SIMPLE MINDS, London Camden Koko, 07 November 2013
The band U2 could have been.
At over three decades into their career, Simple Minds have been up and down – from the promising start of the 80's, the stadium glory of 1986-91, and the doldrums of being “yesterdays men” for the subsequent decade or so, the band – the long standing trio of Jim Kerr, Charles Burchill, and Mel Gaynor – aided by bassist Ged Grimes (of Danny Wilson), a keyboard player and a superfluous female backing singer, warm up for their Greatest Hits Arena tour with a celebration of Virgin Records 40th Anniversary. The upper portions of the venue are roped off for industry staff and competition winners, the 1,000 or so capacity ground floor for the general riff-raff of the public.
It opens well, but what becomes apparent, quickly is that Simple Minds – for their countless albums and songs – have few instant classics. This set, weighted heavily on the achievements of the early 80's, acts more as a reminder of what they once were than anything of the here and now. The New Gold Dream is gone, and is simply a history lesson.
Aside from the clutch of classics - “Don't You Forget About Me”, “Someone Somewhere In The Summertime”, “All The Things She Said”, “Waterfront”, “Alive And Kicking”, “Glittering Prize”, “The American”, there is a sense that sometime in the late 80's ; around the time that Simple Minds embraced the pomp of stadium rock, started writing songs about real life, and human rights, that they forgot why they started making music and instead became some kind of experiment on our ears as they became a kind of distant, and alienating millionaire rock, sliding into useless irrelevancy.
On this, their attempt to connect to what they lost twenty five years ago by largely ignoring the past quarter century, is a modest success, but large parts of them are still lost in the stadium rock hole. Songs are too long, endlessly extended to the point of boredom with instrumental motif after motif, theme after theme, stretching forever into the future, an endless line, again and again, and then finally the female backing vocalist – alongside renta-keyboard player and Charlie Burchill massacre Kraftwerk's “Neon Lights”, as Jim Kerr mops his brow but never takes his coat off.
Jim Kerr meanwhile, now resembles the middle-aged, slightly overweight dad he undoubtedly is, but there's little in the way of a lithe, strong band. The new stuff – of which there is too much – consciously apes the old material in terms of spangly keyboard lines, but lacks the heart. Imitation. Like seeing Bruce Willis in Die Hard 5, where he impersonates who he used to be but without conviction. Such a shame.
The first set, lasting just 41 minutes, ends with “New Gold Dream”. Part two has “Theme From Great Cities”, “Neon Lights” and then descends into a somewhat featureless mass. At least we get – I think - “I Travel”. Come encore time, and they manage to screw up “Don't You Forget About Me.” , as the band – even though they number six including the unnecessary backing singer – descend into the kind of bloated self-indulgence you might expect from Season Six of “Lost”. Sure, it's their most intimate London gig since the dawn of time (well, they last played here in 1979) but even this near to the crowd, there's a distance between them and us they never manage to close.