This tour not only brought Simple Minds back to US shores for the first time in over a decade, it also let Americans experience the band with backing vocalist Sarah Brown. She was their first backing vocalist since Annie McCaig guested on their “Street Fighting Years” tour in 1989. Jim Kerr caught her singing with Bryan Ferry and poached her forthwith for Simple Minds’ “Graffiti Soul” concerts in 2009, and she’s been with the band [and Jim Kerr’s solo gigs as Lostboy! a.k.a.] where it made sense to have her along. Of course, she sat out the legendary “5×5” tour, but she was here tonight adding her vocals to the mix.
She was absolutely necessary for the third song in the set. The title cut to “Once Upon A Time” needs a strong backing vocal and while drummer Mel Gaynor can certainly fill the breach admirably, he really can’t fill up Robin Clark’s shows from the 1986 tour. That was not a favorite time for the band to me, but I certainly can’t lay any blame at Ms. Clarke’s feet. Truth be told, she was one of the best things about that concert in 1986! Even so, the title track has always been a favorite song from that dicey album. It has a feel that marks it as compatible with “Sparkle In The Rain” more than tracks that taxed me back then like “Oh Jungleland.” Tonight, the song actually sounded great because Simple Minds are just in a much better head space compared to during their big leap at the brass ring in 1986. They are a wiser, tighter band by far who are seeing the big picture and acting accordingly… and the results are nothing to decry. I am enjoying the song much more than the last time I heard it live.
Which is good, because the next song was another of “Once Upon A Time’s” higher points. “All The Things She Said” was another bright spot of “Once Upon A Time” and if I had to hear two in a row from it, they could not have picked better songs. As it turned out, not surprisingly, “Once Upon A Time” would be one of two touchstones that this gig would draw significantly from. I liked the way that Kerr brought Ms. Brown to the front of the stage and duetted with her on the number. He emphasized the call and response nature of the track, even with his stage movements, more than I had ever seen before and it made for a good change in the number’s presentation.
If I’d be in for an airing of much [but not all] of “Once Upon A time,” then this was more than mitigated by the equally strong reliance on “New Gold Dream” for this set list! And next up was the tremendous “Hunter + The Hunted;” sounding every bit as thrilling as it had been live on the B-side to “Waterfront” all those decades ago. Bassist Ged Grimes hit the strummed bass riff that heralded the number as powerfully as The Mighty Forbes had in his day and that was enough to set the hairs rising on the back of my arms. Even now, the memory of it is sending shivers down my spine. It also gave keyboardist Andy Gillespie a chance to take the song’s distinctive solo places during the middle eight. This was billed as a “Greatest Hits” tour, but five songs in we already had two deep cuts offered. Three if you count the new song at the top of the set.
After the NGD deep cut, it was time for a curve ball. You could have knocked me over with a feather when the next track was a cover of The Call’s hit “Let The Day Begin.” I laughed and poked his shoulder as Echorich gnashed his teeth next to me. Our mutual disdain of The Call, coupled with memories of that band opening for Simple Minds in ’86 probably didn’t need any prodding by the band, but their version of the track sounded better than The Call’s on “In Search Of The Lost Boys” and for whatever reason, Kerr was a fan of Michael Been, so I rolled with the choice a little more mellow than Echorich did. Even he would be the first to admit that placing that in a “hits” set was pretty bold.
By this time, I had let go and was opening myself to the possibilities. The dynamic cold intro to “Glittering Prize” was a harbinger to the sweetest bass riff ever, as played by Mr. Grimes. It felt magnificent to experience music this potent in a SRO club that held just the right amount of fans with the band 20 feet in front of me hitting their paces crisply and full of spirit. As the middle third of the set had begun, it would take me places that few concerts ever had as the vibe here was about as thrilling as it appeared on the video for “Waterfront,” shot in Scotland thirty years ago. I always loved the clip for that song since it seemed to almost manage the magic of capturing lightning in a bottle in the way that it embodied the pulse-pounding excitement of this incredible band, performing a powerful song, at what was arguably the peak of their powers. The show at the 9:30 Club that night would succeed in putting across that same thrilling energy without the techniques of editing or montage. This was an experience that I had prepared for, but could not have imagined just how potent it would actually be.
Next: …The Payload