world weary tone and vocal sparring with longtime tour foil Zee Asha.
Requesting quiet on the tender ballad "Victims," George just sang alongside Hay on piano until the others joined in for the dramatic crescendo. (On a personal note, the song was just as stunning as the first time I saw them do it live 30 years ago at the Pacific Amphitheatre - my third concert ever). The luxurious hit "Time (Clock of the Heart)" was another set highlight.
"I never really left the '70s," said George, before sumptuous new tune "Different Man," musically and lyrically inspired by Sly Stone. As an old "Soul Train" clip projected, he really got down vocally with the ladies. All fans were up and dancing a storm during a feisty "Miss Me Blind," elevated by Hay's guitar solo. George added a new toast and patois vocal to the laid back reggae of "I Just Wanna Be Loved" (a U.K. top 5 hit from '98).
George's own successful title track to "The Crying Game" went down a storm; the band nailed its dark elegance. The same response expectedly greeted "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" New folk stomper "The Truth is a Runaway Train," inspired by Johnny Cash, was definitely a winner.
Come encore time, George changed into a glittery gold chandelier hat for a fun "Karma Chameleon," which was a big crowd singalong (the harmonica was too low in the mix though). Then a mass exodus ensued. Those fans missed the soaring latest single "More Than Silence," resplendent with George's smoldering vocal and an obviosly happy Hay's rocking guitar work and glorious take on David Bowie's "Starman."
The band was joined on it by surprise special guest Jack Black, who performed The Doors' "Hello, I Love You" with George and Robby Krieger on the Conan show earlier this month.
"We'll be back," George said. Let's hope so.
A different version of my review originally appeared at ocregister.com