Simple Minds – Still Alive & Kicking After All These Years (a review)

When people mention the rock group Simple Minds, there’s one unforgettable song that immediately comes to most folks’ minds, and its title pretty much says it best: “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”

More than 33 years after that Breakfast Club tune became a No. 1 smash in May 1985, people still haven’t forgotten about it, as it has since become one of the ‘80s most iconic records and one that the band who sings it could probably never omit from its live show, despite how tempting that prospect might be given the song’s never ending ubiquity.

 

Simple Minds in 2018

Yet, despite many Americans’ views to the contrary, there is soooo much more to Simple Minds than “Don’t You” and the 1985 album that soon followed it – Once Upon A Time – as Jim Kerr and Company showed on Monday night (Oct. 15) here at the Chicago Theatre.

In its first Chicago appearance in over two decades, Simple Minds played a generous 23 songs in two-plus hours (a 20-minute intermission made it closer to three) to a very enthusiastic crowd who were as much into this Scottish band on show night as they were 30-plus years ago.  

Even people in the audience who clearly weren’t yet born in 1985 when the band broke through in the U.S. seemed enraptured by the mere presence of frontman Kerr, whose intense, world-beating brand of atmospheric rock has always stood apart from that of his group’s peers (despite the band’s early comparisons to U2 back in the day).

As might be expected, Simple Minds is not the same band it was during its mid-1980s heyday.  Gone are some of its original and core members, with only lead vocalist Kerr and Charlie Burchill (guitar and keyboards) carrying the torch from back then.  

But that didn’t detract from the recognizability of the band’s music or its stellar performance Monday night. 

Newer members Ged Grimes (bass), Gordy Goudie (guitar), Catherine AD (keyboards), touring backup singer Sarah Brown, and drummer Cherisse Osei more than met the mark as they banged out Simple Minds tunes spanning from 1981’s dual album Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call all the way to the present and their 2018 release, Walk Between Worlds.

The latest album by Simple Minds was released in 2018.

The more than 25 years that have passed since Simple Minds last toured America would easily lead one to believe that the band has been away all that time, and that this was just another nostalgia-filled reboot of a band well past its glory.  

Truth is, Simple Minds never really went missing, with the band having gone no more than five years between albums since its first release nearly 40 years ago.  Walk Between Worlds is its 18th studio album, and it still carries some of the signature elements that the band’s early output did: signature guitar work by Burchill, new-wavy keyboard chords, and vocal interplay between Kerr and a female backup singer – in this case, the very capable Brown.  The new album, like so much of their recent output, may not have charted in America, but it’s been a top-ten hit in places like the U.K. and other countries throughout Europe. 

Fittingly, Kerr and Co. kicked off the show with a track from the latest album, the song “The Signal and the Noise,” a dark-sounding, yet lyrically uplifting tune that re-introduced the Chicago crowd to Kerr’s lightly reverberated, but unique baritone, which surprisingly is as rich as it was 30 years ago.

Other new songs in the set list included the title track “Walk Between Worlds” and “Sense of Discovery,” a tune Kerr introduced as young drummer Cherisse Osei’s favorite one on the new album.  Jokingly recalling an earlier conversation with Osei about her whereabouts when Simple Minds’ earlier music was out, he deadpanned the drummer’s reply being “I was busy not being born yet,” to much laughter from the crowd.

Kerr engaged the crowd from start to finish, frequently shaking hands with audience members standing in the front row and giving fist-pounds to others as he strutted back and forth along the width of the stage.  He also revealed a witty sense of humor that the previously unenlightened might have never known existed as he recalled, among other anecdotes, an unfortunate plane incident where a casual fan confused his band with fellow U.K. group Simply Red.

Obviously, those two bands couldn’t be any more different, as Simple Minds further illustrated on rocking songs like “Waterfront” and “Up On The Catwalk,” which Kerr recalled playing decades earlier at Chicago’s now-defunct Metro Club, and funkier fare like “Promised You A Miracle” and the disco-ey “The Hunter and the Hunted.”

In all, Simple Minds divided its 23 tracks between two sets and an encore.  The first set was filled with less familiar tunes, including a closing solo performance by Brown on “Dirty Old Town,” a cover of an Ewan MacColl song. The more familiar tunes were reserved for the remainder of the show, where the band performed American chart hits like “All The Things She Said,” “See The Light,” and that huge No. 1 song from 1985. 

Speaking of “Don’t You,” the band gave it the royal treatment, turning it from a four-minute pop hit into an eight-minute epic jam, giving the hit-starved crowd what they were likely craving (judging by its reaction).  Yet Simple Minds smartly downplayed the song’s significance by making it the next to the last track in Set 2, neither being the set’s closer nor part of the encore, which was reserved for musically superior – if less successful – songs like “Sanctify Yourself” and “Alive and Kicking,” both from 1985’s stellar Once Upon A Time album.

Ahhh “Alive and Kicking,” that swirling, textured worldwide top-five hit that sounds as adventurous today as it did 33 years ago.  Was I the only one in the audience who couldn’t wait to hear how Sarah Brown would handle Robin Clark’s soaring vocal parts from the original?

Needless to say, Simple Minds pulled it off wonderfully (you can see both “Alive” and “Sanctify” in the videos below).

As Kerr promised from the show’s beginning, Simple Minds’ performance was nothing short of substantial.  Kerr offered that it was “the least they could do” for their American fans after having been away so long.

If that was their least, I hasten to think what more they could’ve done.  

My response to Kerr and Co.: Thank you, Simple Minds…it was certainly well worth the wait!

DJRob

Simple Minds Set List at The Chicago Theatre on October 15, 2018:

Set 1:

  1. The Signal and the Noise 
  2. Waterfront
  3. Love Song
  4. Let There Be Love
  5. Up On The Catwalk
  6. Sense of Discovery
  7. Promised You A Miracle
  8. The American
  9. Hunter and the Hunted
  10. Stand By Love
  11. Dirty Old Town (Ewan MacColl cover)

Set 2: 

  1. Theme For Great Cities (instrumental)
  2. She’s A River
  3. Walk Between Worlds 
  4. Someone Somewhere in Summertime 
  5. See The Lights
  6. All The Things She Said
  7. Dolphins
  8. Don’t You (Forget About Me)
  9. New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)

Encore:

  1. Book of Brilliant Things
  2. Alive and Kicking
  3. Sanctify Yourself
Jim Kerr
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