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.