Simple Minds, LG Arena, Birmingham
Foxy Shazam, Water Rats, London
Simple Minds play just enough of the songs that remind us of their early greatness, and rock'n'soul has a new king
Sunday 06 December 2009
Perfection is a notoriously elusive concept. For me, the pop ideal is embodied, as closely as anything else I can come up with, by the video to "Glittering Prize" by Simple Minds. In a room draped in gold, a gold-painted model contemplates gold statuary, masks and mummies, while the Minds, clad in black, play entirely gold instruments. The song, of course, is the band's finest moment, driven by a concussed shudder, as though an aftershock from the impact of its own awesomeness, a bassline from Derek Forbes.
And dead centre is the shamanistic figure of Jim Kerr, wearing low-level make-up but not gaudily painted like his New Romantic peers, blessed with a natural femininity which he carried with the confidence of a man who is hung, or so rock'n'roll folklore has it, like a fire extinguisher.
It's difficult to reconcile the beauty of Kerr in that clip with the Bagpuss before me tonight, with his cheesy stage talk ("Are you ready? 1-2-3-4!"), his clichéd rock-messiah body language (fists clenched, waves of salutation) and his outfit (a loose jacket over one of Simple Minds' own tour T-shirts), and by the same token it's equally difficult to convince many people that Simple Minds of today were ever cool.
Oh, but they were cool. New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) – the album that gave birth to "Glittering Prize" – was a pinnacle of New Pop immaculacy, every bit as much as ABC's The Lexicon of Love, Scritti Politti's Cupid & Psyche and The Human League's Dare. Both profound and uplifting, they were a band with gravitas and, if you will, levitas. They promised us miracles. Then something horrible happened.
A lot of bands lost it badly around the time of Live Aid, but few bands jumped the shark as spectacularly as Simple Minds. Their post-New Gold Dream decline didn't immediately make itself obvious. Sparkle in the Rain pioneered a new "Big Music" whose full stadium-sized horror had yet to become apparent, and there was something attractive about the clattering majesty of "Waterfront". As soon as they recorded the theme tune for The Breakfast Club, the game was up.
It's that material, however, that pulls in the crowds. Simple Minds never went away since the days when they were neck and neck with U2, and have continued to release albums to dwindling interest, but there will always be people who want to punch the air and go "hey-hey-hey-hey!" to "Don't You Forget About Me", and "ooh-woah, ooh-woah" to "Alive and Kicking". And the singer knows where his bread's buttered. "I want to thank all those people who come back and see us year after year," he says. "This is for you."
Kerr and fellow founder Charlie Burchill have, one suspects, belatedly realised what was once great about Simple Minds. There's an admirably restrained three songs from their current album Graffiti Soul in the set, making space for such early diamonds as "Theme for Great Cities", "Sons and Fascination" and "The American". "Someone Somewhere in Summertime" – another New Gold Dream single – is an unimpeachable highlight, starting 100ft above the ground and never coming down to earth. Furthermore, some of their more toe-curling late Eighties atrocities ("Belfast Child", "Mandela Day") are sensibly written out of history.
There's even a reconnection with their avant-garde roots when OMD – this tour's support act (and another band who went a bit wonky circa 1985) – are invited on for a cover of Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights", a song that was never meant to be performed by Scots and Scousers, or even human beings, and which Kerr spoils by attempting to get an audience singalong when they don't know the words.
One day, maybe Simple Minds will play a first-five-albums tour to small theatres and properly restore their reputation. But first, there are several shedloads of overhead handclaps to co-ordinate.
"If Foxy Shazam was an animal at the zoo," announces Eric Sean Nally, "it would be the one most likely to tear your head off without even thinking about it." There's been a steady trickle of rock'n'soul bands coming out of America this decade, but none of them have had the mind-blowing potential of Foxy Shazam. And that's largely because none of them have had a frontman quite like Eric. This is a man with the face of George Harrison on the Sgt Pepper sleeve, the recklessness of Iggy circa 1973, and the mad mic-stand skills of Prince on the 1999 tour.
His black-and-white patent spats never keep still for a second as he throws himself to the ground, skitters and spins like Bambi on ice. By the time he's 25 his kneecaps will be shot to pieces. And he isn't even the only star in the Cincinatti sextet's ranks. Goggle-eyed keyboardist Schuyler Vaughn White is the most manic I've seen this side of the honky-tonk pianist in Reefer Madness.
Their ability to knock out killer tunes, wickedly witty wordplay and exuberantly maximalist sound (Andrew WK meets Dexys meets Springsteen) has already caused ripples, but it's on stage that they'll really blow your mind. Foxy Shazam are the band who ought to be all over next summer's festivals, painting smiles on everyone's faces.
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