Ritz, Manchester, 31/3/2014
published: 3 /
Mary O'Meara finds Boy George embracing both life and uniqueness in a show at the Ritz in Manchester
I am not really sure how I got to this stage of my life without stepping out to a Boy George gig. He’s been, for as long as I remember, one of those beloved characters you can count on to be entertaining and irreverent - but with a charm that allows him to get away with possibly anything. Still, better late than never and here I am at the Manchester Ritz awaiting the Boy’s arrival on stage. Oh wow! Here he is, clad in typically characterful, colourful assorted attire - a riot of splashes, symbols, flags and faces. He is immediately, despite the beard, not just androgynous but almost cosmic, larger than life. He’s not just pushing the boundaries in terms of sexuality but there’s a multi-cultural, all inclusive beauty to this. The music also refuses to sit in a neat category and, though there is arguably a reggae/ska beat at the core of his set, I’m impressed at how easily he sings the blues, shimmies with jazz or just sails tenderly away on a Bob Dylan cover - Make you feel my love.
We are treated to a blistering blast of 'Church of the Poison Mind' that certainly clears any lingering cobwebs out of the Ritz. I’ve really got to congratulate one of his backing singers who delivers the Helen Terry parts of the song with feisty determination, keeping everyone caught in the frenzy being whipped up via the first Culture Club song of the show. George delivers a sizeable chunk of his recent album 'This is What I Do' tonight, Although some tracks come across more strongly the others, notably the splendidly melancholic 'King of Everything' and the starker, but equally compelling 'Any Road', I found all the new songs stood up agreeably in a live context and the band, with full brass section, were a joy.
There aren’t many performers that can switch from softly singing love songs to delivering short, sharp quips and teasing the crowd the way Boy George can. His audience clearly adore him and whenever there’s a quiet moment I can hear somebody wailing “George, I love you!” So what is it about this man that makes him so loved and his fan base so devoted? Perhaps what connects with so many is his ability to give a voice to the marginalized. He dares and helps open a door for others to follow but not to follow him specifically – to follow themselves, to embrace and celebrate our differences whatever they may be. What warmed me about tonight was that a show like this can still deliver a political message in an age where the message of way too many performers seems to go no further than wanting their face on the front of a magazine and money in the bank. Some may sigh and consider it corny to sing anti-war songs, too simplistic to say “Love is bigger than War” – but the truth is, it can be and it’s down to us to choose it. George invited the crowd to “Live Your Life” and also crucially to love your life. Music’s a wonderful way of remembering what matters, and performers like Boy George should rightly be cherished for reminding us and raising so many smiles along the way.
Photos by Melanie Smith