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Culture Club @ The Riverstage Review

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Culture Club at Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne) 10 June, 2016 Culture Club at Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne) 10 June, 2016 Image © Carl Neumann
It’s not every day that you get to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ not once but twice to Boy George.

But that’s exactly what the crowd at Culture Club’s Brisbane show (14 June) were able to do as they joined in the celebrations of the 1980s pop frontman’s 55th birthday.

Click here for photos from the Melbourne show.

The concert opened with a video montage of Culture Club’s heyday, featuring snippets of music clips, sound bites of interviews and remarks from fans. The clip not only showcased George’s cheeky boldness, but also society’s reaction to his unconventional, gender-bending arrival to the world stage. For me, the band’s universal appeal was summed up in one quote from George: “Culture Club’s a one-stop shop for anyone who feels left out.”

The nine-piece backing group, plus original band members Mikey Craig (bass guitar), Roy Hay (guitar and keyboards), Jon Moss (drums and percussion) and George, resplendent in a black and white ensemble of matching top hat, coat and pants, kicked off the set with the gospel, brass and harmonica infused ‘Church Of The Poison Mind’.

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Culture Club @ Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne) 10 June, 2016 - image © Carl Neumann

With the original music video playing on the giant screen, it was clear that the show was going to be a one-stop shop for fans there to revel in the English band’s glory days. Equally, popular tracks ‘It’s A Miracle’ and ‘I’ll Tumble 4 Ya’ followed suit, and it was at the latter’s conclusion that the crowd seized the opportunity to serenade George for his birthday.

Clearly touched, George continued the set with ‘Move Away’, the reggae style ‘Everything I Own’ and ‘Black Money’, which proved that George still has mastery over his smooth, laidback croon. A keyboard solo by Hay provided the opportunity for George to don his second of three outfits of the night, which I was thrilled to see featured the trademark fluorescent day-glo colours of the '80s.

Dedicating the song ‘Victims’ to the people of Orlando, George said: “Let’s all pray for peace in the world. It’s a beautiful thing.” 'Time (Clock Of The Heart)’ followed before the '80s revival was halted with ‘Like I Used To’, a track from the band’s still unreleased album, ‘Tribes’. Introducing the song, George declared, “Let’s do some funk”, and it appears he felt it, sashaying around the stage with his characteristic dainty side step and delicate wrist rolls.

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Culture Club at Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne) 10 June, 2016 - image © Carl Neumann

‘Different Man’ continued the new material, before ‘Miss Me Blind' resumed the '80s dance hits. George’s collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys, ‘The Crying Game’, provided a sombre interlude, before the ever popular ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ continued the theme of love, loss and betrayal. ‘More Than Silence’ closed the official set.

The band’s biggest hit, ‘Karma Chameleon’, was a no brainer for the encore, and it kicked it off sublimely, bathing the adoring crowd in the colours of red, gold and green. At the song’s conclusion, support act Bjorn Again arrived on stage bearing a large cake topped with sparklers, and the crowd happily sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to “dear Georgie” for a second time.

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Culture Club at Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne) 10 June, 2016 - image © Carl Neumann

Following instructions to face the screen, it was George’s turn to take a walk down memory lane, as a second video montage conveyed happy birthday messages from celebrity friends including Lionel Ritchie, Cyndi Lauper, Elton John, Naomi Campbell, Caitlyn Jenner and Kate Moss, who sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to George Marilyn Monroe style.

Returning to the microphone, George shirked convention in his typical fashion, finishing off the show with two covers, David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ and T. Rex’s ‘Bang A Gong (Get It On)’. Addressing the crowd mid-song, George reiterated the need for tolerance and acceptance. “We always have to get it on with ourselves and each other. Make sure you bring some love to this crazy world.”

The Brisbane show concluded the Australian leg of Culture Club’s world tour, and as they jet off for Asia, Mexico and America, I have no doubt that they will be spreading the love.

Click here for photos from the Melbourne show.

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