Live Report: Culture Club

Rosemont Horizon, Chicago, August 15, 1998

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When Virgin Records released the single "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" in the pseudo-progressive early Eighties, it was cloaked in a plain white wrapper. Apparently, company conservatives were afraid that Boy George's sexual ambiguity might "frighten" record buyers.

"We've come a long way since then," exclaimed the now openly-gay singer, as he admired the same-sex couples swapping spit in the front row. Full circle to be exact. Since the band's abrupt break-up in 1986, amid a lover's conflagration between Boy George and drummer Jon Moss, George began abusing heroin to placate his tattered personal life and fallen career. All this has been well documented on VH-1's Behind the Music, now playing on a television near you.

So while this summer's "Big Rewind" tour, featuring fellow early MTV staples Howard Jones and the Human League, may be just an excuse to release a double-CD retrospective and for George to don ten-gallon hats, it's also a way to celebrate the resilience of pop music's favorite drag queen. And that was enough reason for the cross-cultural mix of thirtysomething suburbanites, George doppelgangers and curious club kids to buy into it.

"Some of you people are far too young to know who the hell I am," vamped the Boy mid-way through the fifteen-song set, which included the band's hits, "Karma Chameleon," "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," "Time (Clock of the Heart)" and "Miss Me Blind." It wasn't the hits, however, that stole the show. New songs, like the soporific, nightshift "Strange Voodoo" and the reggae-tinged "I Just Want to Be Loved" (prefaced by a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Clinton sex scandal) were beautifully orchestrated in an over-the-top adult contemporary sort of way. The quartet -- smooshed between an equal number of touring musicians -- even threw a bone to their diehard fans (there must be some) by playing the more obscure, soulful dirge "Black Money" from Colour By Numbers.

Throughout, Culture Club's feathery soul and campy demeanor were somehow able to overwhelm the snap, crackle and pop of feedback that plagued the seventy-minute set. Frivolity and fun, it seems, are immune to anything.