After the plateau that “This Fear Of Gods” through “Love Song” delivered, it was time to come back to earth. “See The Lights” is a great choice to nudge the concert into the home stretch since their biggest US hits thus far were beginning to makes their absence felt. “See The Lights” is a beautiful little song from a band that seemed to be only making grand gestures at the time, and it capably stands as my favorite song of their “stadium years.” That it was their last US top 40 tune [scraping in at #40!] means that at least it had an audience here, thankfully. It certainly deserved one. Charlie and Andy took turns coaxing the delicate melody aloft to a wonderful effect.
By now, the elephant in the room made its presence known. It was time for that song. I thanked my lucky stars that they no longer felt the need to pad it out to over ten minutes of running time since no-one knew their previous six albums of material in America! We got by with about five minutes and that was pretty good, considering that this was the sing-along that many there were eager to participate in. Kerr joked “now let’s hear it in French…” as one of the many languages in which the audience responded with the requisite la-las en Français. Some fans cried “Portuguese!” to Kerr’s laughter.
After that hit, the last tune of the night for the hard core hit the play list. We were treated to a “back to the basics” rip through “Promised You A Miracle” that gratefully avoided the mid-80s live arrangement as seen on “Live In The City Of Light” for a shimmering evocation of the original, more dazzling studio recording. And with that it was the end of the main set.
The band didn’t waste too much time offstage and a minute or two later, arrived back to finish off the enthusiastic crowd. The rest of their portfolio of hits would be delivered, and if these were not my favorites of their canon, then at least they were performed with more taste and restraint than when I first saw them live in 1986. It began with “Sanctify Yourself” and went next to “Alive + Kicking,” their #3 follow-up to “Don’t You [Forget About Me].” Then things picked up a bit for the fourth single off of “Once Upon A Time,” “Ghostdancing.” I thought that it was the finale for the evening, but I noticed Kerr talking to Ged Grimes and the others off mike. It looked like a set list change and as “Ghostdancing” ebbed, it morphed into Them’s “Gloria.” Another cut from their “Neon Lights” album. It felt good ending a set this intense with a cover version that every one could have fun with.
As if to underscore this choice, as the band took their final bows, the end of set music came up and it was a perfect choice: David Bowie’s “Jean Genie;” the song that had given them their name 35 years earlier. They were having fun cavorting off the stage to it and the last one to depart was Jim Kerr, dancing off the stage to the blues riff given a new interpretation by Bowie and Ronson. The lights came up and I was a very happy man. I’d really valued their 2002 show at the same venue. Kerr had made great strides away from the person I’d last seen in 1986, thankfully. But as good as that show had been [they had played “I Travel,” my favorite Simple Minds song that night and the only thing missing for me from this evening] the level reached didn’t seem to be quite up to the par here tonight.
There could be many reasons for that. First of all, Simple Minds had not toured in America for eleven years. There could be no taking anything for granted this time, since Kerr had plainly stated that these shows were “make-or-break” on the band’s website and social media pages as he admonished any and all fans to attend. The band were certainly on fire and gave their all. Charlie was inspirational and played all over the stage with a huge grin on his face. The exercise of playing the 5×5 shows has certainly delivered renewed energy to his playing as he re-connected with the more abstract player of his youth. The more obvious playing of the mid-80s had been jettisoned as he tried to take a different approach that split the difference for a better effect. He was working for his money this night and it was exciting to hear.
New bassist Ged Grimes has moved from one of the best Scottish bands [Danny Wilson] to the best Scot band. As much as he honored some of the best Post-Punk bass lines ever, he was also managing to keep it loose and showed the fun he was having on his face. I can’t wait to hear what his recorded works sound like with the band on their new album. Powerhouse drummer Mel Gaynor was a busy man that evening. The real power of Simple Minds is in the rhythm section and he had his work cut out for him. But when I beamed a big smile in his direction mid-set, I swear he noticed and responded in kind. When Jim Kerr calls him the best drummer in the world and adds “I know because he told me” he may be playfully teasing, but he’s not engaging in hyperbole.
Best of all, Kerr seemed to be in the throes of an excellent late career 4th or 5th wind. He was light and nimble; not just for his age  but he also managed to show up the stodgy 27 year old who disappointed me bitterly in 1986. He even managed to improve his stagecraft in the eleven years since I’d seen him. Echorich suggested he was more like Bryan Ferry onstage and I’d agree. He was certainly having fun as he surfed that show like the pro he was. At one point, Kerr waggishly commented to the enthusiastic audience in-between songs that “we should be paying you… but we are Scottish” with an impish grin as he rubbed his thumb and forefingers together. The ability to balance humor, pop anthems, intense art rock, and to come off gracefully doing it is no mean feat, but he seems to have learned much in his over 30 years onstage helming this band.
He seems to value my preferred early period of the band now more than any other time in the last 25 years. Exciting material that was earlier than “New Gold Dream” is no longer locked in the basement like an embarrassing relative [as in 1986] but instead is given the respect that it deserves. More obvious hits that have filled his coffers are given modest reverence that no longer crosses the line into embarrassing fealty, even as Kerr recognizes that his future fortunes no longer rest on them. The last studio album was excellent. That it was followed up with the incredible 5×5 tour shows that the band are on the best possible path.
Heritage acts that will play a well regarded classic album in its entirety before splitting the set with the rest of their hits are a dime a dozen. It took insight and hard work to instead focus attention on their entire back catalogue from their Post-Punk era when they were creatively on fire and to lavish the whole era with the concert tour that, in retrospect, I really should have auctioned a kidney to attend. Only Sparks [more on them later] have surpassed that achievement with their complete 21 album discography being aired, in order, in May-June 2008. But the fact Simple Minds did that, and that a “greatest hits” romp through America had the audacity to include “This Fear Of Gods;” a song that didn’t get played on any tours after 1981 until the 5×5 sets holds the health of this band in rosy form indeed.
With Derek Forbes now ensconced in Big Country to my utter indifference, and with Mike MacNeil adding delightful polish to the new Visage, I’m of the opinion that Simple Minds are on a roll now that certainly doesn’t need their participation to achieve greatness. Andy Gillespie has taken that classic material and made it his own. I appreciate the fact that he doesn’t just sample old master tapes for a deadeningly literal romp through the graveyard, but instead concentrates on getting the vibe right instead. Ged Grimes has the sauce to take this band places going forward on bass. He must be aware that his is the critical position that all of Simple Minds salad days have circled around. Kerr and Burchill have one eye on their past as they plot the band’s future with Steve Hillage in the producer’s chair for their next album. And Mel Gaynor? Everyone knows he’s the best drummer in the world! I can not wait to see where they go next!
Simple Minds | 9:30 Club – Washington D.C. | Oct. 18, 2013
1. Broken Glass Park
3. Once Upon A Time
4. All The Things She Said
5. Hunter and the Hunted
6. Let the Day Begin (The Call cover)
7. Glittering Prize
8. New Gold Dream
9. Theme For Great Cities
10. Neon Lights (Kraftwerk cover)
11. Someone Somewhere (In Summertime)
12. This Fear of Gods
13. She’s A River
14. The American
15. Love Song
16. See The Lights
17. Don’t You (Forget About Me)
18. Promised You A Miracle
19. Sanctify Yourself
20. Alive and Kicking
22. Gloria (Them cover)
– 30 –