Occasionally there comes a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness a moment in music history – to revisit the past or celebrate the present success of a major band. Last month at the London Roundhouse theater one of those chances came when we saw Simple Minds perform five tracks from each of their first five records- the 5X5 tour. The show was spectacular, with singer Jim Kerr’s voice in great shape, backed by original guitarist Charlie Burchill, and drummer Mel Gaynor joined by tight backing bass and keys. As promised five tracks from each of their earliest work were performed, highlighting these early, darker, more experimental albums. As presented at the Roundhouse, the band breathed new life into these early songs, so loved by their core fans, and so different from their later rock-oriented work.
In the states, Simple Minds were not well known until and after their fifth album, 1982′s brilliant, New Gold Dream, which included the singles “Promised You a Miracle” and “Glittering Prize”. It wasn’t until later in 1985 that the band had their first and only #1 single in the states with “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” recorded for the John Hughes film “The Breakfast Club.” Unlike their more commercially successful Irish brethren U2, the Scottish band Simple Minds were prone to more challenging, rambling, avant-garde sounds, presented live by the writhe Kerr. Something about the way Jim fronted this band always appealed to me – he darts in and around the beat, often departing from traditional verse-chorus-verse structures into something like scat punctuated by anthemic calls. Much less direct than U2 and more interesting to these ears. The early work attracted a core of fans, then growing a stronger following in the arena-rock mid 80′s period. Their post-80′s work saw a decline of interest in the US, though they remain ever popular in Europe.
The show was made up from only the band’s first five early releases. These albums include 1979′s Life in a Day which broke the band, and was part of the post-punk period. Their second release, also from 1979, Real to Real Cacophony veered into moodier territory, showing off the first of their works driven by minimalist song cycles driven and often fronted by the bass and drum. This was highlighted by the driving tracks “Premonition” and “Changeling.” Their next release Empires and Dance from 1980 incorporated elements of Euro-trance and art-rock typified live by the excellent “Celebrate.” The best of their earliest work comes form 1981′s Sister Feelings Call and Sons and Fascination. These two albums were recorded during the same sessions with progressive rock veteran Steve Hillage and feature “Love Song” and for me the best track of the night “70 Cities as Love Brings the Fall” – a brooding, psychedelic song cycle that predicted the trance movement. Last but not least we heard five from 1982′s “New Gold Dream” with standout track “Hunter and the Hunted.”
The thing that was surprising for me was how fresh and current it all sounded. Possibly skewed by my love of the work, yes, but all in all an incredible night that was a thrill to experience.