[continued from previous post]
Disc two began with an impressive five song suite from “Sons + Fascination/Sister Feelings Call” beginning with a rousing classic that probably gets heavy setlist play even after 31 years, but that doesn’t mean that it’s played out. “The American” is tailor made for singing along with the infectious, single word chorus. The drop dead stupid beat gave this song a monolithic power second to none. When I last saw the band, they played this and it was a real peak experience for me after waiting decades for that moment, and you’d better believe that I was right up there 30 feet max from Kerr onstage giving it all I had in a sheerly exhilarating concert moment like almost none other I’ve had. Patti Smith offering me the mic on “Rock + Roll Nigger” certainly comes to mind as matching it.
Next came one of my favorite “Sons +Fascination” tracks; “70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall.” It’s a song that is built on a trance-inducing sequencer rondo and features the brilliant bovine bleats that are singular to this tune. The manner in which the tapestry of tones, rhythm and melody build up to a complex web of sound always marks this track as a stunning piece of work. It was followed by the elusive “In Trance As Mission,” which was one of the lighter moments on “Sons + Fascination.” The off-kilter, stuttering rhythms of this number offset a simple, winning melody with some soaring Burchill solos in the climax. The extended middle eight of this number was given an expansive, nearly psychedelic injection of chorused, phased vocals that really adds a lot to the sense of adventure inherent in this song before Burchill took off on a sweet solo as the song ended..
The title track to Sons + Fascination,” with its methodical, martial tattoo of synthetic drums showed that the mighty pounder Mel Gaynor could effectively sit on the radically different drum stool of Brian McGee rather well. The style of this period of their music is completely at odds with the Bonham influence Gaynor favors, so he probably grew the most of any of the band members with this series of shows. He addressed this fact in the booklet liner notes and I say the man deserved a bonus.
“Sweat In Bullet” was the sound of Simple Minds discovering a slinky trance-funk that had few analogs among their peers. With its sinuous rhythms and reliance on fretless bass, it presaged the style that would get explored more fully on “New Gold Dream,” but at that point, it was a hybrid graft, that in some ways, was all the more exciting for it. This was not a song that got aired heavily over the years, but it radiates a fervent dynamism that suggests that it join the ranks of “The American,” “I Travel,” and “Love Song” from this period among their go-to back catalog.
“Real to Real Cacophony’s” sole single “Changeling” had been teased during the middle eight of “Room” but it finally appeared next in the running for a blast of their ‘difficult’ sophomore album at its most ear-friendly. “Factory” was dusted off for the first time in decades for the “Black + White” tour, and might have been the spark that eventually led to the resurrection of obscure back catalog for the Lostboy! shows and ultimately, the entire conceit of 5×5 Live.
Gear shifted mightily as the show prepared for the final lap, and as the album began with a large serving of “Empires + Dance,” the home stretch was reserved for the commercial breakthrough of “New Gold Dream,” with the band’s most successful material from the period covered here saved for the climax of the set. The first of “New Gold Dream’s” tracks on disc two began with the subtle charms of “Big Sleep” before shifting backward for the trance-funk of the almighty “Premonition.” The dawn of the globe-straddling Simple Minds bass line began here, and it’s a song I can never tire of.
Next, the transitional single of “Promised You A Miracle” took flight in its exhilarating fashion. The song always sounded like fireworks streaming across the sky to me, but this time, the song seemed to have been assimilated into the warmer funk leanings of the “New Gold Dream” album; standing more solidly on the smoother rhythmic foundation of that album than the stiffer climes of the preceding “Sons + Fascination/Sister Feelings Call.” Still, I can’t say I ever tire of this euphoric song. As their breakthrough single, they could have hardly had a more fascinating, singular one.
I can’t say the same for the next track. “Someone, Somewhere In Summertime,” though unfailingly as pretty [and even sensual] a song as they’ve ever done, it’s the one track here that gives me the feeling that it has been played out over the last 30+ year; unlike “Travel,” Love Song,” “Miracle,” et al. I daresay that there’s not been a show since the time of its release where it didn’t figure in the set list. Without the extended live intro from Burchill as added to the 12” version, it’s the closest thing to perfunctory in this program. Even so, it’s a blessing to hear it without the wearisome fiddle of Lisa Germano grafted on ex post facto like some bad science experiment, as it had on “[not so] Live In The City of Light.”
Thankfully, they moved on to one last taste of “Sister Feelings Call” with the electric “Theme For Great Cities.” When I saw them in 2002, they played what seemed to be the ’91 arrangement of it, if memory served. Here it was untouched in its ’81 glory, which is the best possible light in which to view this “city.” Then it was time for “Glittering Prize,” which was a “New Gold Dream” cut that was as familiar as “Summertime,” but this one weathers the heavy usage it gets in their set lists far more adroitly. I put it down to the compulsive, lovingly tender bass line that really goes places, courtesy of the great Mr. Forbes.
In the home stretch came two more bursts of rambunctious New Wave via the enervated “Someone.” Singer Kerr playfully references the entire band in the song’s extended climax for a giggle. The sonic layer cake with pink fondant icing that was “Chelsea Girl” followed and more than anything, it sounded more like some obscure Left Banke B-side than a single by New Wavers just a hair’s breadth from joining the Post-Punk revolution after a sobering listen to “Unknown Pleasures.” This track sat outside of the comfort zone, such as it was, on their debut album, so cheek-by-jowl with material from as little as six months later [or more] and it really seemed to be out of place here, as delightful as it was.
The thematic shift to the final song underlines the profound growth that this band explosively undertook during their accelerated growth phase covered by these concerts. “New Gold Dream [81, 82, 83, 84]” Always one of their most impressive songs, they took Krautrock into some amazing new places on this, their ultimate track. When that rhythm box starts ticking away and the recursive bass line begins advancing/retreating, it’s like nothing else that I can name. There’s no finer song to end this wildly successful experiment on.
The realities of packing 25 songs into a 2:30 show have demanded that some edits be made here. Particularly on the long, trance-based material on “Empires + Dance” and “Sons/Sister,” many of the songs as played here have been trimmed of a bit of their previous overkill. Five to seven minute songs, for the most part, have been shorn of 90 to 120 seconds of repetition/riffage. In the case of “This Fear Of Gods,” it sure hasn’t seemed to hurt the tune any as in this current live setting, it positively crackles with a force of life that’s unstoppably immense, even in its five minute length! In no case did I consider that a song had been eviscerated by the careful trims to arrangement. In other cases, notably “Pleasantly Disturbed,” the song still unfurls in its nearly seven minute glory. Considering that the song probably hadn’t been a part of their set from 1980 onward, this was right and proper.
Even so, there were a few songs here, such as “Room,” that were re-thought and re-jigged into a juggernaut that was twice as long as the scant album version of the song! The band had went into this and given it their very considered best and really, there were no duds here, with only the over-exposed “Someone, Somewhere In Summertime” even inching close to the sort of eye-rolling reaction that the likes of “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” engenders. Sure, I wouldn’t have minded “Boys From Brazil” or “Wonderful In Young Life” in the mix, but I can’t think of any other missed opportunities. This must have been not only a gift to the fans who stuck with them through thick and so very thin, but also to the band themselves, who could finally play a gig without so much of their typical set to “pay the bills.” Just the notion of a Simple Minds concert without “Sanctify Yourself” or “Alive + Kicking” must have been like a cool summer breeze for these guys. That there was a series of Simple Minds concerts with no playing at all of “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” for the first time in nearly 30 years could have only been the healthiest thing in the world for both band and audience.
I still can’t believe I didn’t dig a debt hole to attend these shows! If it ever happens again, I swear that I will not miss the chance a second time. Even if these were the one-off that they were touted as, the experience of their undertaking would have significant repercussions for the band moving forward. As Kerr stated in the liner notes:
“I never dreamed we would play these songs again. Nostalgia is not something that comes easy, particularly when you are hellbent on living in the moment. But there we were once again playing songs from our early days, and yet somewhat mysteriously, far from sounding decades old, they felt that they belonged to our future.” – Jim Kerr
Next: …Forward, Into The Past!