Even in the day-glo, Smash Hits-sanctified early 1980s, Culture Club were immensely far-fetched. Simply by existing Boy George challenged the era’s entrenched homophobia. And the band’s music was almost as out there, meshing soulful vocals, chart-happy hooks and reggae shuffles.
In the intervening three and a half decades, the London-Irish singer has become a one-person melodrama, as he acknowledged at the start of his agreeably louche show at 3Arena.
“We are Culture Club – a living, breathing soap opera,” the now 57-year-old declared from beneath a wide-brimmed hat. “The amount of drama on stage would kill a beginner… so it’s a good thing we’re not beginners.”
George’s extraordinary voice – a little huskier but still essentially angelic – was a given. The playful stage presence was a delightful bonus. He teased a man in the front row for staring at his phone – “I’m all for a third party experience but it has to be at the right time” – and warmly welcomed his Dublin-born mother and busloads of Irish cousins.
The poster outside read “Boy George and Culture Club” and the band indeed took a backseat. Drummer Jon Moss was absent (taking a break to spend time with his family) but George was flanked by original guitarist Roy Hay and bassist Mikey Craig, plus sundry backing vocalists and musicians.
Together they wove a peculiar alchemy that elevated the evening above mere tribute concert. It helped that there was new album, Life, to plug (a top ten hit in Britain) and that they started with a trippy opening track, 'God and Love', which bore the textured influence of George’s Nineties incarnation as superstar DJ.
But it was of course the classic material that had the room on its feet and bobbing enthusiastically (with the best will in the world rocking out to Culture Club is impossible).
'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?', 'It’s A Miracle' and 'Karma Chameleon' were all enthusiastically trotted out, with George by turns swaying, attempting his best reggae dance-hall moves and occasionally simply grinning. Some well observed covers bulked out the set – T.Rex’s 'Get It On' and a big-hearted version of Bowie’s 'Let’s Dance'.
Culture Club will never be as wildly-adored as contemporaries Wham! and Duran Duran – their music simply isn’t lively enough. However, for those who had kept a candle flickering all these decades, this was a comeback to cherish.