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Simple Minds + Ultravox @ NIA Birmingham, 29 November 2013

Tonight is an opportunity to put on those rose tinted glasses and remember those ‘fab’ good 80s old days with much nostalgia. A time when ‘mobile’ phones were strange red (rather smelly) kiosks on street corners. ‘Social media’ entailed a pen, paper, a stamp, a postman and a few days to get a response.  Steve Jobs was busy launching the Apple Mac computer, way, way, way before he dreamt of iPods and iTunes, the nearest thing to copying a song was on a C90 cassette tape, CDs were yet to make their mark and digital downloads? They were a pipe dream….

Ultravox disappeared from view returning in 2009/10 with their ‘classic line-up’ featuring Warren Cann, Chris Cross, Billie Currie with frontman Midge Ure. They did two cracking and hugely successful ‘Return to Eden’ tours followed up by their first album in 28 years (with this line-up) in the critically acclaimed ‘Brilliant.’ And toured with it. Meanwhile headliners Simple Minds flatly refuse to give up and go away. Na no. The hits may no longer be there, but they’ve continued to play live and surprisingly, given they’ve played both the Academy and Wolves Civic over the past 12 months, they‘ve now opted for big arenas, part of a four-date UK tour with Ultravox. An arena was always a question mark – would both bands together fill it?  Answer in Brum is no. The arena is cut to less than half it’s full capacity, the stage radically moved forward. You’re probably looking between 5-6,000 people standing on the floor and cascading high in the tiered seats into the rafters.

However, to get this middle aged audience (sorry – we all feel young) in the mood, over the speakers we have Numan and his friends electric, a smattering of Bunnymen and Adam rapping his ants. With the addition of Bowie in ‘Fame’ mode and then sound cranked up – ‘Life on Mars.’

First up, a truly early 7.30pm, onto a blackened set, the band in black be Ultravox. All noticeably older (even young Midge has just turned 60) but still hugely slick and professional, Ure greets us with “How you going?” First up ‘New Europeans’ – they take a little time to warm up and for the technicians to balance the sound. With mono-lighting and moody atmosphere, like a black and white movie, ‘Sleepwalk’ goes down well. ‘Reap the Wild Wind’ gets hands in the air, next up ‘The Thin Wall’ is extended in an electronic mix jamming sesh. Middle of their set – and as the haunting double drum echoes through the venue – the crowd recognise ‘Vienna’ and big cheers go round the arena. Ure can just about still manage the high vocals; fair play the crowd cheer. Currie once again on his electronic violin. Then ‘One Small Day’ followed by ‘Hymn.’ The crowd sing along… “Give us…this day…all that you showed me….” ‘Dancing with Tears in My Eyes’ their song about the last few minutes before nuclear obliteration, and a commercial success in the day, leads Ure into band introductions, before the final song of the night ‘The Voice’ completed with band members at the front of the stage in their classic drumming line-up moment.

This wasn’t one of Ultravox’s better sets – sadly dumbed down to support slot and time limitation but by the audience response, I think they surprised a few who hadn’t seen them before or since their ‘comeback’. You enjoyed this snippet, go and see them when they are out headlining their own tour. Ultravox are more than well worth it.

To a potted bit of Simple Minds history – formed way back in ’78, they took an eclectic journey up to ‘82, from the dance classic cult  ‘I Travel’ right through the big sound of the ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)’ album, with splashing of arena-filling 80’s hits. Success became stratospheric – by the mid/late eighties Simple Minds were huge, playing not just arenas, but stadia, comparable to U2 in success. According to their Twitter profile: “Simple Minds are Scotland’s most successful rock group to date. Having topped America’s Billboard chart, the Glasgow band have achieved six UK No.1 albums.” Simple Minds were indeed mega-huge, but unlike U2 who conquered the world and then some, it didn’t quite play out in the same way for Simple Minds, as they slipped from the stratosphere taking their loyal fans with them.

The Simple Minds of today are made up of original members Jim Kerr (vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitar/keyboards), Mel Gaynor (drummer – who’s been in the line up pretty much since ’82), Andy Gillespie (keyboards – ditto since 2002) and Ged Grimes (bass – newbie and formerly a founding member of Danny Wilson).

And so – around ten to nine, the lights go down, and a rambling electronic rhythm fills the auditorium, big cheers as the band appear, as we’re into the dede-dede-dede-dede bass beat that is ‘Waterfront’ – in front of me a bloke stands and starts dancing like a madman as the band go into the track.

Kerr, in black suit and silver scarf, is in his element. “How are you?” he asks the crowd to a big cheer, as we get ‘Broken Glass Park’ followed by that dance classic ‘I Travel’. It rolls on and on.  “Shall we do ‘Once Upon A time’?” Kerr is down on his knees, posing in front of the audience, then rolling round the stage and sitting and singing at the front of the stage. He’s charismatic and still pretty energetic. The stage is continually drenched with dry ice from the back and front of the set – it’s beginning to get quite overwhelming and somewhat foggy in this reduced size NIA.

‘Promised You A Miracle’ gets the crowd singing back and they roll through their back catalogue. Kerr takes a break “…for a whiskey…” as we get instrumental ‘Theme From Great Cities’ before retuning to play a song for Nelson Mandela. That’ll be ‘Mandela Day’ the lighting all transferred to South African flag colours. ‘Somewhere Somehow in Summertime’ gets everyone dancing, fans are having a good time (even if on the side stands the security prevents some from dancing on the steep isles. The set rolls on  as they continue with the hits; ‘The American’,  ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ – from film The Breakfast Club and ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84).’

Their encore gives us the big-arena hits ‘Sanctify Yourself’ and ‘Alive and Kicking.’

So – tonight was true 80s retro. With just 50 minutes to show off their class, Ultravox are far more than just another retro act out on a cash-in. When they re-appeared there was no fanfare, they just did. And the fans flocked. And if you want to see past and present classics, from the world of electronica, tonight was just a snapshot. See them headlining their own tour, doing a full set, as they are a must see.

Clearly Simple Minds truly love arena tours; which maybe in this part of the world, probably beyond them, although the reduced venue size could well be they played locally too much. They did well to keep their fans in tow given tickets are not the cheapest (once again – circa £55). The major hits were certainly mostly during the 80’s and so tonight was a celebration of true nostalgia and most were here to hear tracks from a couple of decades past. And very probably for most here tonight; the older the track, the better. Simple Minds still have a very loyal following – and clearly, the band and fans are very much ‘alive and kicking’ and having one hell of a blast.

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Ultravox Setlist

New Europeans
Sleepwalk
Reap the Wild Wind
The Thin Wall
Vienna
One Small Day
Hymn
Dancing with Years in My Eyes
The Voice

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Simple Minds Setlist

Waterfront
Broken Glass Park
I Travel
Once Upon A Time
All the Things She Said
Hunter and the Hunted
Promised You a Miracle
Glittering Prize
Theme from Great Cities
Mandela Day
Somewhere Somehow in Summertime
This Fear of Gods
The American
Love Song
See the Lights
Don’t You (Forget About Me)
Let It All Come Down
New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)

Encore:
Sanctify Yourself
Alive and Kicking

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Review for Gig Junkies – pictures: Ken Harrison