It’s almost never a good move for a singer to stop a song cold to admonish his audience for recording the show with their upraised smartphones. But it may have been exactly what Boy George needed Saturday at Royale. Prior to the derailed “Church of the Poison Mind,” he was in indifferent voice and disconnected from his own performance, constantly requesting adjustments from the soundboard. Afterward, he settled in and opened up nicely, even joking good-naturedly about the folks who had been filming him just moment before (and would, as these things go, film him again later).
His nine-piece band — featuring a three-piece horn section and two backing vocalists — didn’t need as long to warm up. Dressed mostly in black and with the men in suits, they had a soul-group aesthetic, which fit in with the Motown beat of “Church of the Poison Mind,” the Stax-like sway of “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” and the rubbery nightclub funk of “Bigger Than War.” “My God,” meanwhile, was gospel-pop played with conviction, complete with guitarist John Themis’s ripping solo.
But the backbone of the show was reggae, with plenty of songs shaped by its undulating ripple (including some, like “Karma Chameleon,” that originally did without). The groove of “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” seemed to be the default setting for the entire set list, though “My Star” and “Play Me” stood out by delving into the deeper waters of dub. The style informed his movement onstage, with a fluid but relatively restrained sway no matter how sharp the beat. Even Boy George’s kicks seemed casual rather than impassioned.
The general focus on reggae made any deviation from it feel like an infusion of energy. There was the ecstatic sing-along stomp of Hare Krishna chant “Bow Down Mister,” the simple but elegantly lyrical guitar line of the dusky “Any Road” and the quiet acoustic interlude of “It Ain’t Me Babe” (during which he snapped “Oh, shut the [expletive] up!” at talkative audience members, then laughed at how Anthrax doesn’t have to worry about such things).
And there was T. Rex’s “Get It On,” whose brash, distorted guitar chords were like a jolt. It was a tip of the hat from an androgynous pop star of one era to another from the era previous. It wasn’t clear how that would explain the cover of Bread’s “Everything I Own,” though. Boy George probably just liked the song.Marc Hirsh can be reached at official
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