It’s Sunday, it’s wet’n’windy and by the time I drag my tardy ass into the 3Arena The Stranglers are already in full flow commanding me ‘To Get a Grip on Yourself’. Three classics follow, the smacked-out bliss of their louche paean to opiates ‘Golden Brown’ gives way to the perfect guitar pop of ‘Always the Sun’ and then trumped by the post-punk bass-riff-athon of ‘Peaches’. Sometimes you just forget how good a band’s back catalogue really is.
And it’s another iconic bass intro that announces their final number tonight, ‘No More Heroes’. As Jean-Jacques Burnel palm smacks his bass’s body to coerce the song’s opening chord into existence it produces a bowel loosening growl that could prove to be a bit of a risky move given the demographic of the assembled audience. Some of the elder gentlemen, bet into their cooler ‘strides’ for the night, nervously eye their nearest exit route to the lavatories. We won’t dwell on the irony of ageing rockers roaring ‘No More Heroes Anymore’ in salute to veterans of the post-punk wars as they exit stage left.
Simple Minds take to the stage as Ravel’s ‘Boléro’ plays out and ‘Theme For Great Cities’ (still sounding fresh after 34 years) is pumped over the PA. Kerr and co assemble front of stage and take their bow. So that’s how it’s going to be then, as subtle and modest as ever; wait for the end of the show to take yer encore?
The epic, thundering open D bass line of ‘Waterfront’ fills the arena as the show proper begins in all its double fist-pumping glory as we move on up with Jim. ‘Catwalk’ follows in quick succession and I’m dreaming of Natasia Kinski as Kerr lyrically substitutes Ballsbridge for Brixton, proving that alliteration won’t always help you hit the mark.
A bit of a lull ensues with ‘See the Lights’ and ‘Celebrate’ rolling by before what was to become an 80’s 12″ classic ‘The American’ gets an airing – but this acoustic reworking strips it of its 1981 clean modernist driving funk. It’s nicely played by Charlie but this genteel reincarnation has robbed the song of its essence.
But all is forgiven as they hit us with a triple play from 1982’s classic album, New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84). Now there’s an album title worthy of a band’s ambition – an evocative vision hinted at with an ambiguous chronological number sequence thrown in for good measure. ‘Promised You a Miracle’ is followed by ‘Glittering Prize’ and it’s topped by the money shot of New Gold Dream’ itself.
The titular track is delivered in all it’s krautaonic, trans-European pulsating glory. The sound is immense; Charlie Burchill’s soaring guitar lines slice through the dense keyboards, cutting swathes through the sound as Mel Gaynor’s snare cracks and tom rolls punch holes through the smoke of what remains. Kerr, on point as always, perched catlike, ready to throw a perfectly timed shape with weighted and affected poise. Now this is the Simple Minds that fired my imagination back as a young lad as I journeyed down the sonic highway of rock’n’roll looking for kicks and not the ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ stadium filling behemoth that they went on to become.
By the time they return for their encore they’ve already played 19 songs and Jim is on his fourth costume of the night. In their attempt to deliver bang for their buck they may have overstepped the mark. If this was a movie an editor would have no problem leaving 20 or even 30 minutes of it on the cutting room floor. Tracks like ‘Let There Be Love’, ‘Honest Town’ and ‘Banging on the Door’ are anonymous and lacklustre and these moments come across as a band going through the motions.
The encore kicks off of ‘Big Music’, the eponymous track from their latest release. Jim in tartan jacket, just in case we’d forgotten that he was of the Caledonian persuasion, leads us through the “la la la la la” anthem within an anthem of ‘Alive and Kicking’. This is a band with more anthems than the UN Assembly on National Song for a Flag Day.
By the time it’s all over I’ve begun to wonder if Jim has been moonlighting as a manicurist, I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s asked to see our hands tonight.
It’s all been a bit overblown and uber bombastic but to accuse Simple Minds of pomposity is akin to saying that the Catholic Church is too conservative or that cocaine is a tad moreish. They are just doing what it says on the tin and to expect them to be something else is kind of missing the point. To paraphrase Mr Gump, “Simple is as Simple does” and Simple Minds do it large.
Yes there’s been too much filler and not enough killer but it’s been fun – lots of hands-in-the-air fun. Like a good pizza they have a decent base and just the right amount of cheese but I prefer mine with less toppings and more quality meat on top.
As the last notes of tonight’s closing number, ‘Sanctify Yourself’, fade out, Jim steps out of centre stage to join the band on the periphery allowing them to receive the audience’s applause and acclaim as equals. For all his grand standing and grandiose posing it’s a classy move. Having said that, it takes another full two minutes before himself and Burchill, the only remaining members of the band’s original punk incarnation as Johnny and the Self Abusers, manage to pull themselves off the stage as they lap up our adulation.