On September 24th legendary New Wave artisans Simple Minds kicked off the North American leg of their Walk Between Worlds tour at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, PA. The US tour is proof of the resurgence in popularity enjoyed by Simple Minds with their last two studio releases. Those who have been lucky enough to catch the band throughout the years know that a spectacular celebration was in store. At the concert, Simple Minds not only met expectations but exceeded them delivering a transcendent performance. During the evening the band effortlessly jumped back and forth within the 41 years of their discography. The setlist was an inspired combination of songs off of their splendid new release, their unforgettable greatest hits and beloved deep track selections. It was a setlist that thrilled their hardcore fans and beguiles newer acolytes of the band. The performance evinced the uplift and exuberance that Simple Minds has always had in spades, as they once again swung for the fences.
It has been 32 years since Simple Minds played in Bethlehem, PA. The last time they blew the roof off Stabler Arena with their verve and heartfelt earnest. Three decades might have passed since, but frontman Jim Kerr can still hold the crowd in the palm of his hand. He along with longtime co-band founder, guitarist Charlie Burchill, and frequent band bassist Ged Grimes recruited a stellar tour line up. Those recruits, drummer Cherisse Osei, vocalist Sarah Brown and Gordy Goudie continuously impressed the crowd with their seemingly effortless artistry. Their efforts fulfil Kerr’s stated desire to provide a Sly and the Family Stones vibe for the tour and he has succeeded in achieving that goal. To manifest this vibe the band members were frequently mobile and often times shared or took centre stage with their performances. Not to be forgotten is guitarist Charlie Burchill who is stunning every time he straps on a guitar, to witness his virtuosity is a thing of beauty, and I still think he is one of the most underrated guitarists in rock.
Ever the ringmaster Jim Kerr conducted the concert like a maestro allowing his contagious effervescence to rub off on even the most jaded concert attendee. He is transparent in his love for what he does and the music the band performs. At the beginning of the evening, Kerr shared that Simple Minds had prepared for the opening night with days of rehearsal at the venue before the debut. The reason for the intense rehearsal sessions was two-fold, first to bring back into the mix songs that had wandered from the setlist and secondly to wow the fans on this long-awaited North American tour. It was quickly apparent the rehearsal had paid off and the evening’s performance was faultless.
The concert kicked off with the Walk Between Worlds track The Signal and the Noise a perfect amalgam of glam synth and soaring vocals. The band then reached back to Sparkle in the Rain for the crowd pleaser Waterfront. The song with its classic throbbing bass and explosive vocals added roil to the boil that had begun in the crowd. Another classic Love Song maintained the energy level while the beloved Let There Be Love off Real Life spotlighted Kerr’s vocal chops. Simple Minds then unloaded the first stunning addition to the setlist with the always breathtaking Up on the Catwalk again from Sparkle in the Rain. The track, which had not been played throughout the tour this year, was breathtaking. Leaping forward in their discography Simple Minds unreeled one of my favourites off of the latest release the song Sense of Discovery which is even more spinetingling performed live. The band again time travelled to 1982’s Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Calling letting loose The American delighting the hardcore fans and they follow up with a sizzling version of Hunter and the Hunted. Another concert staple Stand by Love had the concert-goers dancing in the aisles. The band brought the first set to a close with a cover of Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town. Vocalist Sarah Brown brought down the house with her luminous duet with Kerr on the selection.
Returning from the break Charlie Burchill led the charge on synths with a transcendent version of Theme for Great Cities. As an old campaigner fan of Simple Minds I was ecstatic about the addition of this song and hope they keep it on the setlist. This deep track is even more impressive today and displays how far ahead and visionary the band was with their instrumental compositions back in the day. It was a definite high point in a concert loaded with them. The band would impress again and again with spot-on renditions of She’s a River, Walk Between Worlds and Hypnotized.
I was constantly impressed by the quality of the presentation. Often times on an opening night, bands have apparent glitches and things to iron out. This was not the case for Simple Minds, the setlist and the band’s performance came off as if they were a band that had been on the road for months and they were totally comfortable with performing the setlist.
The band played on presenting the luminous Someone Somewhere in the Summertime which was as fresh as the first time I saw it performed back in 1985. Now as ever Jim Kerr beautifully conveyed all the wistful yearning represented in the song’s lyrics. Additionally, it was fantastic to see the stellar All the Things She Said in the setlist as it is another of my personal favourites. A show stopper for me was Dolphins, a track I was relatively unfamiliar with, I had known it was in the set list and I was somewhat indifferent about its inclusion. However, Mr Kerr changed my mind with the band’s arresting rendition and I hope it stays on the setlist throughout the tour. The juxtapositioning of that lesser known track with Simple Mind’s trademark song Don’t You ( Forget About Me) was almost neck snapping as a changeup but provided a jolt of electricity that brought the enthusiasm in the concert hall to fever pitch. It was nice to see the band come to peace with this song; as they had a love/ hate relationship with it at one point. It was exciting to see that Kerr and Co. have come to peace with the song and it is a pleasure to see them have fun playing the selection. As if to remind the concert goers that “Don’t You” does not define their legacy they continued on with New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) the title track from that 1982 classic. When unveiled the song almost topped the enthusiasm of the crowd for “Don’t You”. New Gold Dream brought the second set to a close.
The encore began with a reverent and inspired version of Book of Brilliant Things which was led off by Sarah Brown. The song built and built the drama until the final explosive ending. This segued into the corker Alive and Kicking from 1985’s heavyweight album Once Upon a Time. The song had the crowd on their feet emanating love back and forth between the floor and the stage. The last song placed the final exclamation mark on a spectacular night with another hit selection from Once Upon a Time, Sanctify Yourself. The band brought an ecstatic and fairly sweaty night to a close leaving a smile on every face.
For those who think the glory days of Simple Minds are over, I suggest you avail yourself of one of the band’s concerts. The experience can be best compared to entering an ersatz time machine where the band delivers the same punch they deliver every time they grace the stage. The new selections from the latest release fit perfectly with the classics. The resurgence of the band’s popularity certainly continues. Jim Kerr does not miss a beat and is a consummate frontman who insists that you join in his merriment if only for a space of two hours. Simple Minds live have always delivered the goods, providing uplift and ebullience in every performance, they never hold back and put it all on the stage. Some have belittled them for wearing their hearts on their sleeves but I wouldn’t want them any other way. Credit goes to Kerr and Burchill for their excellent touring member additions and the fantastically inspired setlist. I recommend wholeheartedly that if Simple Minds comes anywhere near where you live do not hesitate to catch them in the act of weaving their musical spell.