Culture Club, Howard Jones, Berlin
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 11, 2023
To "let it go" can mean anything from moving past personal conflicts to abandoning old habits and looking to the future. For last night's "Letting It Go" tour at the Woodlands, it truly meant something different for each act.
All three bands were fixtures of the early days of MTV (insert "when they used to play videos" crack here), though none so much as Culture Club. Boy George's androgynous presence — along with Terri Nunn's aloof sexuality and Howard Jones's ... hair — was quite the eye-opener for a kid growing up in Central Texas.
Now that kid is (literally) Middle-Aged Man, watching these '80s stalwarts running through an impressive array of hits and covers in the steamy (Boy George's word) confines of the Woodlands Pavilion. Each set was just about the perfect length for each act, highlighting their bigger songs while allowing all three to breathe new life into them.
Howard Jones took the stage first, proving he either drew the short straw against Nunn or the tour is alternating who has to open the show with the sun beaming murderously in their faces. Undaunted by the heat, Jones showed a great rapport with the audience, drawing the biggest responses for "No One Is to Blame," "New Song," and a cover of "Too Shy," given extra legitimacy by the presence of Kajagoogoo bass and Chapman Stick player Nick Beggs.
Jones offered the revolutionary concept of "letting people be who they want to be" as an introduction to closer "Things Can Only Get Better." It included Cedric Gervais’s EDM remix, which I can neither confirm nor deny was enough to get a certain reviewer out of his seat (again). Jones was always a musical outlier in my teenage years. On the surface, I should have rejected his optimism and upbeat nature, but he himself is so damned disarming and genuine it's enough to make you discard your Dead Kennedys t-shirt. Almost.
Berlin were next. From the opening video sequence, you could be forgiven for assuming Terri Nunn and company were going to be less touchy-feely. Certainly, cuts like "The Metro" offer a more detached synth-based experience than Jones, but Nunn seemed genuinely happy to be here. I like to think it was directed solely at me, because she's one of the only blondes I've ever been smitten with.
Did they play "Take My Breath Away?" Of course they did. Is it the fave song of poser Berlin fans? You know it. For the true Nunn-heads, the inclusion of "Sex (I'm A...)" and a ripping cover of the Cult's "She Sells Sanctuary" (accompanied by the singer venturing into the Pavilion crowd) was eminently satisfying.
Après Berlin, le Culture Club. The response to Boy George and the band taking the stage was surprisingly (to me) enthusiastic, possibly because I'm a nerd. Resplendent in an illustrated hat and a jacket featuring a Cubist Rick Sanchez(?) and Klaus Nomi on the sleeves. He justified his ensemble by reminding us that the Pavilion has an air-conditioned stage while acknowledging that seeing him in jeans and a T-shirt just wouldn't work.
After opening with "The Next Thing Will Be Amazing," George said, “Houston, we do not have a problem.” Which is huge, if true. He also jokingly lamented the days when he was "the only freak on the block." What many probably don't remember is his chops as a singer. And while the hits were great and all, newish tracks like "Melodrama" and "Let it Go" (not that one) really showcased his vocals.
George was joined by original members Roy Hay on guitar and founder (and bassist) Mikey Craig, and ably backed by singers Vangelis Polydorou and Roxy Yarnold. Yarnold was also the only person the whole night who dressed properly for the temps, Nunn's tulle dress notwithstanding.
The song that inspired the theme of the tour, "Let It Go," was itself inspired by Tom Petty, George said. And intentionally or not, all three acts described their own ways of shaking things off. Whether it was Nunn talking about finally prioritizing fun in her life to Boy George insisting we move on from conflicts as soon as possible.
And he would know. It's hard to imagine today, but Boy George was like nothing most of us living in flyover country had ever seen. He's as comfortable in his own skin now as he's ever been, and still has a wicked sense of humor to boot. Whatever your thoughts on these retro-showcases, there's no denying that all three acts brought it last night. Just wish our city could've been a little more hospitable, meteorologically speaking.
Merch! Sorry folks, we didn't have a proper photographer last night.
Photo by Pete Vonder Haar
Personal Bias: I took about 20 pictures of Terri Nunn and one of Boy George.
The Crowd: Surprisingly boisterous, considering the conditions. And props to the Pavilion staff, especially those in the South Plaza, who had to endure direct sunlight longer than most.
Overheard In The Crowd: "This is like a dream come true for me. How about you?""I was born in 1984, so..."
Random Notebook Dump: "Air conditioned stage? When did that happen?"
HOWARD JONES SET LIST Pearl in the Shell
Like To Get To Know You Well
Too Shy (Kajagoogoo cover)
No One Is to Blame
The One To Love You
What Is Love?
Things Can Only Get Better
BERLIN SET LIST Masquerade
No More Words
Take My Breath Away
Dancing In Berlin
She Sells Sanctuary (The Cult cover)
Sex (I'm A...)
BOY GEORGE & CULTURE CLUB
The Next Thing Will Be Amazing
It's A Miracle
I'll Tumble 4 Ya
Everything I Own (Bread cover)
Let It Go
Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?
Angel of Mercy
That's the Way (I'm Only Trying to Help You)
Church of the Poison Mind / I'm Your Man
Time (Clock of the Heart)
Miss Me Blind
Sympathy for the Devil (Rolling Stones cover)
Get It On (T. Rex cover)
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