If you lived in the 1980s, as practically everyone at last night’s Smart Financial Centre show featuring Boy George and Culture Club did, you might look back on the era with some remorse. You may occasionally cringe at photos of yourself in parachute pants. What compelled you to religiously record every episode of A.L.F. on VHS? Perhaps, you’ve even second-guessed your taste in music from that decade.
What are you, a spaz? None other than Boy George thinks you should cut yourself some slack.
“Now I imagine everybody in this room at some point has recovered from something, whether it’s something monumental or just a really bad outfit. After all, anyone that grew up in the ‘80s would know about leggings,” he said to knowing laughter between songs. “Although, I always feel like never regret anything you’ve worn. Never regret how big you had your hair.”
No regrets for being who you were, the person who was instrumental in becoming who you are today, is what George was saying. If anyone in the packed house was having such thoughts, they were abandoned long before Culture Club hit the stage. Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey opened the show and the B-52s bridged the two acts. The whole night was an unabashed dance party throwback to a time when MTV aired music videos and we believed that it was true, we’d make a brighter day, just you and me.
Thompson Twins was a staple of Martha Quinn-era MTV and Tom Bailey was lead vocalist for the band during its heyday. The band was a trio then and its members fell away over time, but Bailey is touring as a solo act and even has a new album titled Science Fiction. He kicked things off with a half-hour set which included"What Kind of World," from the new album and the most familiar hits of the Twins’ peak – fan favorites like “Lies” and “Lay Your Hands on Me.” Dressed in white, with a shock of hair to match and backed by a young, all-woman band, Bailey’s voice was in good form. He closed with two of the band’s best-loved tunes, “Doctor! Doctor!” and “Hold Me Now,” which provided the first of many audience sing-a-longs on the night.
After an intermission, B-52s made things delightfully weird with a video intro spanning the band’s 40 years together. While younger versions of themselves flickered overhead, Fred, Kate and Cindy took their places and opened with “Planet Claire.” I didn’t catch the exact quote, but front man Fred Schneider challenged the audience to tear back the curtains of time and hope someone could stitch it back together.
Schneider and his band mates, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, were the needle and thread for the job. They wove together a twelve-song set that was designed to get people up and out of seats. “Private Idaho” was a stop on the set list, about midway through. Schneider took a breather and the ladies sang “52 Girls” and “Roam,” the latter of which turned the crowd from dancers to choir. They closed a fun set with “Love Shack” – which morphed into War’s “Low Rider” momentarily, just before everyone’s tin roof rusted – and “Rock Lobster.” The last two minutes of that last song – with animated stingray and jellyfish sounds, swirling guitars and Pierson hitting crazy high notes – are worth seeing live anywhere, anytime.
The openers didn’t waste much stage time bantering with the audience, so Boy George served as orator for the whole gang. He was chatty and charming, moving from the ridiculous (“Facebook followers and Instagram followers are like Monopoly money – they don’t mean anything. If they did, Justin Bieber would be the Pope”) to the sublime (“Remember one thing: everybody deserves to be happy. That is why we are here, plain and simple.”). He also made a comment that might have been a sweeping summation of how Bailey or the B-52s felt about playing the tried-and-true hits night after night.
“Honestly, I get asked a lot, ‘How do you feel singing those old songs?’ And I always say, ‘I love that song because it paid for my house.’”
He came to do more than crack wise, of course, and let’s just get it out of the way, Boy George can sing. Always could and still can. Maybe in a deeper octave these days, but the man just works a note over like it owes him money. Maybe you haven’t heard Culture Club in a while. Go back and listen. Boy George describes the act as “a soul-funk-punk-reggae combo,” and they do genre-jump onstage. “Let Somebody Love You” was a highlight, a dancehall ready reggae tune that showcased the band’s chops. Mikey Craig, Roy Hay and Jon Moss are all still along for the ride and they sound splendid. The crowd went wild at every mention of Culture Club’s monster hit album Colour By Numbers, but less popular tracks like a gospel-tinged tune called “You Give Me Life” and covers of David Bowie and Robert Palmer classics were well-received, too.
“If you stayed this long, you’re fucking hardcore,” George told the crowd, which erupted in a solid ten seconds of wild cheering. “That means you’re here for all the right reasons.”
What were the reasons? Mostly, to hear great songs performed by beloved acts. But maybe, as Boy George mentioned, to revisit an era and fully embrace it.
“It’s so interesting when you offer to take people backward, they’re very excited,” George said when he mentioned going back to 1982 for the band’s breakthrough hit, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”
“It’s a funny thing because obviously, you know, being a band who are accused of coming from the ‘80s, people say, ‘Thank you for the ‘80s, like it was my entirely my fault.’ What about Cyndi Lauper? What about Roy Hay? What about Madonna?! Michael Jackson?!! It goes on and on.”
It goes on and on, indeed. There’s no shame in that.
Personal Bias: Boy George, because my late brother-in-law was one of Houston’s original Boy George impersonators (yes, that was a thing once). He was so good he earned a trip to perform on the 1980s syndicated TV show, Puttin' on the Hits. But, also, B-52s. I have always loved them and more so now because my daughter-in-law-to-be loves them, too. We all saw them together when B-52s played a New Year’s Eve show downtown a few years ago. Music brings families together, people.
The Crowd: The kids who threw the cool house parties back in the ‘80s. Only older, with their own houses now.
Random Notebook Dump: Thanks to my new friends Sean and Charles, who danced with aplomb, particularly during Culture Club’s set, and who bought me a shot of Patrón to toast wonderful days gone by. Tasted sweet, fellas. ¡Salud!
Tom Bailey Set List
Love on Your Side
What Kind of World?
You Take Me Up
Lay Your Hands On Me
If You Were Here
Hold Me Now
B-52s Set List
Eyes Wide Open
Party Out of Bounds
Give Me Back My Man
Culture Club Set List
Let’s Dance (David Bowie cover)
It’s a Miracle
I’ll Tumble 4 Ya
Let Somebody Love You
Time (Clock of the Heart)
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?
The Truth is a Runaway Train
Miss Me Blind
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Church of the Poison Mind
You Give Me Life
Addicted to Love (Robert Palmer cover)