Midge Ure perhaps is more famous in the United States for being behind the scenes — helping to organize Live Aid and to write “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, the perennial holiday song aimed at famine relief in Africa.
But the Scot has a robust singing career in the United Kingdom and recently reunited with the band Ultravox, which put out a brilliant new album, titled Brilliant, last year.
As a likely precursor to an Ultravox tour of the United States, Ure is conducting a solo tour right now, performing both solo songs and some classic Ultravox tunes, in a 16-date tour of the United States and Canada. Tonight, he performs a second show in Toronto before hitting Cleveland Wednesday. (The closest he got to DC was Philadelphia, where this reporter traveled to see him last Thursday.)
In his performance, Ure was ever the classic showman. Professional, friendly, upbeat, energetic and wry, the smartly dressed singer presented a set of 16 songs that ended in a solo acoustic rendition of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with an unnecessary apology from Ure that it was already a bit beyond the holidays.
It was nothing short of thrilling to see a master musician take up his best known tunes, including his solo songs “Breathe” and “If I Was” alongside some of the best from his days in Ultravox, including “Love’s Great Adventure,” “Hymn,” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes.” Ure’s renditions of the songs were delivered with full-throated gusto, bringing alive the passionate lyrics and soaring scores of each. He jokingly opened several with the recurring quip, “So this is a song I wrote several years ago,” chuckling that his best known stuff is at least 25 years old at this point. But the audience, which did a fair job of filling the house if not the dance floor, called and clamored for more and embraced the songs as the triumphant compositions they are.
Ure’s catalog represents the best of the New Romantic idealism that Ultravox came to embody — optimism coupled with action. Too many pop songs, in my opinion, bemoan the state of the singer’s existence while prescribing no antidote to the ills that engulf them. By contrast, Ure calls for activity, romance and adventure, while wearing your feelings proudly on your sleeve. On top of that, his songs are made for dancing. All in all, this is my kind of music.
The most pleasant surprise for me in this show, as there is little that the multi-talented Ure might do to surprise me, came in the form of his backing band. Los Angeles-based Right the Stars opened for Ure. I had seen the before, here locally, when they opened for Men Without Hats at the State Theatre in Falls church, Va., on Nov. 29. They struck me as a very competent and pleasant band with room to grow during that performance. This time around, they were just as good but they impressed me on an entirely different level. After opening for Ure, the band stepped back and became his backing band. The staging was so simple and elegant — and Right the Stars rose to the occasion with some magnificent playing on those Ultravox tunes. Rich Jacques, lead singer for Right the Stars, stepped back and filled in on an amazing lead guitar while Asaf Rodeh very competently switched from guitar to keyboards. The arrangement worked really well, raising the question of why other performers from overseas have not perhaps enlisted their opening bands to play during the main act as well?
My trip from DC to Philadelphia (and back in one evening) was well worth it for the rare opportunity to see Mr. Ure, who noted it was his first time back in the city since his performance in Live Aid in 1985. Go see this man perform if you live anywhere near a venue on this tour in the next two weeks! And be prepared for the pending Ultravox tour, which keyboardist Billy Currie has intimated on Facebook likely will be part of a new lineup for the Regeneration Tour, which hit Wolf Trap in the DC metropolitan area in 2008 and 2009. I, for one, will be there.