It seems OK to still call such middle-age stars as Sting, LL Cool J and even Meat Loaf by their longtime stage names. But Boy George?
On Sunday night at the Myth nightclub in Maplewood, the 55-year-old British pop star came across more like Joyful George or Gorgeous George or Jocular George, depending on the moment. No matter what you call him, his two-hour performance with Culture Club, the band that made him famous, would be called a pop-soul triumph.
In their first Twin Cities gig since 2000, Culture Club updated their sound with 21st century thickness, thanks to a three-piece horn section, three gospel-inclined female backup singers and an extra keyboardist, percussionist and guitarist. But the quartet still has one foot in Motown and the other in the Caribbean — with both feet dancing.
Even though the repertoire was drawn mostly from the 1980s along with a few new numbers, Culture Club has added some new sonic wrinkles. The fresh "Runaway Train" was a full-on country twanger. "More Than Silence," a 2014 single, rang with U2-like choruses.
George's introductions were the most interesting things about two other new pieces — "Like I Used To" (about a psychotic mother) and "Different Man" (it was inspired by Sly Stone's interview while living in a van, saying "I have many regrets. I can't think of one right now").
George aptly described a reading of 1984's "The War Song" as Eric Clapton mixed by Calvin Harris. "Victims," from 1983, was given a gorgeous Burt Bacharach-like treatment of just George's voice and Roy Hay's piano before the full band eventually joined in. That selection ranked as a highlight along with the buoyant "Karma Chameleon," the disco-lite "Miss Me Blind," and the dance-inducing "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," a brilliant blend of gospel, reggae and soul.
George's voice was a little raspier and deeper, giving it a newfound soulfulness. But the captivating, quick-to-smile star, who danced like a marionette in slow motion, remained the same fun-loving, chatty charmer. He engaged individual fans, including one he follows on Twitter and another sporting a heavy-metal T-shirt. And he gave a running commentary about Culture Club's music (he called it "happy sad music").
From his comments to his outrageously colorful outfits (the third and final one was a rainbow-colored suit with matching oversized top hat), George was sending the message that it's OK to be different.
He underscored that with his lengthy tribute to Prince. After pointing out that every bleeping singer who comes to the Twin Cities nowadays sings a Prince song, he explained that he decided to do one anyway. Indeed, his take on "Purple Rain" was more clichéd than memorable.
But the words he spoke were inspiring: "Keep Prince in your heart. Living without Prince is like living without music."
And, George being George, he had to offer his own review of his "Purple Rain" rendition. "Prince hates when people sing his songs weirdly," said George, whose performance ended with him throwing the microphone on the stage and then trying to sing into another mic that didn't work. "That was like Prince — throwing down a bolt of lightning."
Boy, that George.