Simple Minds… at The Oasis? Simple Minds? Oh, go on then…!
Truth to tell, I would have been happy to leave Simple Minds be, following that brilliant Birmingham show in February 2012 (gig 845), part of their epic “5 X 5” tour whereby they revisited those halcyon early days and albums when they were cutting-edge sonic innovators, rather than the pot-rattling stadium bluster uber-bores they unfortunately metamorphosed into. Let’s face it, there’s no way they’d top a set which featured the likes of “Premonition”, “Factory”, “Chelsea Girl”, “70 Cities” et al (well, maybe if they decided to do “Real To Real Cacophony” and “Empires And Dance” start to finish on the same night…?). However, a gig at the Oasis, 10 minutes’ walk from my front door? OK, I’m game for that, happy to grit teeth through the post “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” muck for the Glittering Prize of some early material knowing it was a short walk home afterwards, and happy to shell out the steep – hell, make that vertical – £50 ticket price knowing there was no add-on petrol or car parking outlay!
Another added bonus for this evening was that my brother, who, despite having seen similar post-punk rockists turned flag-waving stadium filling tub-thumpers U2 over 100 times, had never seen Simple Minds before, was able to join me! So, after some Bobby’s chippy tea, we wandered over to the sparsely attended Oasis early doors (no sell-out, this), taking a wander down into the hall when it opened at 7, and sat in our centrally located seats, about 2/3rds back, chewing the cud whilst watching the hall fill up.
Wait, what? Seats? Oh yes. In their infinite wisdom, The Oasis had determined that tonight was a seated performance, the hall set up in temporary rows like a sales rep conference, a potential atmosphere killer. As the witching hour approached, and the audience of Saturday night couples and the long-standing faithful filed politely in, we reflected on this state of affairs. It just seemed… well, wrong, really…
Happily, we weren’t the only ones who thought that… As the lights dimmed at 8 following their stirring orchestral intro music and the band filed onstage, vocalist Jim Kerr, typically the last on, took to the mic and remarked, “a seated audience at a Simple Minds gig? It’s impossible to sit down at a Simple Minds gig – it’s like going to a party in Glasgow and wearing underwear; it just doesn’t happen!” That thankfully got the remaining seated audience members on their feet and immediately rocking to set opener, a rambunctious cover of sadly forgotten 80’s band The Call’s “Let The Day Begin”. Immediately Kerr was in stadium frontman mode, the archetypal audience mass communicator, all extravagant gestures and fulsome movements, exhorting the crowd to clap along. “There’s not too many places we come to for the first time,” he announced before the synth opening to the solid and rather good actually newie “Blindfolded”, getting the crowd onside further with a plangent early “Glittering Prize”.
Then… the unmistakeable staccato quickfire synth opening to the epic “I Travel”, easily Simple Minds’ finest hour and one of my favourite records ever to dance to, a thrilling krautrock rollercoaster ride through stark concrete 80’s European cityscapes. I gave it loads to this breathless and breathtaking rendition, arms flailing wildly about and knees taking a pounding to the pulsing beat, and shouting “keep going!” and “play it all night” when it sadly reached its’ all-too-soon fadeout conclusion. Following that, the subsequent “New Gold Dream” was, sadly, both tremendous and disappointing at the same time!
“Live Aid... Mandela Day... now Swindon on a Saturday night!” remarked the firmly tongue-in-cheek Kerr before a stripped back “American”, the acoustic treatment proving rather lovely, after which I took a seat for a couple of later numbers before getting up again for the synth pulse and snare snap of a splendid “Love Song”. The inevitable “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” rounded off set part one, Kerr oddly checking his watch and saying, “some of us have work tomorrow”, before thanking us, “for making us feel like rockstars” (odd, I’d not noticed anyone giving them cocaine and blowjobs, but still…).
After a short intermission, set part two was less remarkable; backing vocalist Sarah Brown took lead on the opening couple of tracks, with Kerr himself being more understated, more economical with his vocals, legacy of a recent bout of flu alluded to earlier, happier to allow the enthusiastic audience to backfill his vocal lines. Despite 2 starts (“2 screw ups!”), a haunting, expansive “Someone Somewhere In Summertime” was far and away set 2’s highlight, again evocative, plangent and magnificent.
An uneven but understandably very professionally delivered performance was capped with an odd, almost funky reading of The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”, featuring 3-part lead vocals delivered by Kerr, Brown and keyboardist Catherine AD, before the closing “Alive And Kicking” saw me throw shapes in the aisle as if it were 1985 again. I grabbed the set-list from the obliging light-man before wandering off with Paul, reflecting on a set with many memorable moments amongst the stadium pop, most notably the brilliant “I Travel”, and in Jim Kerr a frontman who can still ignite a crowd despite advancing years and a recent flu bout. Worthwhile overall again, and better for Paul, who after wandering home with me to collect his motor, drove past the venue again and got selfies with guitarist Charlie Burchill and drummer Mel Gaynor (whose performance he’d been (positively) critiquing most of the evening). Lucky sod!