Simple Minds & Ultravox: Manchester Arena – live review
Simple Minds/ Ultravox
28th November 2013
Post punk behemoths take to the stadiums – Alex Staszko sees Ultravox and Simple Minds turn back time, even with a bit of “dad dancing”.
Simple Minds playing the arena? Are they big enough these days? Those were the questions someone from LTW put to me. Well, yes they are, it’s greatest hits time and they’ve been clever. They’ve been touring their latest greatest hits album, the snappily named “Greatest Hits +”, since the beginning of the year when they started out on a 30 date theatre tour to re-build their fanbase. Plus they’ve got their contemporaries Ultravox supporting them. Also, the arena is configured to a more manageable 7,000 or so, which is pretty much full.
Both bands are a blast from my past but there’s some fine electronica that still stands up today. Simple Minds’ “Theme For Great Cities” has spawned a number of dance tunes from its catchy keyboard riff and Ultravox’s “Vienna” is still regarded by many as a classic.
Sadly, as the lights go down, there are only about 1,500 present to hear the opening salvo of “New Europeans” from 1980’s “Vienna” album. It’s the only song tonight that may not be familiar to a passing fan, as every other track played in their 50 minute slot is a single. We are treated to “Reap The Wild Wind”, “Hymn”, a blinding “The Thin Wall” which sees Billy Currie transfix the front few rows with an excellent viola solo. Predictably, “Vienna” goes down really well, as does “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”, which gets an exhilarating extended ending tonight. Midge Ure is on top form urging the audience to clap along, and playing some great guitar (he WAS in Thin Lizzy for a short while). Warren Cann is tight as ever on drums and electronics, and Chris Cross alternates seamlessly between bass and keyboards.
Unfortunately, no songs from the latest album tonight but on the back of these support slots it’s surely only matter of time before we see them on a headlining tour.
Simple Minds are scheduled to play 90 minutes, a little short for an expensive arena tour I thought but in the end they perform for the best part of two hours and there’s an awful lot to pack in.
Simple Minds just never split up and are now on their 46th line up! Members have come and gone, only to return down the years ( see the excellent Dream Giver Redux). It’s their earlier period that interests me and I’m not too keen on the likes of “See The Lights” and “Mandela Day”, both of which get an airing tonight with long standing drummer Mel Gaynor outstanding on the latter.
By then, I’d already been spoilt by the earlier songs. From opener, “Waterfront” through “Promised You A Miracle” and “Glittering Prize” and 1981’s “This Fear Of Gods” which even today sounds like weird electro (it used to be called “White European Disco” in some circles) and still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but tonight washes over 7/8th of the audience completely.
“I Travel” is stunning and so is the instrumental “Theme For Great Cities”, which sees a soaking wet Jim Kerr declaring, “I’m off for a cocktail”.
In “The Hunter And The Hunted” Kerr indulges in his “dad dancing”, but he’s still a great performer and, compared to their 2012 Manchester Ritz show, the stadium rock moves are kept to a minimum -and they don’t need the hanging light strips and huge lighting rigs. As a band Kerr, Burchill and co. still have IT and although I’m not keen on some of the later hits that appear towards the end of the set (I much prefer the likes of “The American” and “Love Song”) I’d certainly go and see them again.
Words and pictures by Alex Staszko – find his Louder Than War archive here.