Simple Minds, Albert Hall, Manchester 14/02/2018

It ends as it began, a perfect bookend. The disparate quintet, having bared souls to one another over the past hour or so, go their separate ways, back to their lives. A narration plays- the very words spoken during the opening- written to appease their captor, simultaneously an act of subservience and defiance. The piece comes to a finale as we see the rebellious anti-hero walking to freedom. Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club. A fist is raised. Freeze-frame. Fade to black. Roll the credits. The music plays on.

Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” was chosen by John Hughes as part of the soundtrack to his 1985 masterpiece, a genuine iconic moment in modern cinema, the perfect marriage of sound and vision- and it is because if this that the song, and by extension the band, have been able to transcend generations and as a result manage to avoid the pitfalls of the nostalgia circuit that so many of their contemporaries have fallen into. With their eighteenth studio album, Walk Between Worlds, and fast approaching their three-thousandth live show with twenty-one different members (singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill have been the only constant throughout the years), Simple Minds have been able to evolve and adapt over the years- tonight’s gig showed the band at the peak of their powers, even after 30 years of touring.

Infamous for set lengths of Springsteenian proportions, the night was split in three parts. In lieu of a support act, Simple Minds divided up the night into a showcase of new material (Walk Between Worlds played in full), classic hits, and a question-and-answer/live interview session.

The band are met with a rapturous response as they launch into the first part of their greatest hits package- the 7-piece have the energy of a group half their age, mainly thanks to frontman Jim Kerr, covering the full stage and working and enchanting the crowd at an almost individual level. This momentum carried through the first portion of the set almost non-stop with mass singalongs and dancing from the audience.

However, “we play 4 songs, then we need to sit down”, Radio Scotland’s Billy Sloan moderating a number of questions and anecdotes regarding their long, storied career, starting from their very first gig on January 16th 1978 through to their first Manchester shows, supporting post-punk outfit Magazine, and their run-ins with some of their contemporaries, “4 Irish guys with fucking silly names”. In their own words, Simple Minds “never want to stop creating. We’d rather give up than do the same old things. A lot of bands are afraid of new music and a lot of the audience don’t want to hear new music”, and were able to justify their revolving-door policy to band members in that they “have to re-energise, and have to renew”.

Thankfully, this statement rang true, as Kerr and company proceeded to play, in full, their new album Walk Between Worlds, in album sequence- with another, shorter interview section acting as a break between sides 1 and 2, the electronically-tinged arena rock simultaneously forward-thinking but still carries the Simple Minds sound, with Charlie Burchill’s arpeggiated guitar flying above Jim Kerr’s powerful emotive baritone, still as resonant as ever. ‘Summer’ and “The Signal And The Noise” in particular are highlights, with processed beats and looping bass showing that the band are unafraid to embrace modern production and style but still remain recognisably themselves.

Resume the classics, barely through the intro of “Waterfront“, the crowd suddenly transforming from appreciative listeners back into the singing, dancing throng of humanity. The band barely change step from the Walk Between Worlds material back into older, more familiar territory- their claim of re-energising and renewing a clear fact rather than a soundbite boast. The wide-open, panoramic Celtic Rock sound, similar (albeit more post-punk and electronic influenced) to fellow countrymen Big Country and Runrig, and to a lesser extent U2 (The Unforgettable Fire, at the very least) has not aged a day, still as vibrant as ever through their big hits “Alive & Kicking” and “New Gold Dream“.

In a slight change of pace, a cover of Ewan McColl’s “Dirty Old Town“, which was adopted into the band’s setlists from last year, when they were booked to play Bridgwater Hall on the day after the horrific terror attack in Manchester city centre. The band’s response was simple, “we make music. It’s what we do, it’s how we can help.” This rendition is vastly different to the more well-known versions from The Dubliners and The Pogues, a soulful duet between Kerr and backing singer Sarah Brown complete with a Frippertronics-style guitar break- as expected, the song was met with a wild response from the Manchester faithful. With little else to say, the group fired into their finale, the song that arguably made them worldwide stars and ensured their pop culture immortality. A fist is raised. Freeze-frame. Fade to black. Roll the credits.

Here’s to the next 3,000 gigs.

Words and live shots by Liam Moody, featured photo courtesy of Simple Minds.

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