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LIVE: CULTURE CLUB with BERLIN, Perth – 5 September, 2023

| 6 September 2023 | 1 Reply

LIVE: CULTURE CLUB with BERLIN, Perth – 5 September, 2023
RAC Arena
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Photography by Damien Crocker

This is one place I never thought I’d end up – much less enjoy. When Culture Club had their first smash hit – Do You Really Want To Hurt Me – in 1982, I was a 16 year old Iron Maiden-obsessed headbanger and my only thought was “WTF?!”

It took years to realise not only how irresistible these songs are, but also how revolutionary and brave Boy George was. In much the same way as David Bowie’s bisexuality-flaunting androgyny of twenty years prior, George’s open homosexuality and natural flamboyant style was a beacon for like-minded ‘80s kids dreaming of a more inclusive world.

Forty years later there have been enough years of drug busts and breakups and makeups and bust-ups and fuckups to sell a zillion gossip rags, but here we are – three quarters of the original band reformed and sounding fantastic.

Terri Nunn’s Berlin has had a not dissimilar rocky road (less scandalous, but equally acrimonious at times) but now founding member Jon Crawford – “the father of the band” – and golden period guitarist/synth player David Diamond are back in the fold, having merged with Nunn’s own version of Berlin a few years ago. They bring not only authenticity and chops, but Diamond’s priceless gleeful stage charisma.

The band are razor sharp and smokin’ hot – as they should be, having come directly from the States after a run of 26 or so shows supporting Culture Club. No cobwebs need blowing off here.

Masquerade is first, then demi-classic No More Words. Nunn is in fine voice and still sporting a two-tone hairdo (though how much of it is wig or extensions is debatable) and the interplay of the guitarists a major focal and aural point – Diamond looks like he’s having the time of his life, while Carlton Bost looks like he took a wrong turn on the way to the Napalm Death gig happening at the same time down the road, and provides much of the riff-ful heft that elevates Berlin above any old pop band.

The Metro harkens back to 1982’s Pleasure Victim album, when Nunn had rejoined the band after trying her hand as an actress. She auditioned for the part of Princess Leia in Star Wars in the late ‘70s, and even posed nude for Penthouse aged 15 under a pseudonym, but Berlin was always where she was meant to be. The song’s ice-cold synths on record take on new life with the full band and this is where Berlin have always excelled – with the interplay of new wave synth pop and crunchy guitar riffs.

“We’re celebrating 46 years of Berlin!” she reminds us. “We wrote a lot about dating back then… this is a song about how my man makes me feel on a date now!” Animal is a high-BPM offering from 2013, the only newish track they play tonight.

Like Flames is dedicated to the men and women of the military, including Nunn’s medic son Kenny, and Take My Breath Away is as sublimely beautiful as ever – only the slightest hint of gravel on her voice indicating the passing of the years or the gruelling tour schedule she’s been on.

Dancing In Berlin is a party, with much of the crowd on their feet and moving even more excitedly when Nunn wanders through the crowd, still singing, sparking a thousand Insta photos and videos.

Nunn announces that “we wanna pay tribute to our favourite Australian band – and this is my favourite religious song!” Yes, it’s AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, played pretty straight and rocking hard. From there they segue into the notorious synth raunch of Sex (I’m A…), a female empowerment manifesto and classic for the ages which never fails to excite and titillate, not least of which in the interplay between Crawford and Nunn.

Just fantastic.

Culture Club now features original members Boy George, bass player Mikey Craig and guitarist, keyboardist Roy Hay, augmented to a ten-strong band including drummer Meryl-Ann Evanson, multiple backing singers, and Perth’s own harmonica blowing legend Chelsea Gibson, who appeared on The Voice, show judge George famously offering her a job then and there.

Drummer Jon Moss isn’t involved any more – his tempestuous relationship with former partner George and, by extension, his place in the band, has been fraught for many years, and in 2021 he officially left the band.

The show opens with a funky and soulful take on The Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil, before running through most of the big hits, including a couple of George’s solo offerings.

Having just come from the hot United States, “I’m happy to be here where it’s like home – wet and cold,” George quips before the soulful groove of I’ll Tumble 4 Ya, the samba groove getting the crowd up and waving their hands in the air like they just don’t care.

A bass malfunction temporarily slows things down, with George – arty Picasso-like jacket, hip hand-woven bowl hat – filling the time with a little jazz vocal improv, then it’s straight into Move Away with good humour and affectionate camaraderie between the band members. In fact, George isn’t only in wonderful voice tonight, he’s charismatic and obviously positive of mood, his smile positively glowing – a far cry from his cocaine diva days of yore.

Melodrama features another Voice alumni, Vangelis Polydorou, whilst elsewhere Essex girl Roxy Yarnold steps in for duets, also beaming a radiant smile.

“You must like reggae music, or you wouldn’t be at a Culture Club concert,” George squeals as they launch his first solo hit, a reggae-fied cover of Bread’s Everything I Own. Here’s what I now appreciate about this band – the incredible melting pot of musical styles which make up their sound – reggae, soul, funk, R&B, gospel, pop, rock. The middle breakdown features a crowd singalong, there’s great harmonica and sax solos, and George even livestreams it from the stage as they hit an extended dance hall dub groove.

“I recently had my 62nd birthday,” he tells us in mock horror, “thank God for rock and roll – and foundation!”

Let It Go sees a sea of phone lights twinkling around the Arena, and they stay on for the first half of Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, redrawn as a broken hearted torch song before the more familiar reggae pop beat comes to the fore.

By the time Angel Of Mercy and Victims have come and gone George jokes “I heard you were a rowdy lot here in Perth” and he has a point – the crowd have got to their feet a few times, but only for a song at a time (not helped by the zealous Arena staff policing anyone who dares to make the slightest move forwards from their allocated seats), and whilst obviously enjoying themselves and overwhelmingly positive, they are undoubtedly a rainy Tuesday night mellow kinda crowd. It’s always hard to stir up atmosphere in such a huge room, especially in ‘intimate’ mode with curtains drawn around the upper tier of seats, but from the floor the vibe feels very good, positive and warm.

That’s The Way (I’m Only Trying To Help You) leads into the good time gospel groove of Church Of The Poison Mind, augmented with a little of Wham’s I’m Your Man. Finally, the crowd are up and dancing again. Time (Clock Of The Heart) and Miss Me Blind close out the main set, before the encore starts with T-Rex’s Bang A Gong (Get It On), George now sporting yellow polkadots and a matching banana yellow bowler-type hat. The entire band are having a blow on this cover, looking for all the world like it’s the time of their life, and George handles the band intros, finishing self deprecatingly with “I’m Boy George – and I created myself from cardboard and glitter.”

On their American tour Terri Nunn often joined Culture Club to duet on the encore tracks, but perhaps that hint of gravel was sign she should rest her voice for the rest of the Aussie tour.

The last track is, of course, Karma Chameleon, a harmonica-drenched good vibe mainline hit of pure sugar pop, and a gloriously fab way to round out an acutely enjoyable night.

Frankly, sixteen-year-old me would be disgusted, but hand on heart – both bands were fantastic, and shouldn’t be missed next time they’re playing near you.

Set List – Berlin:

No More Words
The Metro
Like Flames
Take My Breath Away
Dancing In Berlin
Highway To Hell
Sex (I’m A…)

Set List – Culture Club:

Sympathy For The Devil
It’s A Miracle
I’ll Tumble 4 Ya
Move Away
Everything I Own
Let It Go
Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
Angel Of Mercy
That’s The Way (I’m Only Trying To Help You)
Church Of The Poison Mind (including I’m Your Man)
Time (Clock Of The Heart)
Miss Me Blind

Get It On
Karma Chameleon


Category: Live Reviews, Photo Galleries

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