5 takeaways from Culture Club at the Statesman Skyline Theater

Culture Club performs at the Statesman Skyline Theater at The Long Center in Austin, Texas on August 2, 2016 - Photo Credit: Scott Moore/For American-Statesman

Culture Club performs at the Statesman Skyline Theater at The Long Center in Austin, Texas on August 2, 2016 – Photo Credit: Scott Moore/For American-Statesman

On Tuesday night, ’80s pop sensation Culture Club took the stage at the Statesman Skyline Theater for a solid 90 minute set that mixed ample nostalgic throwbacks with timeless rhythm and groove to provide a fine midsummer dance party. The show is part of the band’s largest tour in years and in addition to all four original members, the touring crew included a horn section, an extra drum kit and a trio of soulful backup singers. The expansive ensemble created a rich tapestry of sound.

» See more photos of Culture Club at Statesman Skyline Theater

Culture Club doesn’t have an extensive category of hits, but the group’s legacy as musical pioneers — a multi-ethnic ensemble with one of the world’s first openly gay frontmen — has earned them a loyal following. The hillside amphitheater was far from its capacity of 7,000, but a respectable crowd turned out and the entire front section was wildly enthusiastic throughout the show. Here are a few takeaways from the concert.

Boy George’s voice is not what it used to be. Let’s be honest, Boy George never had the soaring pipes of Whitney Houston or even Bono, but over time a significant rasp has overtaken the sincere clarity that defined his voice.  “Gravity has taken its toll,” the original gender bender said, introducing one of his band’s international hits, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.” He explained the song had morphed into a reggae blues jam over the years and in that context his graveled tones actually built on the song’s naturally mournful quality and worked quite well. At other points, his voice seemed thin and it was occasionally lost in the band’s grandiose mixes.

Culture Club is a truly fantastic band. The ensemble smoothly shifted styles, emphasizing the laid back reggae riffs and hip-baiting polyrhythms that always made the band more than a run of the mill pop machine. The sound beds were intricate and complex, but very danceable.  Yes, Boy George’s voice was occasionally weak, but his back up singers fortified it, spinning glorious harmonies that bolstered the emotional force of the music.

Brits are not built for the heat, but Boy George is a good sport. “Well done for standing outside in this unbelievable heat,” he said at the top of the show. Later, he abandoned his stylishly graphic coat while charmingly apologizing to his stylist. Throughout the show, he maintained a warm and self-deprecating demeanor that was very endearing.

The Statesman Skyline Theater could use a big screen. With a capacity of over 5,000 and nothing but lawn seats some sort of LED screen would enhance the experience significantly. The amphitheater was far from full, so sight lines weren’t terrible, and the light show was quite good, but a lot of onstage detail was lost, which is a shame, because Boy George is such a visually iconic performer. If 7,000 people were actually in the house, only about half would have a decent view of the stage.

The encore is a dated concept. Dear Boy George, we love you, and understand you probably appreciated having a break to towel off before your grand finale, but no one actually believed you were going to leave without playing “Karma Chameleon,” so perhaps let’s skip the part where you say goodnight and pretend to go so we all cheer really hard for a few minutes. In theory it’s supposed to build energy and anticipation, but these days audiences are accustomed to artists playing tightly structured sets. A good section of the audience up front played along, cheering wildly, caught up in the moment, but in 2016, the obvious encore moment feels contrived.

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