Monday, May 13, 2019

China Crisis concert review: Riverside, Calif.

photo: George A. Paul
The first time I caught China Crisis in concert was September 2014 at the Greek Theatre in LA, when it made a rare U.S. live appearance during the Retro Futura Tour alongside Howard Jones, Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey, Midge Ure and others

That was just a short "opening act" set though. The veteran Liverpool band - founding lead singer Gary Daly and guitarist Eddie Lundon, plus a tour keyboardist and a saxophonist - returned to Southern California last Friday at Romano's Concert Lounge and did a far more fulfilling 90-minute performance.

Although the venue wasn't filled, some followers in attendance traveled from afar. A quick survey by Daly revealed various people came from nearby states (possibly to attend the following day's Like Totally '80s festival, which China Crisis was scheduled to play before an abrupt cancellation) and other distant locations. Several British fans made their presence known as well.

During China Crisis' Eighties heyday, the sophisticated synth-pop band placed five top 40 singles and three successful albums on the U.K. charts. Stateside, it had more of a cult following and a minor hit on Billboard's Dance Club chart in "Working with Fire and Steel." More recently, Daly and Lundon used crowdfunding platform PledgeMusic to release Autumn in the Neighbourhood - the first China Crisis studio album in 20 years.

Billowy synth sounds and a fresh sax intro on "The Soul Awakening" launched the impressive 16-song Riverside concert. The distinctly new wave-sounding wash of synth amid "Temptation's Big Blue Eyes" (the first of five tracks from 1982 debut album Difficult Shapes and Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It's Fun to Entertain) and the experimental "Feel to be Driven Away" mined similar sonic territory as the Human League and Talking Heads. Those were two acts Daly said the band was trying to one-up at the time.

Before China Crisis enthralled fans with the luxurious textures of "Bigger the Punch I'm Feeling," Daly told an interesting story about how Steely Dan's Walter Becker came to produce the most successful album by China Crisis, 1985's Flaunt the Imperfection (which I bought on cassette upon release and still own). The reggae-leaning "Strength of Character," another track from said album, boasted some supple sax work and was an early standout.

A gorgeous Lundon-sung "Fool," the newest song, fit in well with the older material. First-ever single "African and White" proved infectious as ever. Another highlight was the ebullient vibe of "Arizona Sky," which Daly said was about touring America in the '80s (a less favorable anecdote revolved around serving as opener for Simple Minds back in the day). 

photo: George A. Paul
Nearing the end, China Crisis sounded strong on "King in a Catholic Style." After it ended, a woman brought a cake onstage to salute Daly's birthday for the band's social media and he took a good-natured swipe at Depeche Mode ("they might fill stadiums, but not people's hearts").

Ethereal UK hit "Christian" was memorable as Daly gestured while he sang. Finally, the band concluded with the dancey audience request "Working with Fire and Steel."  

Setlist: The Soul Awakening/Temptation's Big Blue Eyes/Feel to be Driven Away/Red Sails/Best Kept Secret/Bigger the Punch I'm Feeling/Strength of Character/Fool/African and White/Tragedy and Mystery/Arizona Sky/Black Man Ray/Wishful Thinking/King in a Catholic Style/Christian/Working with Fire and Steel

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