Saturday Deluxe / 17 February 2018

a-ha vs Simple Minds

I went to two gigs in London this week – a-ha and Simple Minds – and they made for an interesting comparison.

‘An Acoustic Evening With a-ha’ sounded promising but also faintly ludicrous, considering they were playing London’s O2 Arena – not exactly known for its intimacy – but against all the odds the Norwegian trio managed to stage a superb show based on the track listing and arrangements on last year’s MTV Unplugged album.

Simple Minds played the much smaller Roundhouse in Camden but ironically, for this writer, failed to connect and communicate in quite the same way as a-ha did on the bigger stage.

Simple Minds live at The Roundhouse on 15 Feb, 2018 (click image to enlarge)

On paper, I quite liked the plan Simple Minds had for the evening, which involved playing the new album Walk Between Worlds in full, having a Q&A session and then some hits, but when it came to the reality of this format, I’m not sure it was particularly successful. I hadn’t played the new record at home, and hearing it first in a live setting – in full, mind – wasn’t a particularly enjoyable experience. I thought Big Music was pretty good, but I’ll reserve full judgement on the new album once I’ve heard the studio recording, however on Wednesday night it just sounded like a thick slab of averageness. It didn’t help that the sound mix was rather muddy with layers of keyboards and a lot of bottom end on everything, but it seemed to drag on for ages. I’m a little reluctant to criticise, since I do like it when bands make an effort to do more than simply trot out the ‘greatest hits’ but digging into your back catalogue for ‘deep cuts’ or rarely played fan favourites is one thing, but playing the new album in full is a risky business, since artists are rarely in a position to judge how good the work is so soon after release.

The Q&A was a failure. These can be fantastic in a theatre/cinema type setting but in a fairly noisy ‘gig’ environment like The Roundhouse, with most of the audience standing (and wondering when the band were going to get on and play something they knew!)  it really didn’t work. It didn’t help that Scottish broadcaster and writer Billy Sloan was clearly a big fan and friend of the band and so there was nothing approaching a challenging or thoughtful question. The whole thing could be summarised in the sentence ‘But tell me Jim, why are Simple Minds so good?”

When I saw Suzanne Vega play last year she said something interesting about how hard it is to play new material to a responsive audience when they are just waiting for you to play the hits, so she made a point of playing some of the more familiar material early, which perhaps adjusted their mindset when it came to listening to newer material. This wasn’t something I’d ever really considered, but it was an intelligent reading of the fan-artist relationship and worked very well.

For the last 40 minutes or so when Simple Minds finally did play ‘the hits’ the roof came off the venue but by that point some of my goodwill had disappeared, and being towards the back in The Roundhouse with those pesky pillars didn’t help.

a-ha live at the O2 on 14 Feb, 2018 (click image to enlarge)

a-ha had around seven extra Norwegian musicians on stage at the O2 on the previous night, including a string section and in contrast to Simple Minds, the sound mix was incredibly detailed and precise. There was little fanfare when the show started – Morten, Paul and Magne just walked on stage to warm applause, and close to no rock bombast, but there was something resembling musical integrity which was arguably lacking at Simple Minds, who seemed more concerned with having very young looking women in the band (keyboards and drums) than worrying about how things sounded. To be fair, Simple Minds have not so long ago put out their own acoustic album, but the delicacy and creativity of a-ha’s arrangements, combined with Morten Harket’s remarkably ageless voice was something to behold.

Paul and Morten said virtually nothing all night leaving Magne as the master of ceremonies and he was as witty as usual, asking the audience if they could hear the acoustic music okay, and pithly noting that the acoustic set was ‘brought to you by electricity’.

The set list echoed the album, delivering rearranged hits (I’ve Been Losing You, The Sun Always Shines On TV, Hunting High And Low, The Living Daylights, Take On Me) with deeper cuts (This Alone Is Love, Scoundrel Days, Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale). A rare live outing for the title track of the band’s fifth album, Memorial Beach, was a particular highlight, for me.

Paul from SDE and Paul from a-ha! 

I spoke to Paul Waaktaar backstage before the a-ha show and that interview will be published very soon. He had some interesting things to say about the the future of the band.

Happy Birthday to The Kick Inside!

Kate Bush‘s debut album The Kick Inside was released on this day in 1978. The album reached number three in the UK charts and features the hit singles Wuthering Heights and The Man With The Child In His Eyes.

The image above is the original Japanese cover but there were actually many different cover variations around the world and I’d recommend you head over to KateBushNews.com for an interesting feature on the UK ‘kite’ cover.

I’m off to the Islington Assembly Hall later tonight to watch tribute band Cloudbusting perform the album in its entirety! Back in January this blog marked the 40th anniversary of Wuthering Heights – you can read that feature here.

43 responses to Saturday Deluxe / 17 February 2018

  1. George says:

    Last Monday I saw Simple Minds in Paradiso Amsterdam. Upfront I was a bit concerned on the new line-up (where’s Mel?) but as a fan from the early years my expectations were fully met. WBW was already in my vains from head to start and Jim and friends knocked the ceiling down. Very impressive! I thought the Q&A session was ok, the band tried to entertain the crowd in a different way, fine with me.

    Walk Between Worlds is an outstanding album which outclasses recent albums from Simple Minds imo.

  2. Mark says:

    Greatly looking forward to the Waaktaar interview, and what he has to say on the future of the band.

  3. Andrew says:

    I know the expectation of an audience is to hear the hits. But I feel that as an artist you can do things to alter that expectation. Before I saw Bowie I was warned that he doesn’t do the hits. At the time I thought that was crazy but knowing how much he took on another persona with each phase of his career to do songs from a different era would be like doing a song from a side project. That being said I completely enjoyed the show but an expectation had been set. I feel like as long as a band says ahead of time what they plan on doing (if it isn’t what they typically do) then people are accepting. Now doing a new album is really risky to me. I find the more I like a group the more sensitive I am to the slightest change in sound which may cause me to have to listen to it a few times to appreciate.

  4. Larry Davis says:

    Here’s the thing…I love both bands, prefer a-ha to Simple Minds, but can’t stand an audience mentality…I prefer if a band/artist (no matter WHO it is) to do what THEY want, NOT what an audience wants. I don’t like when a band becomes a jukebox, and I have no problem if they want to play their new album in full…I think that’s great!! If a band wants to play some hits, that’s cool too…but only if they want to do it because they are great songs they are proud of writing in the first place..NOT because of public pressure…like if Led Zep was around still, I saw the show, and they did NOT do “Stairway To Heaven” because they are sick of it…I would be happy about it actually because it was killed on radio!!

    An interesting thing happened recently in my town at a famed local venue…Marilyn Manson played the Paramount NY day after Valentine’s Day, and he had broken his leg last month and came out in a wheelchair…he didn’t do what the audience wanted, or the songs not the way they expected, they heckled each other, and he left the stage after a half hour, audience demanding refunds and weren’t getting any!! I say GOOD…that’s performance art and artist freedom from their audience!!! I support Manson in this situation and I hate certain audiences like that…

    With a-ha, I saw their NYC 2010 “farewell” tour (quotes cuz they are back together) and it was incredible…I wish they would include the US on future tours and album releases besides digital…I hear the Unplugged album did get a US release download and saw certain stores were stocking the import, but not the German box…they DO have a cult following here, and I sorta know Pal and Lauren…haven’t seen or talked to them since the Savoy days, and I DID see and talk to Lauren (not Pal, he was occupied) after the 2010 NYC a-ha show…I would try to convince him to include the US on a-ha activity…they do live in Brooklyn partly and wish I knew where there, as it’s fairly nearby…with Simple Minds, I love all their stuff and give them a lot of credit for playing the new album in full, then a Q&A session and then some “hits”…I wouldn’t know what Q’s to ask tho, and my fave 2 “hits” of theirs are fairly obscure in the US…”Love Song” and “New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)”, so I wouldn’t expect them to be played on a new US tour anyway…I will be getting the new album soon, a fave local store is stocking the deluxe for decent price…

  5. c_q says:

    I think it’s more of an audience problem than the band’s problem for the Q&A. I was closer to the stage and everyone around me was listening but I did hear behind me quite a bit of discussion, thankfully not enough to interfere, but I was glad I wasn’t further back. The Q&A itself was in fact a bit underwhelming I agree (Jim Kerr half-joking that it was basically to provide a break after every 4 songs), but it was clearly outlined ahead of time that it would occur, so if the audience members were not ready for that, at least they should have the decency to be quiet so that others who came to listen to it could have done so.

    As for playing the entire new album at concert, I actually decided to not listen to it ahead of time and see how it went live first. It wasn’t too bad overall, and from an artist perspective it seemed kinda risky thing do to. It’s just of course not going to be the same experience as the old songs played live that I’ve heard 1000 identical times before from the album, but that’s OK.

  6. Guido says:

    I like The new Simple Minds Album (I hated Big Music) as a long time fan.
    What I feel sad for is that they don‘t care about the Sound anymore. The new LP sounds muddy and compressed, even on vinyl.

  7. SimonP says:

    When I saw Turin Brakes a couple of years ago, right after their last album came out, they played every track off of it, but they were interspersed with more popular tracks. This meant that them playing the entire album went almost unnoticed.

  8. David Johnson says:

    The new album is excellent with probably 4 stand out tracks which they have been doing regularly since 2005.
    Saw the acoustic tour last year and was 50/50 beforehand but it worked really well.
    Now, theyve taken that acoustic line up and are attempting to deliver a ‘rock’ concert without Mel Gaynor on drums, even though he played on 6 tracks of the new album!?

    These gigs with interview are a cash grab charing punters to watch their rehearsals rather than playing a couple of gigs to the music press. Cherisse was great on the acoustic tour and by all accounts is doing ok but listen to a bootleg form 1982 – 1985 and the raw power just isn’t the same.
    The band has evolved and signal and the noise is one of their best ever tracks (imo) but then again i like empires and dance / Neapolis and Graffiti Soul !

  9. Alan Jones says:

    Simple Minds fan and collector since ’79. I was fortunate to blag a promo copy of the new album in early Jan so had a whole month to adapt to it ahead of the majority audience at The Roundhouse. I say that because after the first few listens I was unsure myself. By spin 5 or 6 the songs start to become infectious and one cold Friday evening in Jan I caught myself thinking I have not felt so excited about any new album let alone the Minds for a number of years yet I tried to keep this to myself not wishing to spoil the official release for other fans. I guess what I am trying to say is stick with it, play loud to eek out the multi-layered instrumentation and it will eventually grab you. The Q&A was a bit wierd but as Jim explained the milarkey was to enable them to draw breath and I’ve never seen anyone else do that before. Fairweather fans may not realise that Barrowland Star was previously released as an instrumental b-side Celtic Strings to the single She’s A River. I like the new Simple Minds line up, album, cover design, various formats, live arrangements…. Did I mention I’ve been a fan and collector since ’79?

  10. Mike says:

    I really like it when bands play all the songs from their new album live, but it’s a brave move to play it in order from the top of the bill. As for a Q&A mid-set, that just sounds bizarre.

    It’s also interesting to see a wide range of posts from people stating when they thought Simple Minds had hit their peak and they lost interest in them. For me the start of the decline was some of the songs on Street Fighting Years. They clearly still had a knack for a tune, but disappeared in to a sea of noodly-ness over the next few albums (although I still think Good News From the Next World) is a cracking, bombastic, tight piece of work. Shame then that it was followed up by Neapolis, Neon Lights and Cry. I struggle to remember anything positive from those albums or even which one was the career low point.

    “Comeback” wise, I think their albums have improved with each one from Black & White, culminating in Big Music. They’ve also been smart enough to revisit their past and use that to remind people just how great their back catalogue is, in between the new albums. I do really like their new album but haven’t listened to it enough yet to see if it will stand up to repeated listens. I think it’s great they’re still around though and streaming music can only be a good thing for bands like them where people can check out new stuff from old favourites without any financial risk.

  11. Kevin Galliford says:

    I used to really like Simple Minds but the disappointing GNFTNW ( despite the brilliant “Hypnotised”) & the awful covers album seriously dampened my interest. I have a rule with bands: 2 duff albums & you’re out!!

  12. Chris says:

    WBW hits me like one long song or “work” with acts or sides…however it works for each listener. The songs work much better in the context of the album as so much of it is based on different areas of their career or draws from it. Maybe that’s why they tried it that way, not sure. Signal works so much better after the ending bars of Utopia, Walk Between Worlds and Sense of Discovery were definitely meant to wrap up a story that was being told by Barrowland Star. It’s a proper album as opposed to Big Music which was more of an offering of quite a few good tracks that had been banged out over the past few years. I treat Big Music almost like a “What We Were Up To Between 2009-2014” and it works better for me.
    I think you’ll enjoy WBW but for the love of God, avoid the downloads……no dynamics to speak of. The CD is a little better but the vinyl sounds decent with just enough dynamics. I picked up the 75 quid signed edition and it’s a very nice offering with plenty of colored vinyl, a proper vinyl so you don’t have to play your picture disc, great artistic direction on this album. Nice presentation visually and aurally. My favorite record of theirs since NGD I think. You’re definitely right about the QA, very odd idea and it just doesn’t work. Better just have a video presenting some info on the new album and how it draws from the past quite a bit. They have a great discography, even some of the bombast is entirely listenable and enjoyable. I find something to like about each album and WBW really has an urgency to it, it’s flush with textures that signal they really thought about the music, what might make it better….etc. Hoping you’ll have an unboxing video for their “SDE”

  13. Louise says:

    I saw Simple Minds in 1990/1 at their “peak” and they were awful, the only concert I’ve ever walked out of, they played a lot of noodling acoustic style numbers which I (and half the audience) thought were dull and voted with our feet. This was at Wembley Stadium, i keep thinking I should give them another chance in a smaller venue but I haven’t liked much of their recent output and from this review maybe I’ll invest my hard earned elsewhere!

  14. Steven says:

    I’m enjoying the new Simple Minds album. It’s pretty good, I reckon. I liked it immediately. And I’ve found hearing new songs for the first time in a live setting is never the best way for me. So as I already know the album, I would have been OK with that first set.
    But I have to say, that Q&A interlude sounds positively awful. A great way to kill a concert.

  15. Michael says:

    I find the new SimpleMinds lp to be pretty good, but not much stands out on it. I think if they want to play all the tracks it would be fine if they mixed them in across the set. IMO, very few albums hold up really well for that, esp. not brand new ones unless it is billed as an album release party show. And a q&a session sounds horrible for any concert. I would rather hear a 15 minute drum solo.

  16. Kevin S says:

    Disgraceful clickbait to include Kate Bush as one of the tags in your weekly update ! I jumped in with the hope that it was news of a release or re-release.

    A thousand curses!!!

  17. The Golden Age Of Tribute Bands says:

    Going to see Cloudbursting in May Paul, I’ll be interested in your thoughts on the act/band, cheers Goldie.

    • Graham Turner says:

      I’ve seen Cloudbusting a couple of times (3rd visit planned for May) and they really are excellent: they are a proper group of musicians who have a clear love and respect for Kate and the material. They are very far from being a ‘parody’ tribute band.

      The second time I saw them Del Palmer was in the audience to check them out. I would absolutely recommend any Kate fans to see them if they get the chance.

      • Paul Sinclair says:

        Del went one step further last night and actually played bass on L’Amour Looks Something Like You and Them Heavy People!

  18. Andrew says:

    Artists like Paul Weller who have constantly evolved and have done their own thing can play a gig with a set list that doesn’t rely on the hits. Bands like Simple Minds often have to play the hits as their audience stopped listening to them around the late 80’s. Which then doesn’t give them a chance to let their new songs shine.
    When I go to see older bands I grew up with, I go to see them play new songs and I get frustrated by the lack of interest a lot of the audience have (the Bunnymen were heckled for playing 3 new songs in a row!).
    Am I bothered to hear Blue Monday for the umpteenth time? If anything I like bands who overhaul old songs or bring out a less known old song with new ones.

    • Daran says:

      That is the same for pretty much all artists though. Been to F’Mac concert and seen people go for food/toilet en masse during a Tusk mini-set, and at a Macca gig when he did Temporary Secretary for the first time ever I think it was people were walking out!

  19. Duncan Day says:

    Would have loved to have seen a-ha. You can keep Simple Minds though. I cycled 20 miles to see them in 1984 and they were awful then. Like a bad soft rock band

  20. William_M says:

    I think it’s a shame the members of a-ha have such a tempestuous and distant relationship with one another, last time i saw them live it really showed. I met Jim & Charlie from Simple Minds a few weeks ago on the day the new album was released and they were on great form, i think every band of the 80’s era are prone to being accused of trying to sound ‘youthful’ when they bring out new material, U2 are another example, would be nice if they were just judged on the fact they are still making good music instead of focusing in on what they might be trying to sound like or do, or focusing in on the dreaded ‘relevant’ question.

  21. Eamonn says:

    Going to the Kate Bush Kick Inside tribute too, looking forward very much to it, still my fave of hers.

  22. SimonH says:

    Am really enjoying the new Simple Minds album, but agree a question and answer session seems a sure fire way to kill a gig stone dead. However am also beginning to tire of gigs turning into total nostalgia fests…so do give them credit for trying to break out of the formula, but please no more acoustic albums…from anyone really:) Just my view of course.
    For Simple Minds it’s tough pleasing a cross section of fans, some of whom actively dislike some of their biggest hits.

    • Paul Cunningham says:

      Was so glad when they finished with Don’t You Forget About Me and I could leave about 10 minutes early and save myself from having to hear it ever again

    • SimonH – Fancy meeting you here! Yeah, I echo you on the acoustic album syndrome®! Also agree with disliking their biggest hits! For my part, I also consider the Q+A midconcert as serious buzzkill. As long as they are not busking acoustically, and played this fantastic new album in its entirety, I’d sign up. “Walk Between Worlds” took about three plays to get in the veins, but it’s an excellent album. The beauty and vibe is top drawer. This one easily aced “Big Music” and I liked “Big Music.” A lot.

  23. Richard says:

    My wife went to the Aha show and was right near front and there was literally a corden round Morten to protect him from the screaming women demanding he take his top off beteeen each song!
    She said the acoustic setting did get a bit trying at times!

  24. andrew davis says:

    I saw A-ha last saturday in Oslo and thought it was a fantastic concert. There were no surprises in the set-list but the acoustic arrangements worked really well. It was my first ever concert abroad in an impressive venue close to the station and city centre in Oslo. The only downside was all the between-song chat from Magne was in Norwegian which being their hometown was to be expected.
    Looking forward to your interview with Pal on the future of the band.

  25. Kevin Galliford says:

    The A-ha accoustic album / dvd is on my Amazon wishlist & Paul is a brilliant & underrated guitarist, I wish he would “let rip” more often. I look forward to your interview with Paul, Paul.

  26. Graham says:

    I no longer go to gigs at the Roundhouse – don’t rate it as a venue.

  27. Derek says:

    Glad you enjoyed the show. Have seen lots of good feedback on it

    I have been a fan since 1986 but didn’t bother with this show. I watched some of the Unplugged show on TV and marvelled how they turned Take on Me into a funeral dirge, and reckoned 2 hours of this at O2 would be too much ( plus I hate the O2 arena)

    I saw them on the CIS tour at the O2 and have never seen a band look so pissed off on stage in front of 20000 people, there was no chemistry at all. Only Magne made any effort that night.

  28. Paul Cunningham says:

    I have to agree with the Q&A session at Simple Minds, as if playing the new album in full wasn’t risky enough ( I actually like it more than Big Music but there seems a bit of desperation of trying to sound youthful) but it just made it into one of the most disjointed gigs I’ve been to in years. Suede pulled it off playing Bloodsports in full, also at the Roundhouse so it can be done.
    I would say it’s a nice experience as a one off or three off as I think it is this time but it ain’t going to be how their tour is.

  29. Dan Treview says:

    I don’t like it when bands play their latest all the way through (concept albums aside), especially pop-rock like Simple Minds, which also happen to be one of my favorite bands of all time. It never works for me. The worst I ever saw was Porcupine Tree playing “The Incident” beginning to end back in 2010. Horrible album for what was once a tremendous prog rock band. The last few Simple Minds albums strike me the same way – they’re interesting records with glimmers of greatness in them, but not cover to cover. I think their last cover to cover album I enjoyed was GNftNW.

    I’m glad a-ha pulled it off. I love those guys!

  30. Steven Robertson says:

    I saw a-ha in Berlin on this tour, and it was amazing. Was really surprised how good it sounded in a huge venue.

  31. Robert Atkin says:

    I am surprised that you have used the phrase Youthful sexy women in the article Paul. I suspect Simple Minds would have picked the ladies for their talent and not because of them being women. The lady on keyboards is Catherine Ann Davies also known as The Anchoress. She has released s number of singles and a brilliant first album and is currently in the process for her second album. She has been touring with Simple Minds for some time and has also toured with Paul Draper last year. Paul and his band also contributed to her first album.

    Catherine is a talented artist in her own right and abbors any comments in the music industry regarding sexism coming first before talent in relation to women musicians.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Reasonable point… I’ve re-worded. Although in my defence there was a bit of banter on stage during the Q&A where Charlie was joking around about the new members. I stand by the point that the band have in my opinion employed young attractive people deliberately to balance out the ‘old fart’ factor. I’m not saying they aren’t talented musicians, of course.

  32. Daran says:

    Glad the A-ha gig was good Paul. I wanted to go, but had to be in Liverpool for work this week. I admit to being concerned that the O2 Enormodome would be a disaster for an evening of acoustic music, especially being so impressed by their recent intimate MTV gig Blu-ray. I thought it would have been an ideal time for them to go back to the Albert Hall. But as I have an increasing respect and fondness for the band i’m glad it worked out for them on the night. How many people were there do you think? Was the top tier curtained off?

  33. Cindy says:

    I liked “Big Music” on the first play and played it numerous times after that. I thought it was a really good album that should have been promoted in the States (instead, they came on an awards show and sang “Don’t You Forget About Me,” and yes, this American knows they weren’t just a one hit wonder! ) They actually toured the US in 2013 to sold out shows so I don’t know why they couldn’t tour “Big Music” here. I played “Walk Between Worlds” once and haven’t really had the desire to play it again so fast, so your initial reaction to it might not be so far off the mark. It just didn’t grab me like “Big Music.” I’ll play it again though and give it another chance.

    A-ha had a huge “farewell” tour here in 2010. I’m sure they’d fill the venues with this acoustic show, but it seems they have abandoned all thoughts of doing anything in the US. The acoustic DVD was aired globally, but not here! I’m glad I got that deal on the set from Amazon Germany!

  34. Webvan says:

    Thanks for the reports and insightful comments. It’s certainly not an easy thing for a band like Simple Minds that had its heyday 30+ years ago to build a setlist. Maybe some “uber” fans (they must have some ?) were delighted to hear the new album in full (I would be at a Stones or Macca show) but even for guys like that it would seem like an impossible feat to pull off.

    By coincidence I was streaming “Scoundrel Days” when I read your post ;-)

    PS – please consider adding email notifications on posts (I’m sure you have them !) as it’s really the only way to follow a thread properly ;-)

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