It was a reflective and contemplative George O’Dowd who performed at the Myer Music Bowl with Culture Club on Sunday night. He was flanked by a massive collective including original members John Moss, Mikey Craig and Roy Hay, a brass ensemble, a passionate percussionist and three incredibly talented backing singers. The choice of songs was a mélange of favourites from the height of Culture Club’s success with a few covers thrown in. The band also delivered a couple of new songs that O’Dowd tried out on the audience bemoaning the fact that they were revealed on “The Youtube” already.
George loves to talk. We were enamoured with stories of his past, the highs and lows of being in love and the inspirations for some of the songs. There was a certain piquancy to his stories, life has been difficult in the past few years and his manner and delivery reflected this.
The gig began with the dynamic Church of the Poison Mind with the more than capable backing singers reaching the Helen Terry intensity of the 80s. Two more hits followed with It’s a Miracle and I’ll Tumble 4 Ya. O’Dowd studied the audience taking particular note of what his (aging) fans wore to his gigs and providing a running commentary of dress, gender and commitment. He, himself, changed costume three times during the show from a demure mustard coloured coat, to a complete orange ensemble, and then finally to chameleon green in the encore. Wearing a hat was de rigueur. He has slowed down since the 80s. I remember more movement; bobbing and swaying to the freshly produced melodies of the era. But this show saw him walk around the stage weaving his way among the musicians but dancing little. He visibly relaxed as the night wore on and the comment about this being their last show revealed the common issue that many touring acts have in Australia – long distances and fatigue. Like I Used To was a powerful mix of “funk chaos”, saxophone solo and soulful backing singing.
The audience were ordered to “raise the roof” and push palms up into the cool summer night. Different Man was described as a “redemption and recovery“ song and then the tempo changed to the almost iconic Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? George gave us a little history about the release of this well- known ditty. He believed, back in the day, that it was too slow to release as a hit single but was proven wrong when it hit No. 1 in 32 countries.
Victims required us to get “involved emotionally” as he likes “to hear a pin drop” when he sings this.” He sang this solo with only a piano for accompaniment and it’s at these moments that he displays the impressive breadth of his vocal range. Following Victims was the equally sombre War Song where silence was once again requested and then he apologetically explained, “I get cranky, like a school teacher, if people don’t stay quiet.” This was a little lost where I was sitting as the gin and tonics flowed more regularly than an Antarctic ice melt.
The encore was an eclectic mix of Karma Chameleon, Purple Rain and Marc Bolan’s Get It On. George introduced the band, time was provided for solos and the revelation, “will be back in a few months for The Voice and maybe some more shows”. The audience ate it all up. Yes, we are older, yes we are slower but the presence and talent that is Boy George overrode all fallacies that he’s a has-been.