Nostalgia tours—the name we give concerts performed by bands who haven’t released anything substantial in decades—can go either way. They can be a nice stroll down memory lane, but more often than not, they end up being a reminder that everyone—even idolized musicians—age, and not always gracefully.
And so I entered Red Butte Garden on Monday night with light trepidation. It was Culture Club’s night to bring the 80s to Salt Lake, and if I’m being honest, I would have skipped it all together if a dear friend hadn’t been so excited to attend.
As the time between the headliner and a dreadful opener stretched on and on, I became more concerned. What was going on backstage? Was Boy George being a diva? We’ve all read the stories about his tantrums. Was their setlist so short that they only needed an hour before the city’s noise ordinance forced them off the stage? Was my time not important? Why didn’t I bring more wine? I thought I could see the writing on the wall. I thought the show was going to be a dumpster fire.
I’m going to tell you something I don’t say very often: I was wrong.
From the moment Boy George came onstage in a lime green suit and top hat at 8:45, Red Butte was a party. He had the crowd—a disproportionate amount of middle aged women and gay men were in attendance—on their feet. Starting with “Church of the Poison Mind” George never stopped bouncing around the stage with exuberance, jumping, skipping—even twerking at one point. God help us, even our 80s stars are twerking.
A large (and really great) band behind him included original Culture Club members, three tremendous back-up singers and a horn section.
George led the audience through the songs with introductions to each, with the words of wisdom that only come from the wisdom of years (and recovery). He said things like, “Normal is the new odd and exhibitionism is the way to get closer to God,” and “Relationships are held together by the things we don’t say to each other… saying I love you turns you into a psycho,” as he engaged the crowd and called out members of the audience adoringly. At one point he channeled Al Green and tossed a rose (he said its colors had inspired his eye shadow for the evening) into the crowd. But my favorite quote of the night, without a doubt was, “Dance like no one is watching, love like no one has ever broken your heart and dress like you don’t give a shit.”
Indeed, fashion plate George changed his clothes 3 times through the night, and despite his youthful energy and charm, his age was evident. Not because it was slowing him down—he said at one point, “I love being 55—and gluten-free. Get over it,”—but, because his voice is a couple of octaves lower than it used to be. But, incredibly, it sounded better than ever. It’s stronger than it was—more soulful, even.
I guess he’s Man George now. Our little boy is all grown up.
The band zoomed through fan favorites and covers in their time on stage, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” “Miss Me Blind,” and of course, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” were all on the setlist, along with a reggae-ish cover of Bread’s “Everything I own.”
After cracking wise about the charade that is the encore (something anyone who has ever attended a concert with me has heard me rant about, repeatedly and loudly), “We were always coming back. I don’t know why we made you scream so loud. It’s part of the theater,” they launched right into “Karma Chameleon” and then a cover of T Rex’s “Get It On.” George then left the stage, but in what may have been the best moment of the night, two members of the band went to the microphone and thanked the audience. Then a bunch of the band stuck around to wave and high-five.
“We’re Culture Club,” George told the crowd at the beginning of the show, “That in itself is a miracle.” It was, of course, a reference to the band’s repeated break-ups and George’s own troubles with drugs and the law, but the show was kind of a miracle, too.
After all, it isn’t everyday that I admit that I was wrong. And boy, was I.
Photos by Stuart Graves.