Gig review: Boy George and Culture Club at First Direct Arena, Leeds

Boy George and Culture Club.Boy George and Culture Club.
Boy George and Culture Club.
'We are Culture Club,' frontman Boy George tells a packed-out First Direct Arena in Leeds following the hip-swivelling quasi-industrial funk of opener God & Love, 'a living, breathing soap opera-slash-reality show.'

He fluffs the gold tassels on his jacket and grins at guitarist Roy Hay. “The drama on this stage would kill a beginner.” There is little such hysteria tonight; this incarnation of the seminal new wave outfit are a well-honed, slickly professional unit who know how to put on a polished performance and do so with a smooth grandeur.

The band – George, Hay, bassist Mikey Craig and drummer Jon Moss, the latter of whom is absent from this leg – may have only lasted half-a-decade in their original heyday, but the mark they left on musical consciousness remains indelible.

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Their road to return has been tumultuous since; even this rebooted incarnation has been faced with teething troubles, shelving a full UK arena tour at short notice in late 2014. As such, this stop by West Yorkshire is something of an overdue arrival.

The wait has been worth aesthetically; this is an opulent, arena-pop spectacular only a troupe of scantily-clad dancers away from the chart heavyweights of today, bathed in neon pink and electric blue lights, like a futuristic Top of the Pops set.

On a musical level too, it comes with something of a deeper poignancy. George’s timbre has noticeably deepened since their peak in 1983; his voice is more akin to the raspy croon of Tom Jones now. It gives added gravitas; Runaway Train’s Philly Soul benediction and the horn-drenched sobriety-paean Different Man are excellent, while Time (Clock of the Heart) and Victims are turned into smoky, jazz-dashed torch anthems.

They mostly stick to the golden oldies; only their first two albums get a look in outside of reunion record Life, though there are some surprises. George dedicates his white-reggae solo cover of Bread’s Everything I Own to radio DJ Chris Moyles and Leeds Rhinos forward Stevie Ward, who are in the house tonight; a bouncy snippet of Wham’s I’m Your Man slips into a pounding Church of the Poison Mind.

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Relatively rakish if faithful covers of David Bowie and T. Rex lift the crowd to their feet in a party mood; a closing Karma Chameleon keeps them on it as George doffs his sparkly hat and slips off stage.

It’s certainly better late than never for this club.

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