Simple Minds

Koko, London - 7 November 2013

"A post punk nostalgia express"

[Part 1 poster]There is always a huge risk of disappointment when revisiting your childhood heroes in the present. The only other time I had seen Simple Minds was way back in 1981 at the Capitol theatre Sydney during the Sons and Fascination tour. They were supporting Australian also ran’s Icehouse. Despite an initially hostile reception from the largely suburban audience, by half way through the set the whole place was on fire with crazed dancing, and the security suddenly had to fight to keep the stage. Needless to say this show had a huge influence on me at the time, particularly as so many Australian alternative bands at the time seemed to revel in their cack handed incompetitance and anti musicianship. Here was a group with amazing hypnotic tightness delivering a dark, driving, electronic/band hybrid. But I digress…

It was a mixture of trepidation and excitement I received the call from a pal that we were ‘on’ for the sold out night at Koko, put on to celebrate 40 years of Virgin records.

I had watched in horror to see the sudden transformation of Simple Minds from a dark, futuristic European sounding band to an overblown, stodgy hands in the air, everybody sing along now stadium band, all vaguely uplifting songs full of the words ‘light’ ‘shine’. The sordid fake spirituality of class A’s and unconditional worship. The question is, which Simple Minds would we get tonight?

The venue was of course heaving, so I was further delighted to find we had ‘gold passes’ to the, ahem, directors box to the right of the stage. Looking down we could see the stage from above. The geek in me revelled at seeing no fewer than five synthesisers in the keyboard rack, no laptop and controller nonsense here. The guitarist’s foot pedals alone appeared to be the size of a small holding in Cumbria. The audience seemed to consist mainly of bald men in their best Saturday night shirts and their partners wearing their best office friendly new wave clothes. But that is unnecessarily unkind, and I learned to love my fellow travellers on the post punk nostalgia express, as you will discover.

Finally the lights dimmed and I took a slug of my mortgage breaking beer.

Track one was entirely instrumental Broken Glass Park, a sleek sequencer affair, with gradually building strings and bass. A good scene-setter. And here’s Jim! Not looking too bad either, the 80’s/90’s perm poodle tamed to a sensible short all over. Sarah Brown looking exquisitely Blade Runneresque in brown and mustard tartan dress and immaculately coffered hair. They plod through the rather pedestrian Waterfront, only really saved by the note perfect harmonic guitar.

They follow through with a surprisingly frenetic I Travel, and I look down to see almost the whole audience mouthing the words. Following up with a very moody Today I Died Again the concert was taking on darker hues than I had any right to expect. The brittle funk of Sweat In Bullet followed up by Hunter and the Hunted and Glittering Prize, both sounding better live minus the Steve Lillywhite castrated production on the albums. The first section ended with a pumping version of New Gold Dream, all the better for its succinctness and energy.

[Part 1 poster]By this stage I was starting to get a bit drunk my balcony dancing was threatening to become a stage diving tragedy, so forgive me if things get hazy from here. After a short break the stage starts humming to another instrumental Speed You Love To Me Sarah Brown takes centre stage for a very warm and affectionate version of Kraftwerk's Neon Lights Jim (now sweating profusely and smiling like a loon) retakes the stage for Someone, Somewhere in Summertime, which has to be restarted after Jim missing his cue. “It's called live music people, these things still happen”, and the crowd let out a collective ‘awww’. Blood Diamonds follows and sounds strangely dated but all is forgiven with hypnotic and harsh Fear Of Gods complete with breaking glass guitar beautiful fluid circular bass. If only I’d brought my Zurna for the shrieking horns, though I doubt my fellow travellers would have appreciated it.

The American and Love Song follow in quick succession and I am again impressed with how ‘into it’ this strangely conservative audience are, even joining in the slightly breathless “Ameri, Ameri, Ameri Ameri, American” chorus. This section ends with a fantastic version of Pleasantly Disturbed, with Charlie Burchill switching seamlessly between guitar and violin, the flash git. By now I was thinking of leaving, they had played so many great early songs and I feared to have the vibe ruined by last minute cheese. However they nailed me to the floor by returning with a monumental version of Theme For Great Cities (which, incidentally, was the intro tune for my radio show in Australia years ago, 'New music'. Pretentious, moi?).

Well, as I feared they had to finish with my two least favourite crowd pleasers Don’t You Forget About Me and a very over extended take on Alive And Kicking, however it was hard to begrudge both Simple Minds and the audience their 'lighters in the air, all sing along' moment. In fact, if I am honest I am swept along a bit myself. Its been a long, dark path we’ve all taken and a bit of levity was earned by all. “Thank you for seeing Simple Minds” says Jim for the last of a dozen times during the show. No. Thank you Simple Minds for delivering more than I expected. 8/10

Set list: Broken Glass Park, Waterfront, I Travel, Today I Died Again, Sweat In Bullet, Hunter And The Hunted, Glittering Prize, New Gold Dream, [break] Speed Your Love To Me, Neon Lights, Someone, Somewhere, in Summertime, Blood Diamonds, Fear Of Gods, The American, Love Song, Pleasantly Disturbed, [Encore:] Theme For Great Cities, Don’t You Forget About Me, Alive and Kicking

Andrew Trail