Sunday, 6 February 2011

794 EX SIMPLE MINDS, Oxford Academy 2, Monday 6 September 2010

I'm used to receiving looks of bafflement when I say Simple Minds, latterly the epitome of bloated stadium rock boredom and the template for the similarly turgid likes of Coldplay, were, over the span of their first 4 albums, the most innovative band on the planet. Constantly evolving their sound from their early glam Roxy pop, through monotone yet experimental and intriguing industrial rock, synth-led krautrock to glossy and expansive European dancey rock, they were chameleonic, challenging and immensely talented, and a band and period I constantly return to, particularly with the likes of Editors following a similar template in adding European synth layers to their 80's guitar rockisms. So I was really looking forward to this one; Ex Simple Minds, namely Derek Forbes and Brian McGhee, 2 of the architects of that sound, promising to exclusively hark back to those halcyon days? Thanks, I do!

Unfortunately no-one else did, so I travelled down on my own in filthy weather and bad traffic, with excitement tinged by some trepidation. This could be a triumph, with the sonic template faithfully recreated by the original Minds. Alternatively it could be a disaster, as, shorn of vocalist Jim Kerr's sweeping and expansive stage presence (let's face it, when I danced at Level 3 back in those days, I just wanted to be Jim Kerr) and with McGhee's brother, 80's popster Owen "My Favourite Waste Of Time" Paul a poor substitute, they could just be a bad tribute band...

The truth, happily, turned out most emphatically to be the former. I caught half of support Dead Jerichos' young Jam/ Enemy-like push'n'shove speedy rock (nice energy and attitude lads, now write some tunes to go with it), then meandered down the front for the entrance of Ex Simple Minds at 9.15, not needing to barge anyone out of the way as this was very poorly attended; about 40 people in total! Nevertheless, the band arrived, easing into the expansive European soundscape of instrumental opener "Themes From Great Cities", then vocalist Owen Paul's (ah yes, more of him shortly) arrival coincided with the unmistakable synth pulse intro of "Love Song", and we were away. The delicious strident robotic dance of "Changeling" followed (disappointingly the only track off "Real To Real Cacophony" all night), all seething power and conviction, as did the itchy, insistent "I Travel", initially disappointingly thin, but strident and powerful by the conclusion.

In fact, power and conviction were the order of the day for this performance; despite the poor turnout the band "gave it loads" old style, relishing the chance to play these classic Minds songs to a small but enthusiastic crowd. None more so than vocalist Owen Paul; despite my concerns he was an effervescent and committed frontman, his slightly higher and rougher vocal style adding more weight to the live performance. A brilliant double-header of "The American" and a gorgeous, sparkling "Someone Somewhere In Summertime" was the highlight of the set, before a deviation into the latterday stadium anthems of "Waterfront" and set closer, "Don't You Forget About Me", a song I liked at the time but which in retrospect marks the point at which Simple Minds started losing their inspiration.

An acoustic encore of "Speed Your Love To Me", a throwaway "Celebrate" and an almost jolly reading of the Velvet's "White Light/ White Heat" preceded a reworked and decidedly spooky "Pleasantly Disturbed" before a sadly inevitable "Alive And Kicking" rounded things off. Overall, I'd have chosen more earlier numbers at the expense of the stadium rock, but I couldn't fault them for passion and commitment. They played them like they owned them - good for you boys! And I got the set-list signed afterwards, by a band willing to chat and listen to suggestions for the set ("Factory"!), so a superb night overall!

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