August 5, 2016
Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie
Grand Prairie, TX USA
Review by David N. Lindsey
Photos by Will Crews
Party At The Theatre
It's easy to dismiss Boy George and Culture Club as a band of style over substance, a product of the early 1980's MTV era. But you would be wrong. Over the course of their 17 songs played at Verizon Theater last Friday night, they proved otherwise. The set list was packed with more hits than I could remember, songs that have stood the test of time amazingly. Played by a band that covers a wide range of musical styles with ease, Culture Club had the crowd in the palm of their hand before they even hit the stage, and the entire show had the feeling of a great party.
Opening act Groves played an agreeable guitar synth pop style set. A guitar/drum/bass trio they managed to have a very full sound. They dressed like Eddie & the Cruisers but the sound is dreamy guitar meets synth pop. The vocals were reminiscent of Green Gartside of Scritti Politti. Sound was like early Depeche Mode but with shimmering guitar. Despite their brief 30 minute set, they were well worth coming early to see.
Culture Club opened with a short film with clips of their 80s Heyday, less than 3 minutes in length, but it had the crowd singing along before the band had even hit the stage. The original 4 man lineup was augmented by a horn section, backing vocalist and others, over a dozen people onstage. The wide variety of musical styles this band covered over the course of the show is staggering. From the opening Motown stomp of "Church Of The Poison Mind" to the calypso groove of "It's A Miracle" to the blissed out funk of "Like I Used To," this is a band that is very adept at shifting musical gears, and does it well. The fans wanted to hear the hits and they obliged. Classic hits such as "I'll Tumble For You" and "Move Away" had the entire place dancing. Even when they went outside their top 40 play-book, the fun never stopped. "Human Zoo," a newer song, fit in seamlessly as did a funky reggae style rave up of bread's, "Everything I Own."
Then there is Boy George himself. Emerging in a turquoise teddy boy style suit and gigantic hat, the first of 3 outfits, all equally flamboyant in their own way. There was a lot of concern as soon as he began to sing, as his majestic tenor has deepened and taken on a rough edge. But, by the third number the audience had gotten used to and it wasn't an issue. The three back up singers, Dee Dee Foster being one of them, helped in this regard, and indeed all three took a turn in the spotlight to great effect. The new huskier Boy George voice is still recognizable as his and on some songs it is better suited. On the exquisite ballad "Victims," the recorded version is more Dusty Springfield, but at the show Friday night, George sounded more Bill Withers, weary and heartfelt.
George is a charismatic front-man of the highest level, with some of the best stage banter I've ever heard. During an offstage costume change you heard him say "Wardrobe malfunction, my bra strap broke!." The guy is really witty, as when describing songs in their set list as "familiar battle hymns."
Introducing his solo hit "The Crying Game" as "a song from a movie, no, not Gone With The Wind, not Rocky, and not Jaws 1 or 2." He interacted well with individual members of the audience. Usually when a performer does that most of the audience rolls their eyes back in their heads, but George did it in a way the entire crowd was in on the joke. Describing the inspiration behind "Different Man," George mentioned Sly Stone "from Denton,Texas!" (a true fact) and an interview with him where he stated "I've had regrets, I just can't think of any right now" as what inspired the song. "We are all here for the music... and my hat" was just one of many flat out funny things said during the show.
The other three core members of the band are no mere sidemen. Roy Hay's Chic-style guitar jangle propelled "Miss Me Blind" until the break where he tore into a guitar solo that would not be out of place on a Neil Young & Crazy Horse Lp. Mikey Craig bass lines went from reggae style dub to Motown grooves flawlessly. Jon Moss is a solid drummer who's unique poly-rhythms are one of the bedrocks of the Culture Club sound.
After a rousing 'War Song' the band left the stage. Only to return for the epic "Karma Chameleon," which they followed with a cover of T. Rex's glam rock classic "Bang a Gong (Get it On)." Only here, crossing the finish line did the band falter. The power of the songs guitar crunch loses something when it is played by a horn section. It just fell a little flat, turning it into an extended jam, and introducing everyone onstage (for the second time of the night) was pointless. But one bum note in an otherwise flawless set is not something to quibble about. Culture Club are truly a great live band, and a with a batch of classic songs that hold up well, that know how to put on a great show.