Review: Culture Club – Live At Wembley



Featuring Boy George, Jon Moss, Roy Hay, Mikey Craig, John Themistocleous, Ritchie Stevens, Carl Hudson, Theresa Bailey, Traci Brown-Bailey, Dee Dee Foster-Smith, David Liddell, James Gardiner-Bateman, Reuben Fowler and David Bernal.


Directed by Mark Ritchie.


Distributed by Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD. 87 minutes. Not Rated.


It was almost unprecedented for a band to explode on the scene and then eventually flame out as dramatically as Culture Club did between 1982 and 1984. During that time the group, featuring the androgynously charismatic lead vocalist “Boy George” O’Dowd rode a shrewd fashion sense and a gift for pop hooks to the top of the charts in the early years of MTV.


The band sold over five million copies of their debut album Kissing to Be Clever, which spawned the classic single “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” and two other top 10 hits – “Time (Clock of the Heart)” and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya.” Their 1983 follow up Colour By Numbers eclipsed even those high-flying numbers, selling 16 million copies and spawning four top-ten singles “Church of the Poison Mind,” “Karma Chameleon,” “It’s a Miracle” and “Miss Me Blind.”


Things started falling apart in late 1984. The third album, Waking Up with the House on Fire was considered a huge letdown, even though it also went multi-platinum. The singles were smaller than previous hits, though, with “The War Song” being mocked for its simplistic lyrics (“War, war is stupid/And people are stupid/And love means nothing/In some strange quarters”) and the gorgeous “Mistake No. 3” barely reaching the top 40. Tensions were high in the band, particularly between former lovers Boy George and drummer Jon Moss, and George also was becoming more and more involved in drugs.


The band had a short hiatus before releasing their fourth album From Luxury to Heartache. While the first single “Move Away” was something of a comeback, the band had become yesterday’s news – they even did a cheesy guest appearance on The A-Team, ferchrissake – and with continuing band friction and substance abuse problems, the group broke up when no follow-up single to “Move Away” charted and the album barely went platinum.


Therefore, it is nice to see the band in such good musical shape 30 years after that ugly breakup. (The group has reunited periodically for brief tours over the past couple of decades, even recording a never-released fifth album called Tribes.) After spending several years in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons – including drug usage, and a jail term – Boy George is long clean and sober and he’s still a delightful front man. His androgyny is subtler than it was in his heyday (he even sports a stylish goatee), but George seems to be a lot more comfortable in his own skin these days.


You can tell this in a brief interview with Boy George which opens the video. Smartly, they keep it brief and snappy (it lasts about three minutes), but it fills in some of the blanks of the band’s career, and also reminds us what good company the Boy was. Then the show starts off at full speed, rushing headlong into one of the band’s biggest hits, the effortlessly propulsive “Church of the Poison Mind.” George’s vocals have become a bit deeper, a bit gruffer, in the 35 years since the song topped the charts, but it is still a wonderful mix of new wave, soul and pop, with wonderful gospel backing vocals. (Original backing vocalist Helen Terry has been replaced by Teresa Bailey.)


This is followed by an hour and a half of hits and intriguing album tracks. The band stays up-tempo for the first several tunes, pulling out other hits like “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” “It’s a Miracle” and “Move Away.” (Surprisingly, that late single has aged even better than many other hits.)


Surprisingly fresh is a reggae-tinged cover of Bread’s ballad “Everything I Own” – which Boy George had released as a solo single in 1987 and was a big hit in Europe. (For some reason, Boy George’s even bigger solo single cover, of Dave Barry’s torch ballad “The Crying Game” from the 1992 movie of the same name, is not here.)


Then things slow down with the cynical album track “Black Money” and the still drop-dead-gorgeous “Time (Clock of the Heart).” Things hit a peak when the group revises its first best-seller “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” and the spectacular torch track “Victims.”


By the time Culture Club makes it to the giddily fun “Karma Chameleon,” their hometown audience is dancing in their seats. Then the concert ends with an almost ten-minute long romp through Marc Bolan and T-Rex’s glam rock classic “Bang a Gong (Get It On).”


The old saying is you can’t go back again. And while, yeah, maybe seeing this show would not be as wild as seeing the band in their prime (particularly the Colour By Numbers Tour, which was released at the time on video as A Kiss Across the Ocean), the band still comes off pretty strong. Whether this is just a stop-gap or a farewell show, Live at Wembley is great fun.