“What if nobody remembers us?” Jim Kerr cheekily asked during some of his witty between-song banter last night from the stage at Mahaffey Theater. The dynamic lead singer of long-standing Scottish rock band Simple Minds pondered the thought of no one showing up to see his band’s long overdue return to the bay area. If only took one of the many overwhelming roars from the feisty crowd to remind him that locals have been waiting voraciously and patiently for the group’s return.
The last time this veteran band that has cleverly adapted itself from its early punk roots to post-punk greatness, new wave, arena rock and pop played in the area was in 1986. By the looks at the diverse age group that filled the seats at the lush St. Petersburg venue, some patrons probably weren’t alive when the band played downtown Tampa’s long gone Curtis Hixon Hall more than thirty years ago; but that didn’t prevent Kerr and company from delivering a smartly-paced and superb mixture of both old and new selections throughout the night.
Playing two lengthy sets with an intermission in between during which Kerr joked the band would be dining on cucumber sandwiches and tea, Simple Minds literally played something for everyone…and both the diehard fans and the most casual listeners undoubtedly both walked away elated.
Donning a grey blazer, bright red shirt and black jeans, Kerr looked dapper and youthful. Now 59, Kerr danced, made his way from side to side on the wide stage and egged everyone in attendance to clap and sing along to the music during the night and the request was more than granted. Opening the show with “The Signal and the Noise,” one of the handful of cuts the band played from its latest offering, 2018’s strong and powerful Walk Between Worlds, full attention was on the newly-expanded version of Simple Minds 2018 and its stark but mesmerizing stage design. While Kerr and ace guitarist Charlie Burchill, the band’s founders, are the only remaining original members, this current lineup is powerful and well-oiled. As lights from atop whirred around frantically and the stage’s electronic backdrop beamed color patterns in a nod to the cover artwork on the new album, the band sounded bold and mighty despite some early difficulties hearing Kerr above the clean, clear mix.
As a solid 1-2 punch, the opener was swiftly followed by “Waterfront,” the infectious, slowly building classic from the band’s 1984 milestone album, Sparkle in the Rain and, just like that, all the 50-somethings in the audience (that was on its feet all night) released a collective sigh of excitement and nostalgia.
Steadily bolstered by rock solid new drummer, the gorgeous and fashionable Cherisse Osei, everything played throughout the night, whether old or new, sounded fresh and brawny. The petite pounder, sporting a sparkly, slinky dress while beating the tar out of her kit, kept strong, portable fans pointed at her all night which blew her wild, curly locks around and painted the perfect picture of a true superstar drummer.
Another ace addition to the group is the tall, exotic backing singer Sarah Brown. With the appearance of a towering, exquisite supermodel in her skin tight yellow skirt and black and gold top, Brown filled the room with her booming, bellowing vocals and served as the perfect complement to Kerr’s still-silky and soaring croon.
“How many of you live in St. Petersburg?” Kerr stopped to inquire. After being met with a series of cheers and hollers, he then chided “can we have your life? It’s beautiful here!” and, again, the crowd went wild.
As Jim performed and his hard-earned sweat seeped through his blazer, he managed to delight and engage attendees in many ways. Whether mugging for cellphone cameras, smiling, waving and winking at those in the first few rows or handout out high-fives and handshakes, Kerr constantly showed his obvious appreciation for those who have stuck with this band for decades and sang back lyrics to him for the duration of the evening.
The hardcore Minds fans had plenty to cheer about throughout set #1. Dusting off nuggets like a percussion-heavy and guitar-driven “Up on the Catwalk,” Burchill, the axe man who was an early influence on U2’s The Edge, furiously traded off between a series of shiny Fender Stratocasters and Gibson Les Paul guitars to conjure his intricate web of ringing solos and rhythms. His finest moment came during “Stand By Love” when he more than proved his worth with some tasty slide guitar work that added a slick sheen to the song and gave it plenty of texture and depth. While his name may not pop up in many conversations of the sort, Charlie Burchill is and always has been a guitar hero and has provided an integral chunk of the unmistakable Simple Minds sound since the dawning of the 1980s.
A second set that, somehow, seemed to eclipse all the highs from the earlier hour-long first act got off to a rousing start and with a genuine jaw-dropper: a glistening version of the multi-layered instrumental “Themes For Great Cities” from 1981’s divine Sister Feelings Call album. As some of the crowd filed in during the song after the twenty-minute break, it was treated to yet another showcase of Burchill’s work as his ever-present smile beamed from his face while plucking out the shimmery strains of the track that sounded beefy and funky.
Sporting a change of clothes and dryer threads, Kerr emerged again looking re-energized and ready for round two. Again treading the line between the old and the new, Jim sounded stronger and more commanding for this second set. A non-stop barrage of singles dominated act II with the chugging “She’s A River” and the wistful “See the Lights” sounding revitalized and current.
Almost stealing the set was “Walk Between Worlds,” the booming title track from the band’s latest. Kerr continued his animated moves and gestures and belted with all he has and added plenty of firepower and muscle to this already sturdy track. A dramatic reading of “Dolphins,” a deep album cut from the underrated 2005 release, “Black & White 050505” was full of mystique. The almost ethereal tune was coupled with a breathtaking display of lighting prowess that found band members appearing as silhouettes as Kerr provided his subtle and breathy accompaniment to this emotive number.
As expected, the set came to a near close with the band’s delivery of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” its signature song from 1985. The sing-along aspect reached new heights for the extended, inspired reading of the band’s worldwide #1 hit and provoked spirited dancing and movement from the audience. But, as an instant nod to those in the house who were already dedicated followers before the band broke out with that song, the set closer was a churning, booming rendition of 1982’s “New Gold Dream” which enticed those who’ve been in the trenches with the band for decades to scream along to the songs chorus.
After a collective total of more than two hours onstage, the band pulled out the big guns for the uplifting encore. A soulful re-imagination of 1984’s “Book of Brilliant Things” performed solo by backup singer Sarah Brown opened the final act before Kerr re-emerged to belt the uplifting anthem “Alive and Kicking” and the dominant and commanding “Sanctify Yourself,” both hit singles from 1986’s breakout album, Once Upon a Time.
And, like that, the Simple Minds proved it’s still as inspiring and rousing an outfit as it ever was. Those who’ve waited for a repeat local performance since the mid-80s had to have been pleased with this robust and varied performance. Those who’d never seen the band live had to have walked away with a new-found respect for this adept and experienced band. But, clearly, both camps more than likely came away with the universal feeling of wanting more.
An open statement to the band: please don’t make it another thirty years before coming back. We promise, we won’t forget about you.