'98's Best: Culture Club Shine On Rainy Night In Georgia

Despite downpour, band's resident transvestite, Boy George, escorts reunited '80s pop group through its old hits.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Friday, July 24.]

ATLANTA -- The rain had just begun to fall on that hot, muggy night when a

calm, cool and collected Boy George, Culture Club's ever-quotable leader, looked out

into the crowd with a sassy smile.

"I refuse to bow down to the weather," he yelled. "I'm dressing up, bitch!"

And with that, he and the rest of his band of '80s new-wave rockers launched into "Time

(Clock of the Heart)," a slinky pop hit of yesteryear that seemed all-too-fitting for the

occasion -- a new-wave reunion featuring the Club and two of their '80s peers.

More than 10 years (and one nasty, tell-all autobiography by George) had passed since

Culture Club last toured together, but it didn't take long for them to shake off the rust at

the Chastain Park Amphitheatre on Thursday. As the opening notes of "Church of the

Poison Mind" perked the crowd up out of their wine glasses, George -- the transvestite

frontman -- hit the stage skipping, wearing a black suit and a large, gray fedora and

holding a Japanese mask in front of his face.

George quickly dropped the mask and flew head-on into the song, with at least as much

enthusiasm as he did 10 years ago. It was sassy. It was amusing. It was Culture Club. No

mistaking it.

"This is exactly how I remember them," said Allison Goldbaum, a 28-year-old

computer programmer from Sandy Springs, Ga. "They sound exactly the same."

Goldbaum was right. There seemed to be little hesitation on the part of

Culture Club to play the part of crowd-pleasers and bask in the glory of their mid-'80s

successes. The band's set leaned heavily on its two platinum-selling albums, 1982's

Kissing to Be Clever and 1983's Colour by Numbers, as George twirled his

trademark braids in front of a backdrop that included two huge portraits of

actress/entertainer Doris Day.

"They played just about every song I was hoping for," said 36-year-old Mark

Flouret in the parking lot following the show. Flouret, an accountant from

Dunwoody, Ga., heard about the show on the radio a few days prior. "The guys on the

radio kept saying 'Culture Club,' but at first I thought it was some kind of joke. I didn't

even realize they had gotten back together. I'm glad they did, though."

Much of the crowd seemed to share Flouret's sentiments. The amphitheater was

populated almost entirely by suburban twenty- and thirtysomethings looking for

a nostalgia fix, and Culture Club were more than happy to oblige, running

through pop favorites such as the samba-driven "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" and the reggae-lite of

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Culture_Club/Do_You_Really_Want_To_Hurt_Me.r

am">"Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" (RealAudio excerpt) without even a hint

of the bitterness that occasionally accompanies acts that have been relegated to the

nostalgia circuit.

They did, however, unveil a few new tunes, including "I Just Want To Be Loved," a

synth-driven tune with a reggae backbeat, which George introduced as the new single

from their upcoming album.

The band saved the song for which it is perhaps best remembered for the

lone encore. As the rain began to fall harder, the crowd squealed with

delight when it heard the opening bars to Culture Club's quirky hit,

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Culture_Club/Karma_Chameleon.ram">"Karma

Chameleon" (RealAudio excerpt).

Massive floodlights lit the audience in a wash of bright light, and umbrellas could be

seen bopping enthusiastically along to the beat. Then, as the song wound down, one

audience-member's enthusiasm got the best of him. A Boy George impersonator who

had been vamping through the crowd before Culture Club's set, drinking red wine and

posing for pictures, rushed the stage and momentarily shared the mic with the real

George before security unceremoniously deposited him back into the crowd.

The sets by openers and fellow '80s castaways Howard Jones and the Human

League were received with somewhat less aplomb.

Synth-pop rocker Jones sounded good but insisted on culling most of his set from his

more recent and less known material, much to the dismay of the packed crowd. The

Human League, whose mid-'80s success was fueled by catchy, synthesized rock

nuggets such as "(Keep Feeling) Fascination," "I'm Only Human" and "Don't You Want

Me," rarely played live during their heyday and seemed less-than-comfortable onstage a

decade later.

Lead singer Phil Oakey's voice had trouble finding the right notes, and his two backup

singers were little help.

But by the time Boy George and the rest of the guys had finished their set, few in the

audience seemed bothered by the fact that they had watched the openers work out their

opening-night kinks. As they filed toward the exits, spontaneous choruses of "Karma

Chameleon" broke out among the now drenched crowd.

"I guess they're kind-of a guilty pleasure," Jason Anders, a 26-year-old

waiter from Atlanta, said of Culture Club. "I mean, there's nothing wrong with

dancing around and reliving high school every once in a while, is there?"