He turned 55 in June, but Boy George has plenty of boyishness and enthusiasm left in the tank.
Wednesday night, George (born George O’Dowd) and his three fellow founding members of the British band Culture Club performed at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre, a room with a capacity of 1,800 that looked about half full.
For nearly two hours, George, his band and a supporting cast of nine — including three horn players, three backup singers and a percussionist — took their fawning audience on a trip back to the group’s earliest days and through the best parts of its hit-studded catalog, much of it more than 30 years old and much of it steeped in the sounds of Motown and ’70s soul, with some reggae accents added here and there.
They opened with “Church of the Poison Mind,” a bouncy, soul-pop tune from the breakthrough “Colour By Numbers” album with all the right ingredients for a dance song: a bright melody and an incessant groove with a brassy swagger. The backup singers gave it another dimension: a touch of gospel-soul.
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They followed that with another “Colour” song, “It’s a Miracle,” which took on a Vegas-style vibe, thanks to its horn-laden groove.
Vocally, George was impressive, sounding strong and agile, better than you might expect a guy in his mid-50s would sound, especially after surviving years of substance abuse and legal issues. His wit and sense of humor are keen and quick. His song introductions and conversations with the people in the front row were highlights as much as the stellar set list.
The vignette he told before “Different Man” was as poignant as it was funny. He recalled a Sly Stone quote — “I have many regrets. I just can’t think of one right now” — which he followed with a quote of his own, to paraphrase: Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean you get wiser; at some point you have to tell yourself, “This way isn’t working.”
He changed wardrobe two times, first appearing in a white derby, topcoat and pants emblazoned with black Xs and Os. And he danced, loose and fleet-footed, throughout the show.
The crowd joined him. During songs such as “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya” and “Time (Clock of the Heart),” most were on their feet dancing uninhibitedly, encouraged by George who reminded them: “It’s good for your figure and your stamina.”
Those were two of several highlights. Others were the reggae version of the Bread song “Everything I Own”; “Miss Me Blind,” which got an extra funk injection; “The Crying Game,” which bore a spaghetti-Western vibe; “The War Song,” which he described as an Eric Clapton song mixed by Calvin Harris; “More Than Silence,” a new song with a heavy U2-anthem feel; the country-gospel shuffle “Runaway Train,” which, George said, was inspired Johnny Cash; and the still irresistible “Karma Chameleon,” part of the three-song encore.
By then, George’s hat, coat and pants were a rainbow pattern, a not-so-subtle message that it’s OK to be who you are, whoever you are. They closed with a raucous, soul-soaked cover of T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” a song, fittingly about “untamed youth,” which, as much as anything, felt like the theme of this evening.
Church of the Poison Mind; It’s a Miracle; I’ll Tumble 4 Ya; Move Away; Human Zoo; Everything I Own; Black Money; Time (Clock of the Heart); Like I Used To; Different Man; Miss Me Blind; The Crying Game; Do You Really Want to Hurt Me; Victims; More Than Silence; The War Song. Encore: Runaway Train; Karma Chameleon; Bang a Gong (Get It On).