This had been a long time coming. It had been over a decade since I had last seen Simple Minds, at the exact same club, interestingly enough. In 2002, during a rough period in my life professionally, I drove the eight hours to Washington D.C. with my stalwart friend Charles [another voice in the comments] for a show that had been a long time coming even then. That show went far in wiping out the memory of the poor showing that the band had made during their first headlining tour of America following their freak success borne on the wings of a John Hughes soundtrack hit. The “Once Upon A Time Tour” was a real painful thing to behold as a long-time fan dating back to 1981. The 2002 show also gave me very fond memories to coast on for years as I got to see one of my favorite bands really deliver during a stressful time in my life.
In the intervening 11 years since the first show I saw at the 9:30 Club, I have come to grow even more fond of Simple Minds than I was 32 years ago. Listening to live bootlegs and their studio canon more diligently than ever before has given me an even greater appreciation for them than I had for them “back in the day.” If I had been cornered in 1982, the #1 band I’d have wanted to see would have been Ultravox with Simple Minds perhaps in my top ten; certainly below Japan, OMD, David Bowie, Roxy Music, The Human League and a few others. Not so today. Whatever their mistakes over the years, Simple Minds really knew how to deliver live. I consider them one of the best acts I could have seen in the Post-Punk heyday. I was not fond of their stadium years, but from 1995 onward, I had wanted to see them live again, even after the grossly disappointing ’86 tour, which should have been enough to sever my fandom.
When their sextet of North American dates appeared on their home page this Summer, it was like a bolt of electricity hitting. I was on top of those tickets and my wife was booking lodgings in D.C. with all due haste. That it was coming a few weeks after my 50th birthday was about as fine a gift as I could hope for. When the dust cleared, it transpired that my old partner in New Wave, chasinvictoria would be flying into D.C. from his Victoria abode to attend the show and spend a week with us that ended with him also attending the Sparks show in Atlanta before going on his way on the rest of his East Coast tour. Even better, my number one commenter, Echorich, had made plans to attend so I’d get a chance to meet and greet with him after several years of dialogue on this blog! Good fun and it was all centered on this band that had beguiled me so strongly over the last 32 years.
Jim Kerr had touted the shows frankly as the last chance for Simple Minds in America. The brief tour was a tester to see if they still had any pull with the promoters, never mind the fans like me who had almost given up hope. Eleven years between tours is an eternity in pop music. I took it as a good omen when the 9:30 Club show was the first to sell out. I had been encouraged by the moves that Simple Minds had been making in the last several years. Their last new album, 2009’s “Graffiti Soul” had been an excellent collection with songs like “Moscow Underground” hitting tantalizingly close to the marks they had nailed in 1981 on “Sons + Fascination” with its subtle, compelling Krautrock motorik feel. Then Jim Kerr followed that quickly up with a solo album that seemed to be moving even more Post-Punk direction. That it appeared only a year after “Graffiti Soul” spoke to some drive that was good to see in someone so “seasoned.” Simple Minds had produced their best work in their early period with six albums released within four years. I thought they produced better work without laboring over it so much. I liked the idea of Kerr straining at the bit!
We arrived at the 9:30 Club following an afternoon of record shopping with Echorich for the early [7:00 p.m.] show. There was no opening act to adulterate the Simple Minds high I was about to receive. We assumed our places about six rows back from the front of the stage. I was packing earplugs, but would only use them under duress. I don’t believe in filtering the voices of the gods when they deign to appear within driving distance! The stage was intimate, perhaps 40 feet wide. The club held about a thousand in reasonable comfort, but even so, The Minds had brought a killer lighting rig that really made this show pop. As showtime approached, the pre-show sounds of their contemporaries were joined by just enough fog to show the lights off.
They opened the set audaciously; with “Broken Glass Park,” one of their brand new songs from their “Celebrate” greatest hits collection that this tour was predicated on. Impressive! I had been anticipating the killer opener that is “Waterfront.” Since I have yet to obtain this package, this marked the first time that I had heard the new track. It was a nimble track suggestive of the missing link between “Sons + Fascination” and “New Gold Dream.” The unabashed nostalgia of the lyrics which harkened back to the days when they were only dreaming about forming a band gave it a light touch that they never dared to show in their early days. The audience had no trouble getting into this new track since the vibe was a real winner.
Perhaps hedging their bets, the next song was “Waterfront!” New bassist Ged Grimes [ex-Danny Wilson] began to hammer that paleolithic bass line and I lost all reserve then and there. As when I saw Kraftwerk in 1998, I would be weeping like a babe throughout this most emotional of songs. Is there anything more stirring than this track? No, I didn’t think so! Charlie Burchill was beaming as his peals of guitar were soaring over the bass line and powerful back end that drummer Mel Gaynor was laying down. For his part, Kerr was a graceful presence with none of the ungainly rockstar posturing that marred my first concert with the band in 1986. He rode the music like a wave and easily connected with the audience in the packed club. A thousand people, SRO – really is the sweet spot to experience music and few gigs were as sweet as this to my ears. It would be an electric evening ahead.
Next: …Another voice