As Boy George covered a song by Yoko Ono, “Death of Samantha,” in the first song of his encore Monday night at the 9:30 Club, two gents broke out in dramatic dance in front of the coffee bar upstairs. They, like much of the audience at the sold-out show, had giddily enjoyed the entertainment and could no longer hide it. So they seized what opportunity they could to throw themselves into it.
Similar sentiments broke out around the club as Boy George received a hero’s welcome from a diverse crowd of young and old, gay and straight, black and white. Concert-goers expressed their enthusiasm in generally raucous cheer, happy to receive the maverick performer who clearly had been missing from the United States for far too long.
George, for his part, was a professional and gracious performer. At a point about two-thirds through the main set, he attempted to engage audience enthusiasm for an acoustic cover of “It Ain’t Me Babe” by Bob Dylan. After realizing that the dance-hungry crowd wasn’t going to focus enough for the quiet hush of the song, George merely used it as an interlude to segue into other songs from his new album, This Is What I Do, and the new material was very well received by those looking for more of what they expected from the former Culture Club frontman.
That’s not to say Boy George has become a one-trick pony at this point in his career. He wasn’t afraid to go glam or even country from song to song. His voice these days has a husky sweetness that suits the older George, a little weathered, a little wiser. And he used it well in the reggae-flavored dance tunes that dominated most of his set.
Opening with the ballad “King of Everything” from the new album, Boy George seemed at his most powerful when he was singing songs that seemed a least a bit confessional or autobiographical. He was able to take the audience right along with him very quickly, leading a large sing-along to “Everything I Own,” a cover by folk rockers Bread that suited George and his band remarkably well. And before long, he has shifted into “It’s Easy,” a lovelorn country song from the new album.
Although the new album dominated the set, Boy George wasn’t afraid to acknowledge his past. The Culture Club songs of the concert ranked among the audience favorites, as you would expect. The first played was “Church of the Poison Mind,” which really allows his backing singer Zee Asha to shine as her voice complements his very well. Soon after, Boy George plays perennial favorite “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”, smartly introduced as a blues song. And my personal favorite moment of the show came with the performance of “Karma Chameleon,” which began in a very stripped down fashion with just George’s vocal and an intro by trumpeter Reuben Fowler before it went big with the full seven-piece band.
From there, Boy George launched into a cover of “Get It On” By T. Rex, which worked perfectly.
Tonight, George hits Irving Plaza in New York City for another sold-out show, so no one there has to be assured that they are in for more than 90 minutes of a reggae soul dance-a-thon. Later this month, he has some dates in Chicago and beyond to the west coast in California.
Bottom line: George is in good form, and his show is definitely not to be missed. His banter to the audience was generally light, but the audience ate up every word, including his occasionally cheeky, occasionally self-effacing humor. I think a lot of people would have paid just to hear him chat with them! As he said at the end of the show, “Thank you, Washington! You’re a complicated lot… but so am I!”