Thursday, January 25, 2018

Culture Club: “Live At Wembley” (2017) DVD/CD Review

When I was eleven years old, my first girlfriend asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I told her I wanted the new Culture Club record, Colour By Numbers. I remember that she said, “Really?” Hell yes, really. I loved the music, and was fascinated by Boy George. What a voice. I still have that record, and the music has never lost its appeal, though for one reason or another I’ve never seen the band perform live. The group disbanded in the late 1980s, then got back together, broke up again, and is now together and perhaps stronger than ever. Culture Club did an extensive tour in 2016, ending it at Wembley Arena in London. That show is now available as a two-disc package – a DVD and a CD – this performance being clear evidence that the band members have put aside their earlier troubles and are all about the music. Hell, maybe 2018 will see the release of the long-awaited new album, Tribes. Maybe not. Either way, fans get to hear a couple of those songs on this release – “Like I Used To” and “Different Man.”

The DVD opens with snippets of an interview with Boy George, in which he says: “Culture Club was a big, glorious accident. Nobody ever thought little girls were going to scream at me.” He talks about the 2016 tour, and how band relationships had changed. The interview is intercut with footage of the band performing a cover of “Bang A Gong.” And then we get into the show, with drummer Jon Moss taking his spot first, getting a beat going for the others to come out to. And soon it becomes clear the song is “Church Of The Poison Mind,” a song from Colour By Numbers. The band is joined by several other musicians, including horn players, a keyboardist and three backing vocalists. There are several cameras, providing shots of all the musicians as well as plenty of shots of the crowd, and I appreciate that the DVD doesn’t use frenetic cutting between cameras, but rather works to show us as much of the concert as possible.

Boy George develops a relationship with the audience early on, joking with them a bit between songs, telling them after the first song, “You look so young.” And after “It’s A Miracle,” also from Colour By Numbers, he addresses a specific guy in the front: “Are you the one who stole my hat?” The band then goes into “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” from the first album, Kissing To Be Clever. This song is so much fun, and it looks like the entire crowd is dancing. I love that percussion! Boy George tells the audience, “We specialize in these kind of happy-sad, kind of oxymoron types of songs, where they seem really happy but actually they are a little bit melancholy.” They then play “Move Away,” from the 1986 LP From Luxury To Heartache. For the first cover of the night, they give “Everything I Own” (yes, the Bread song) a reggae rhythm, and it works ridiculously well. This band is so much fun.

Before “Black Money,” Boy George introduces vocalist Theresa Bailey, saying that for the purposes of this song, she’s going to pretend to be his estranged girlfriend. “It could happen,” he teases. I like the saxophone toward the end of the song. That section with sax and keys is really pretty. “Time (Clock Of The Heart)” never really did all that much for me, but I like the short saxophone part in this rendition. They then get a bit funky with “Like I Used To,” from the unreleased album. “I don’t do emotion like I used to.” This one ends up being one of my favorites, with the horns, those soulful vocals, that rhythm. This is a great tune from beginning to end, and I sincerely hope that studio album is released soon. “Like I Used To” is followed by another song from Tribes, “Different Man.” In introducing this one, Boy George talks about Sly Stone. “So this song is about redemption, it’s about recovery, it’s about change. And you don’t get wiser just because you get older.” Boy George mentions he’s been sober for nine years, which the audience predictably cheers.

“Miss Me Blind” has a pretty good jam to it. When introducing “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me,” Boy George mentions that he didn’t want to release it as a single, thinking it wouldn’t sell. It’s hard for me to hear this song without thinking of the Violent Femmes version in which they eventually answer, “Yes, I suppose I want to hurt you.” Boy George delivers a heartfelt rendition of “Victims.” I particularly like those moments with the backing vocalists. That’s followed by one of my favorite Culture Club songs, “The War Song.” “War, war is stupid/And people are stupid/And love means nothing/In some strange quarters.” This is a seriously excellent version of the song, certainly one of the highlights of the show.

The encore starts with my other favorite Culture Club song, “Karma Chameleon.” I still absolutely adore this song, and always like that harmonica part. They then finish up with a good cover of T. Rex’s “Bang A Gong (Get It On),” which includes band introductions by Boy George, as well as a fun harmonica part with a tease of War’s “Low Rider.”

DVD Special Features

The DVD includes a couple of special features. There are some backstage interviews with band members talking about the tour. About music, Boy George says, “I’m not made for anything else.” He mentions how music saved him as a teenager. This is approximately five and a half minutes. There is also an interview with Boy George, in which he talks about his childhood, and some of the music he listened to as a kid. He also recollects some of the earliest songs he wrote, and about briefly being in Bow Wow Wow. He tells the story of how Culture Club came about, and the band members’ various influences. He does talk a bit about clothing, saying “How you dress doesn’t make you interesting; it’s how you think that makes you interesting.” And about music and songwriting, he has this to say: “You know, songs are like questions. You’re kind of asking out loud, ‘What should I do about this situation?’” This interview is approximately twenty-four minutes. The DVD also includes a trailer.

Track List
  1. Church Of The Poison Mind
  2. It’s A Miracle
  3. I’ll Tumble 4 Ya
  4. Move Away
  5. Everything I Own
  6. Black Money
  7. Time (Clock Of The Heart)
  8. Like I Used To
  9. Different Man
  10. Miss Me Blind
  11. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
  12. Victims
  13. The War Song
  14. Karma Chameleon
  15. Bang A Gong (Get It On)
Live At Wembley was released on December 8, 2017 through MVD Visual and Cleopatra Records.

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