Review by Justin Burkhardt
“I heard on Facebook that this is one of the hippest places in America to play” said Boy George, lead singer of the English new wave band Culture Club who were the headlining act at the Sands Steel Stage on Saturday night. Touring with all the original members for the first time in 14 years, Culture Club performed for a sparse (oh don’t worry we’ll get to that later) but enthusiastic crowd and those who were in attendance were treated to a show filled with some awesome 80’s nostalgia, great songs, and a lead singer who kept the audience engaged all night long.
Culture Club started the show with “Church of the Poison Mind” before George made his remarks about playing MusikFest. He also added “I completely work with that building (the Steelstacks) and can’t wait to see it lit up”. The band, which besides Boy George featured 13 people, including the 3 lady background singers, played through their hits like “It’s a Miracle” and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”, “Miss Me Blind”, “Victims”, and “Time (Clock of the Heart” with the same enthusiasm I’ve seen in their old music videos. Being born in 1985 I felt like I stepped back into time for the night. Though I must admit that I, and the girl sitting next to me, were disappointed and remarked that we didn’t really see anyone dressed up like they were from the 80’s or in Boy George style fashion. I’m sure there were some people there, but I wish I would have seen them. (It was too hot for my member’s only jacket, so I left it at home)
Culture Club also performed a very solid Reggae-sounding cover of Bread’s “Everything I own” which then transition into “Let Somebody Love You”, a new Reggae-infused track from their new upcoming album Tribes. The band also performed another new song “Runaway Train”, a Johnny Cash-inspired culture club sounding song but with a country twang. I enjoyed these two new songs, and how they were mixed into the set. The band was on point all night long, especially the three female back-up singers.
But Boy George was the star of the show. Even between the numerous costume/hat changes (I counted five, including one giant black headdress) he kept the audience engaged through out the night. He joked about things like how he, like Taylor Swift turn their relationships with boys into songs. He also talked about how the song “Beautiful Ones” by Prince is the song he likes to play when he’s sad. He even talked about the progress we’ve made as a culture when it comes to gay rights and sexuality, even commenting “What the hell is normal” (when it comes to sex/sexuality). I feel keeping an audience engaged has become sort of a lost art these days with some performers and I really appreciate it when a lead singer not only does it, but it seems natural and unforced. It just makes for a better concert experience in my opinion. While Boy George’s voice may have changed a little bit with age, he’s still great on stage.
The regular set ended with the hit “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”. The band returned to the stage for an encore which started with “More than Silence”, went into their big hit “Karma Chameleon”, and ended with “Bang a Gong (Get it on)”, a T.Rex cover. If I had one minor complaint about the show it would be that I didn’t hear “The War Song”. One of the band members had a “War is Stupid” shirt on and I believe they were selling them in the merch tent, which made me want to hear the song!
80’s culture has made a bit of a comeback in recent years, which is why it saddened me to see most of the bleachers (and some of the audience seats) left unfilled. This is why we can’t have nice things Lehigh Valley. I absolutely applaud ArtsQuest for getting a reunion tour like this (especially for someone my age who wasn’t able to see Culture Club in the 80’s) and like the Flaming Lips the night before, it’s an absolute shame more people didn’t attend. I know there are a lot of diverse and smart music fans in the Lehigh Valley, I’m still just left wondering where they were to support a talented band that has sold over 50 million records and were one of the biggest groups of their era. If you get a chance to see this reunion while they’re still stateside, do yourself a favor and do so & enjoy an hour and 45 minute set of 80’s nostalgia!