TVD Live: Culture Club at the Music Center at Strathmore, 9/11

It was the end of a four-month tour, but Culture Club hardly looked worn out in their final U.S. show Sunday at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, MD. Boy George, now 55, looked relaxed and was chatty for the show, wearing a kind of herringbone costume (waistcoat, zoot suit pants, top hat, cane—all in the same pattern) that he ended up changing twice to similarly patterned outfits in red and green.

And the music, of course, sounded good. The original band of George, with Roy Hay on guitar and keyboards, Mikey Craig on bass, and Jon Moss on drums celebrating his 59th birthday, were augmented by nine other musicians and singers. With a three-man horn section and a trio of belting backup singers, they were bigger than the E Street Band up there.

With no new album to promote, the deck was clear for a lot of the old stuff from more than 30 years back. And if it all sounded fresh and bouncy, it’s because Culture Club for whatever reason never got overplayed, either in its time or as oldies. Indeed, if Boy George was the first obviously gay frontman in rock, then he was also the recipient of its first backlash. Rock stations used to prove their manhood by printing up “No Culture Club” buttons with a red “No” sign over George’s face.

If he fits more easily in a slightly loosened up culture, the music certainly does and with the enhanced backing, the songs from their 1982 Kissing to Be Clever and particularly Colour by Numbers held up very well. From the latter alone, they played six memorable songs. Among them, “Church of the Poison Mind,” “It’s A Miracle,” “Black Money,” “Miss Me Blind,” and the encore song, “Karma Chameleon.”

But at the show’s end, he pulled out the ballad “Victims” and the ever relevant “The War Song” (“war is stupid, people are stupid”) as if to show that his was the precursor to the torchy soul voice that led to the similar looking fellow Grammy winner, Sam Smith, a next door neighbor of his in North London.

The breakthrough “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” came near the end of the 14 song main set, which was dedicated to both the victims of 9/11 on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack, and to Alexis Arquette, the transgender actress who died that morning at 47. Arquette actually portrayed Boy George in her most popular movie The Wedding Singer he noted, and he said he was honored and flattered by the portrayal. Among the newer songs was a winner about Sly Stone, “Different Man,” and “Human Zoo.” He dropped “The Crying Game,” which had been part of the summer tour set.

But among the covers the band played were a reggae version of the old Bread ballad, “Everything I Own,” and a celebratory take on T. Rex’s old “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” that ended the encore. But George had some other covers in him as well, so he ended the opening set by the Los Angeles trio Groves by leading them in Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” and the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” For this he was wearing all black. It could have been his street clothes, but it made four costumes in all.

SETLIST
Church of the Poison Mind
It’s a Miracle
I’ll Tumble 4 Ya
Move Away
Everything I Own
Black Money
Human Zoo
Time (Clock of the Heart)
Like I Used To
Different Man
Miss Me Blind
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?
Victims
The War Song

ENCORE
Karma Chameleon
Bang a Gong (Get It On)

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