Culture Club Brings Good Karma, No Chameleon, To Rocksino

August 9th, 2018

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Iconoclastic New Wave rockers Culture Club brought their The Life tour to Northfield's Hard Rock Rocksino last night.  Known for outlandish kabuki makeup, pirate outfits, and a glam take on the world around him, frontman Boy George (born George O'Dowd) didn't disappoint.

Forming in London in the early 1980s, the Irish O'Dowd gained the attention of the media for his outlandish attire, androgynous looks, and the ability to counter his critics with stinging rebuttals. The band, comprised of a multitude of ethnicities and religious backgrounds dubbed their nascent outfit "Culture Club." Their drummer, Jon Moss, was Jewish.  The guitarist, Roy Hay, sported a shock of yellow-blond hair, while their bass player Mikey Craig, was a black Englishman with Caribbean roots.

While the band was fairly controversial for the time, their music was not.  An ecelectic mix of British New Wave, reggae, and American R&B, a slight tinge of gospel was tucked in just for good measure.  Their 1982 debut album Kissing To Be Clever, gave us "Time (Clock of the Heart)" and "I'll Tumble 4 Ya." They were huge hits and catapaulted the band into the international spotlight.  Clearly, there was something more than just a kabuki-faced frontman within this outfit.  Their next drop, the massively-successful Colour By Numbers, featured "Church of the Poison Mind," Miss Me Blind" and "Karma Chameleon."

After a few more mildly-successful albums, the band quietly disbanded after some internal struggles within the outfit and George's highly-publicized battle with substance abuse.

It's difficult to estimate Culture Club's impact on the world.  Their frenzied rise to the top, highlighted by George's style and unique take on the world and, more importantly, his place in that world, would precipitate the burgeoning LGBTQ Rights movement.  A true trendsetter, O'Dowd and his band were (and are) a hugely important contributor towards the acceptance of LGBTQ artists and, moreso,  to normal "everyday" people within the public's eye.

The band has recently reunited and, after a several-year hiatus, launched their first full-fledged tour.  An album, tentatively scheduled for release in 2016, will finally be released this October. Titled Life, it's a revamped version of an album that they've been working on for a number of years.

Last night's concert, surrounded by his original comrades-in-arms, the singer held court amongst a near-capacity crowd of acolytes, getting their fix of early '80s British pop.  While surrounded by a cadre of musicians, twelve members total, punctuated by a bee-bopping harmonica player that came out late in the game, Boy George appeared to be having a great time on the stage.  Starting the show with a Bowie cover, a fitting tribute to another British icon who kick started several trends himself, the band lit into a raucous cover of the 1983 hit, "Let's Dance."


Quipping early in the show, George said that he had just seen a Cyndi Lauper/Rod Stewart co-headlining show in New York City the previous night.  In a nod to Stewart's talents (or perhaps it was something else? The beauty of his double entendres peppered the evening), George said that, "I want to be Rod Stewart. We all need a little Rod in our lives."  
 

While not as outlandishly-dressed as he was in their halcyon days, George wore a stylish top hat, thick eyeliner and a black waistcoat that matched his tightly-cropped beard.  Taking the stage to the cheers of onlookers, the whole band smiled in unison. Their fifteen-song set was littered with Culture Club hits, a few covers, and a sampling of newer tunes that haven't received as much airplay.  After offering "Human Zoo," a mid-set track from their forthcoming album, George reminded us that "A new song is a friend that you haven't embraced yet."   

The band played all the tunes you'd expect to hear, offering "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" early in the mix, with "Time" right on its heels. Of course, "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" got a huge reaction from the crowd, as did "Miss Me Blind" and "Church of the Poison Mind," a trifecta of late set tunes.

About midway through the show, a cover of Bread's "Everything I Own" became a long anthem, punctuated by a Caribbean backbeat. It was a breath of fresh air, and a revisitation to a tune that George had covered during the late '80s, after his departure from Culture Club.

After spending almost forty years practicing their craft, Culture Club is one heck of a live band. Their backup players: four female accompanying voices, a second percussionist, rhythm guitarist, sax player, and keyboardist, are phenomenal musicians.  George's voice is in fine form and the attire that was so shockingly controversial thirty five years ago is, thankfully, now somewhat quaint. 

Just as it should be.

 

After seeing a bevy of revelers dancing in the aisles, George remarked that, "You have to dance like no one's watching...because they're probably watching us." 

It perfectly summed up the night.  O'Dowd knows that he holds court over the crowd, and roughly two thousand people proved him right, as they were on their collective feet from the first strains of "Let's Dance" all the way through the closing harmonies of "Karma Chameleon," the show's encore tune.

 

Review by Brian M. Lumley
 

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