Monday, 27 February 2012
842 SIMPLE MINDS 5X5 TOUR, Birmingham O2 Academy, Friday 24 February 2012
Nuff said. It was this long-held belief which led me to check out their former back rows fronted by Owen Paul on a windswept evening in Oxford, and also to brave crappy weather and potential stadium rock bluster overload for a small taste of that old stuff from the real thing in Westonbirt last year. So when I heard about this tour – promoting the release of an enhanced yet very nicely priced 5 CD box set of those seminal first 4 albums plus “breakthrough” record “New Gold Dream” (which was still bloody good, if slightly shinier and more commercial, bumping up to the point when they started losing it), with a tour promising 5 numbers from EACH of those 5 records – I frankly couldn’t move quick enough to grab a ticket! I don’t know their motivations for this CD release and tour – recent peer acclaim from the likes of The Horrors etc. for that seminal early stuff, the need to squash Ex Simple Minds by playing the stuff they concentrate on, the desire to pump a big wodge of cash into Jim Kerr’s pension fund, or any combination of the above – but honestly I don’t care. This was MY Simple Minds tour, the one I wanted to see in the 80’s and didn’t. So well worth the steep (hell, almost vertical!) ticket price and lengthy jaunt to B’rum, sadly the closest the “5X5” tour came to Swindon, but also the scene of a remarkable resurrection last year in the Adam Ant show.
So, taking no chances on a Friday afternoon, and picking up that this one was going to be an early start (I was guessing 7.30, and that turned out to be right on the money), I took some lieu time and left straight from work at 3.30, still nursing a bit of the man flu. Thankfully nobody got in my way, and I was able to park in the Mailbox multi-storey just past the venue at 6 after a steady run up. So I had the unusual experience of waiting in the queue for the venue to open; chatted with fellow punters, including a couple from the Cotswolds and their 9 year old daughter who was lamenting the omission of “Belfast Child” from tonight’s show. I’m bloody well not!
A note by the entrance stated that, as expected, this would be an early starting two-part set, but that part one would concentrate on the first 2 albums, different to my research which suggested they’d been mixing it up and opening with “I Travel”. So which would it be? That question was emphatically answered after the lights dimmed, dry ice enveloped the stage and the backing track played an early material snippet medley (including some tracks to be omitted tonight, notably “Sweat In Bullet”). Then, the boys took the stage and the scattergun synth opening of “I Travel” started up, getting me immediately plunging down the front, stage centre, and rocking out to one of my all-time fave Level 3 dance tracks.
Vocalist and main Minds inspiration Jim Kerr was also “on it” from the outset, throwing shapes with abandon and exhorting the crowd to sing along. Despite this being early material, you can take the boy out of the stadium, I guess, but you can’t take the stadium out of the boy… Despite his best efforts and my rocking out, however, the gig atmosphere took quite a while to settle in, the early and fuller hypnotic dance of “Changeling” notwithstanding. Did this crowd actually know what was supposed to be going on tonight? A seething “Scar” preceded a careful, almost perfunctory reading of “Life In A Day”, before an unexpectedly tough “Hunter And The Hunted” proved a surprising early highlight. However, the thunderous, billowing synth pulse of “Love Song” topped that, strident and tremulous, the energetic Kerr finally getting a reaction from this crowd. “Pleasantly Disturbed” actually came close to topping that, all creepy and sinuously moody before building to a cacophonous finale, by which time I was moshing and singing along with 3 other guys down the front. At last!
After a 15 minute breather, set part 2 commenced with a “Sons”/ “Sister” triple, opening with a terrace chant “American”, the Minds really warming to their task and igniting the crowd. Then – my time – a trio of “Real To Real Cacophony” numbers, with a brilliantly moody and sinister “Factory” making up for a slightly muted “Changeling”. Set part 2 was generally better received and played, culminating in the plangent magnificence of the oft-overlooked “Someone Somewhere In Summertime”, a resonant final set number.
They weren’t done though, and the ridiculously infectious, should’ve-been new wave anthem of “Someone” was an encore highlight, before “Chelsea Girl” saw otherwise excellent guitarist Charlie Burchill mucking up the middle 8 (hey, it’s a hard riff, and it’s been a long set…), before a thunderous “New Gold Dream” brought 2¼ hours of innovative yet nostalgic rock to a close. I could forgive some numbers for sounding a little unrehearsed, and the need to pack them all in precluding against any lengthy words from Jim Kerr, who moved the set along at a cracking pace and fully earned his corn tonight. I half expected some bumps in the road, but they were fewer than feared, and redressed by the simple fact that they were even playing these damn songs in the first place! A lengthy wait and much pestering finally saw me bag the keyboardist’s set-list, and I then caught breath and headed home for 12. Faith restored!