If you didn’t come to party, don’t bother knockin’ on Boy George’s door. That was the message the charismatic singer delivered to those inside the Arlington not ready to lose their shit to Culture Club’s ferocious pop onslaught last Wednesday night. “Every night we encounter resistance, and every night we beat it down,” George said.
Indeed, Boy George and original band members Roy Hay, Mikey Craig, and Jon Moss (plus backup singers and brass section) killed it with 007-level accuracy and efficiency. “Roy used to live here, and I think we’re playing for most of his friends,” the flamboyant vocalist said. George joked that his guitarist probably owes them money “and if [repayment] happens, I think it’ll be a miracle,” he concluded, segueing into one of their greatest hits. Like the song title, it’s a miracle that Culture Club was playing the Arlington at all, given their tumultuous history (which instigated their 1986 breakup, only mended in 2014) and George O’Dowd’s long wilderness period (drug addiction, arrests).
The upbeat evening started auspiciously with Groves. With their clean ’80s synth-pop feel, the Los Angeles trio proved a thematically correct supporting act. Their opening tune recalled Crowded House’s biggest hit, while their second song began with Muse-like guitar before evolving into an Exorcist-theme-type lick. After delivering a pair of ethereal songs based around active verbs (“Run,” “Swim”), Groves closed with the more ambitiously titled “Infinity is About Not Giving Up on Your Dreams.”
Then came Culture Club. Drummer Moss whipped the crowd into a frenzy with muscular, slammin’ beats that built up to “Church of the Poison Mind.” The house exploded as singer Boy George appeared in matching red hat and blazer, the first of three eccentric outfits, culminating in a green suit worthy of Frank Gorshin’s The Riddler.
“It’s a Miracle” and the tropical-tinged “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” proved high-energy workouts in concert for band and audience alike. All night long, Boy George was big on segues. “Shall we tumble?” he said, before delving into “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya.” Throughout the evening, the good-humored frontman joked and teased the audience. He imparted some advice — “Dance like nobody’s watching; dress like you don’t give a shit!”
“Happy and sad in the same breath — that’s what we do,” George said, before heading into duet “Black Money,” a deep cut from their biggest-selling album, 1983’s Colour By Numbers. Performed live, “Black Money” dissolved into an E Street Band-ish instrumental session for the brass section as George left the stage, doffing his coat. When he returned in a fluorescent rainbow cowboy hat and scarf, he set off “Time (Clock of the Heart),” with its sexy, sax-y breakdowns.
If there were any lulls, it was with strong albeit less recognizable material. The Sly Stone tribute “Different Man” and especially the sonically exciting “Like I Used To” proved that the recently reformed Club should continue penning new tunes. The London-formed group definitely re-energized the proceedings with the bouncy “Miss Me Blind” and their 1982 reggae-pop career-launcher, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”
“Victims,” an Adele-worthy number, may have been a big U.K. single, but it never made it to our shores. The ballad began with just Boy George and Roy (at the piano) before bursting into aural fanfare that incorporated the entire band… Then everyone left the stage.
Of course, not one person in the house bought into that faux finale. How could Culture Club “come and go” without performing “Karma Chameleon”? Predictably, that song went over big. Less predictable was the wicked version of T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” (which George used to name-check all the band members plus wish the secondary drummer a happy birthday) that closed the show.