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Concert Reviews:
Culture Club spread good "Karma" and more at Meadow Brook

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, July 18, 2016

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- Taking affectionate note of Culture Club's nearly 36-year history of coming to the U.S., Boy George told the crowd at the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre on Sunday night, July 17, that, "We are the strangest relationship we've ever had. And it's beautiful."

The feeling was certainly mutual throughout the 19-song, hour-and-45-minute show -- part of the British quartet's first full-scale North American tour in 12 years -- as children of the 80s brought their children and more than a few Boy George lookalikes among the small but exuberant crowd reveled in the nostalgia of a catalog that's more bountiful (and also more current) than some might realize. True, the group did more with its first two albums than many bands do in their entire careers, but taking the stage less than a week after fellow 80s New Wave faves Duran Duran played just up the road at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, George and company proved they could stake their reputation on more than just their treasure trove of MTV hits.

There were plenty of those, mind you, as Culture Club -- bolstered by six additional musicians, including a three-piece horn section, and three backing vocalists -- kicked things off with the Motown homage "Church of the Poison Mind" and touched on all the key singles, including the smooth soul of "I'll tumble 4 Ya," "It's A Miracle," "Time (Clock of the Heart)," "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" and, of course, "Karma Chameleon." Broad smiles from both the band on stage and genuinely enraptured fans in the audience proved just how well those songs have endured over the past three decades or so.

Several of the show's high points, however, came from less-celebrated fare -- among them sublime renditions, musically and vocally, of "Victims," before which George quieted the crowd with an admonition to listen, as well George's splendid rendition of Dave Barry's "The Crying Game." And then there was a passel of more recent and new material, such as the 2014 pop anthem "More Than Silence" and some new songs targeted for the group's next album, "Tribes," including the funky, Sly Stone-inspired "Different Man," the socio-political "Human Zoo" and the rootsy "Runaway Train," dedicated to Johnny Cash -- and lifting no small amount of inspiration from his "I Walk the Line."

And "The War Song," much lampooned when it was released in 1984, not only sounded appropriate now given world events but received a makeover of quiet, torchy verses -- while retaining the familiar, reggae-flavored chorus -- that gave it more resonant impact as well.

All hands on stage, from the loosely choreographed horn players to Culture Club's founding members, were in high spirits throughout the night -- as was George. A gregarious one-man highlight reel, he changed outfits three times -- two variations of the same suit (orange-and-black, black-and-white) and a random psychedelic pastiche for the encore -- and had fans, both female and male, zooming in on his unique eye makeup for future reference.

His commentary before nearly every song, meanwhile, was good-humored, self-deprecating and often wickedly funny. "I hope my outfit isn't too scary," he quippped at the start of the show, and the ground-breaking gender-bender also noted that, "Times have changed. There's a lot more men in the crowd -- other than gay men." He told seated fans that, "If you don't stand up it's cool. But I will give you advice; You can do quite a lot in your chair."

And like so many performances these days, he took on the cell phone brigade; "For those of you busy looking through your iPhones, I'm up here. You can follow me on Snapchat; I post lots of photos."

Culture Club ended the night with T. Rex's "Bang A Gong (Get It On)," a nod to its own roots that complemented the blast from the past it gave its fans during the rest of the show -- which proved more beautiful than strange.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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