LIVE: Culture club with Human League, Perth, 9 Dec 2017

LIVE: Culture club with Human League, Perth, 9 Dec 2017
Support Tom Bailey and Hosea Partsch
Perth Arena, Saturday, 9 December,2017
Review & Photography by Pete Gardner

Perth was given a unique experience to see two of the 80’s most iconic bands on the same stage on Saturday night. Culture Club, with their original line up, were playing the last night of their latest Australian tour, and The Human League were embarking on the first night of theirs before heading over to the eastern states for a series of headline shows, giving Perth concert goers a rare night of unbridled 80’s nostalgia.
Perth Arena is still a relatively new venue, opening in 2012, replacing the Burswood Dome as the major concert venue for the city, one of the greatest benefits eing the acoustics, which are a massive improvement to the rusty bucket sound of the Dome. However they still need to work on the beer prices – $10.00 for a cup of Heineken is extortionate in anyone’s language.

Predictably, the audience of consisted of predominantly women in their fifties, dragging along a smattering of husbands and teenage daughters, but mostly groups of mates having a girls night out, and reliving the passion of the early ‘80s school disco. Although one or two tried to dress like they were still in 1982, there were a couple of very impressive full Boy George costumes on display. This was shaping up to be a fun night.

With four acts on the ticket, the night was off to an early start. People were still filtering in as Hosea Partsch took to the stage. A contestant on The Voice Australia, 18 year old Partsch was coached by Boy George on the show, and subsequently invited to be the opener for Culture Club’s Australian shows. Obviously I hate these manufactured talent shows and never watch them, but I have to admit, this lad has a magnificent voice, and it was a pleasure to listen to his short set of covers and one or two of his own compositions. As he introduced The Eagles’ Love Will Keep Us Alive, he called out “are there any Eagles fans in the audience?!” and was genuinely surprised by the mix of cheers and boo’s he got back. He clearly doesn’t understand Perth’s football rivalries.

After a very fast changeover Tom Bailey of the Thomson Twins mounted the stage to the opening bars of We Are Detective, decked out in a white suit and sunglasses. Blasting the crowd with a hand-held searchlight, he kicked off a set of Thompson Twins classics with Love On Your Side. His band of three women, similarly dressed in white, held the set together well, even though Bailey’s voice and energy was starting to fail him towards the end of the set, with a good few flat notes. This didn’t bother the audience though, who were now on their feet (very unusual for a Perth crowd) singing and dancing along to the set closers of Doctor Doctor and Hold Me Now.

After another quick turnover on the stage it was time for The Human League. Firing off the set with Love Action, it was obvious we were in for a real treat. Phil Oakey, Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley gave us hit after hit from the Human League back catalogue. Oakey himself was dressed in a leather kaftan-come-apron with Japanese style pants, looking like a cross between a new age eastern guru and a blacksmith. With his original trademark asymmetric haircut replaced by a bald head and goatee plus mirrored sunnies, you could add anime villain into the mix.

In the 36 years since Dare was released, the band obviously don’t have the same youthful complexions as they did in their heyday, but the sound has held incredibly well, Oakey’s very distinctive vocals complemented by Catherall and Sully, all sounding as good as they did nearly four decades ago. In addition a recipe of 80’s synth pop and 2017 technology meant the sound the band created was fantastic, with the band obviously having a great time on the stage.

The crowd were ramping up as the hits kept coming, with a huge cheer for easily the highlight of the set, Electric Dreams, with the arena on its feet singing and dancing along. After leaving the stage for an encore break and costume change, the backing band – two keyboards and synth drums – returned first, launching into an extended instrumental intro to Don’t You Want Me, with the arena exploding into a karaoke singalong. Phil and the girls returned, covered in way too many sequins, to finish the set with a thoroughly enjoyable rendition of their biggest hit.

My only disappointment was this was just a retrospective, there was no new music, which would suggest Human League are just another old band touring the nostalgia circuit recycling the hits of the past. This would be a shame for a group which produced some of the most memorable songs of the synth pop era. I would love to hear what Oakey could produce with the tech we have now, which was unavailable 40 years ago. They did however deliver a brilliant set and gave Culture Club a very hard act to follow.

After another short changeover the lights went down again and John Moss, Roy Hay and Mikey Craig walk onto the stage, accompanied by an entourage of backing singers, percussionists and backing nusicians.

Stating the set with a new song, Bitchface, Boy George enters the spotlight to a huge cheer, dressed in a large Red felt fedora, and an oversized shirt with a weird cockroach print pattern under his jacket and flowery punk style bondage pants.


Stopping to say hello to the audience Boy George invited onto the stage Chelsea J, a local musician and harmonica player who auditioned for the first season of Australian Idol. Boy George invited her at the time to play with Culture Club when they were next in Perth, and she proved herself, playing a mean harmonica break for Church Of The Poison Mind.

Playing through an abundance of hits including It’s A Miracle, Time, and Miss Me Blind, I realised just what a damn fine singer and performer Boy George is. With his flamboyant public persona and rollercoaster of publicity over the years, he has never had a comfortable ride with the mainstream media. In a Radio National interview recently, he slammed the phone down on Fran Kelly when she took the conversation in a direction he didn’t appreciate. In all this noise, it is overlooked that Boy George has one of the best blues/soul voices of his generation – one of the main reasons for Culture Club’s longevity. George happily announced they are releasing a new album soon, and when introducing a new song, thanked his band, whom he described as a ‘psychedelic group of diverse individuals who put the funk into dysfunctional.’ The new song, Different Man, he tells us is one of change and recovery, written after hearing an interview with the legendary Sly Stone, who was reduced to sleeping in his car.

With a video of Sly Stone on Soul Train playing in the background the bluesy soul number showcases the amazing vocal powers of both Boy George and his trio of backing singers.

After George disappears off stage for few minutes for a change of clothes (which look identical to what he was already wearing – just in different colours) the band perform a cover of the Rolling Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want, including a great little snippet of Walk On The Wild Side.

Taking another chance to chat with the audience, George introduces More Than Silence, musing that relationships are often held together by what we don’t say.

The tail end of the set is a showcase of Culture Club’s best work, with Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, a soulful rendition of Victims, with Boy George alone in the spotlight, and a big finish with a deconstructed version of The War Song, which has even more resonance today than it did when first released.

Leaving the stage for the obligatory encore break, the band returns with George again having a change of clothing (same style, different colours.) A huge cheer answers his question ‘who wants to hear a song about chameleons?’, and Chelsea J again joins them on stage for harmonica duties.

Finishing the night with a wonderful version of Purple Rain, showcasing the sheer power of the trio of backing singers, and Partsch and Bailey and band all bundle onto the stage for an all-in rip through T-Rex’s Get It On, sounding the final notes of the Australian tour.

Culture Club are anything but a spent force, a solid band which have been playing together for years, and they delivered a set of hits to the delight of the Perth crowd, with a few new songs thrown in to show there is more to come in the years ahead.

 

LIVE: Culture club with Human League, Perth, 9 Dec 2017

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About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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