Friday, June 22, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Culture Club is back, with more on their minds than nostalgia

You might recall that Culture Club's last gig in Tampa Bay was kind of a hot, flaming mess.

"A lot of chaos, that day," said guitarist Roy Hay, recalling last summer's swampy, rain-delayed festival gig at Madeira Beach's R.O.C. Park. "We were coming from Miami, and there were storms, and the plane couldn't take off, and then we were going to drive, and we weren't going to get there in time, and then we get there and we don't know who's going on. Howard Jones got dumped (from the schedule), and there was water on the stage, and we thought we were going to get electrocuted."

In the madness of that gig, however, a stunning revelation came to light: Some 15 years after their last major tour, Culture Club still sounds fantastic.

Since reuniting in 2014, singer Boy George, guitarist Hay, bassist Mikey Craig and drummer Jon Moss have gone all-in trying to prove they're more than just a nostalgia act, peddling reheated versions of '80s hits like Karma Chameleon, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, I'll Tumble 4 Ya and Time (Clock of the Heart). This summer, they'll hit the road with a full backing band — horns, percussionists, vocalists and all — for their most extensive U.S. tour in years, including a show Wednesday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

"Everybody really cares and wants to do it properly" Hay said. "It would be really easy to just have sampled horns, and go out with one background vocalist, and not care about the percussion, and have stuff on tape. But we're a live band. We like to play."

There's probably never been a better time for a Culture Club revival. All over the top of the pop charts, you'll find examples of hit songs with vague Caribbean and tropical vibes — Justin Bieber's Sorry, Drake's One Dance, Rihanna's Work, Ellie Goulding's On My Mind. Whether any of these artists were fans of Culture Club is beside the point — the point is the band was bringing sunny, equatorial influences to pop music decades ago, back when many of their peers weren't.

"We came out of the '80s, but I don't think we necessarily had an '80s sound," Hay said. "We weren't necessarily synthesizer-dominated, or we didn't even necessarily have the same hairstyles as other bands. We kind of did our own thing. And the songs? If you put Do You Really Want to Hurt Me out today with a contemporary artist, I think they'd have a hit. And a lot of our songs are like that. I don't know if the same can be said for a lot of other '80s bands."

The band originally broke up in 1986 due to intraband feuds and relationships, including a secret, turbulent affair between Boy George and Moss. And while the band has re-established good enough terms to work on new music, some old tensions remain. This spring, due to what Hay calls "bad management on George's part," Boy George booked some solo U.S. gigs in markets that Culture Club had also been eyeing, which rubbed bandmates the wrong way.

"George is a very confusing entity," Hay said. "I don't think he realized we were going to be touring — in fact I know he didn't — when he booked those gigs. He didn't realize we were going to be doing a tour right after that. It's a little bit of a problem. But whatever."

There's also the matter of Culture Club's reunion album, Tribes, which is in limbo with no release date due to "some politics going on with management and record companies; nobody's prepared to pull the trigger and go with it," Hay said. "Also, George's manager is like, 'George might be doing this and that ...' I understand you don't want to put an album out and have it just fizzle into the great abyss, but at the same time, you've also got to be brave and go with your art."

The band will play some new songs on this tour, which kicks off in Orlando on Tuesday before hitting St. Petersburg on Wednesday. But simply having the opportunity to revisit their biggest hits in front of an entirely new audience makes staging such a big tour worth the extra effort.

"We do these meet and greets, and people tell us what an influence we had on their life — how their prom theme was Time or all these different things," Hay said. "When you're in the insanity of being in your 20s, as a young man going through it, you don't appreciate the effect you're having on people. It's nice to be older and wiser now, and go, Wow, what a lovely thing to have in the universe."

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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