What goes around comes around, and right about now, that means ’80s music. Culture Club, arriving in Honolulu on Sunday in an appearance sandwiched between concerts in Japan and Mexico, is the latest example.
It was the band’s first appearance in Honolulu, and fans were there to cheer them on and to celebrate memories from their own lives. It was an exuberant crowd, made up mostly of those who were young in the ‘80s, with some curious music-lovers from other generations there for good measure. Before the show even started, waves of hoots and high-pitched cheers rolled over the arena.
Boy George and band did not disappoint, though the show wasn’t a perfect fit at the arena.
While the floor seats and lower levels were mostly filled, the upper level was largely empty. And from the loge seats, where this reviewer was placed, the sound was muddy and dull during the first part of the band’s 90-minute set. But Culture Club’s soulful pop, livened by the crowd’s cheerful enthusiasm, turned the night into a party.
The band appeared on schedule and in decent form, playing a tight, 14-song set that included a four-song encore and a fair bit of good-natured patter from George.
The lead singer was once a notoriously volatile bad boy, but now, post-rehab, sober, healthy and friendly, he and band were all smiles. The audience reacted in kind, with happy dances and during the hits, singalongs.
The set mixed ’80s hits with a couple of new songs, and covers that helped to unveil the band’s influences, from Johnny Cash to David Bowie.
BOY GEORGE, born George Alan O’Dowd, and now 55, no longer has quite the strawberry-milkshake voice that made “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and “The Crying Game” such smooth desserts. And he’s missing the swinging braids of the years when “Karma Chameleon” and “I’ll Tumble For Ya” were major hits in the U.K. and U.S. But the Boy can still sing, and he now projects a warmth and sharp, sly humor.
With shoutouts to grooving fans in the front rows, and short, sweet anecdotes between songs, he smoothed the way for fans’ nostalgia and admiration.
Looking fit and cheerful, George sashayed in to the opening song, “Church of the Poison Mind,” wearing an oversized, black-and-white patterned jacket and fedora over a black, button-down shirt and high-heeled high tops.
His smile was visible to the back rows as he spoke of making his first Hawaii appearance, calling out “Aloha!” And he accepted a vibrant red-violet lei from a fan up front, quickly taking off his hat to wear it over the jacket.
Giving props to the audience, George said he saw many more men in the audience than in the band’s first years, when men would come in only as husbands and boyfriends of fans. Always openly gay, in an era when to be publicly out was more problematic, he’s now operating in an era that’s more tolerant — and he gave a nod to his many gay fans in the audience.
“Things have shifted,” he said, adding jokingly, “As for me, that’s complicated.”
THE BAND was big: three back-up singers, backup horns, a guitarist, keyboard player and percussionist, in addition to the original band members — George, Roy Hay on guitar and keyboards, Mikey Craig on bass, and Jon Moss on drums. But for much of the night, individual lines of music failed to emerge from the mix, and from the sidelines, some of George’s patter couldn’t be heard.
Thankfully, the sound mix improved as the night went on. And the band also picked up momentum.
By the time George and company reached the concert’s halfway mark, the audience was fully engaged, primed by songs like “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” “Time (Clock of the Heart),” and a sweet, reggaefied version of Bread’s “Everything I Own” — a good choice for Honolulu audiences, who love their soft-pop love songs.
A highlight was George’s rendition of a newer song, “Like I Used To,” from 2014 — marking the start of the band’s latest, best reunion, and proving that there was worthwhile new material in Culture Club. The song was a funky workout and explanation of how the singer had moved on from the craziness of his younger days, with a refrain of, “I don’t do emotion like I used to.”
Also from 2014 was the shimmering, soulful “Different Man,” inspired by Sly Stone, bandleader of Sly and the Family Stone, another bandleader with a checkered past. George quoted Sly as saying, “I have a lot of regrets, but I just can’t think of any right now” — registering his own regrets in the process.
“Different Man” might sum up the show, as it put to music George’s sentiment that change is possible. He sang, “It can be easy, well, yes it can — if you’ll be a different man.”
AFTER TREATING the audience to hits “Miss Me Blind” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” the band left the stage, then returned for a long encore.
George came back in a new costume — peach-colored hat, black jacket and a tunic in colors suitable for Jams World; leggings in equally bright colors.
We knew “Karma Chameleon” would be performed before the night was over, but that hit was the second song the band rolled out for its encore.
First, the audience was treated to the unexpectedly country-tinged song, “The Truth is a Runaway Train” — inspired by Johnny Cash, yet another singer who lost his way and yet found a path to get back on track.
With “Karma Chameleon,” fans’ love for the band came out in full display, and the celebration reached its peak.
The show ended with two songs by David Bowie and T Rex, obvious predecessors to the fashion-conscious, flamboyant outfit: a heartfelt “Starman” and a rollicking “Get it On (Bang a Gong).”
By this time, there were no regrets over the set, aside from a wish that the sound would have been as clear from the start.
1. “Church of the Poison Mind”
2. “It’s a Miracle”
3. “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”
4. “Move Away”
5. “Everything I Own” (Bread)
6. “Time (Clock of the Heart)”
7. “Like I Used To” (new)
8. “Different Man” (new)
9. “Miss Me Blind”
10. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”
11. “The Truth is a Runaway Train”
12. “Karma Chameleon”
13. “Starman” (David Bowie)
14. “Get it On (Bang a Gong)” (T Rex)