Jul 23, 2023

The Next Thing Will Be Amazing

The Letting It Go ShowCulture Club / Howard Jones / Berlin
Bethel Woods Center For The Arts - Bethel, NY
The cost of going to a concert has gone through the roof in recent years, so we've decided to scale back this summer to two big shows, and maybe a few smaller shows if our budget allows.  The first big show for us this year was The Cure, who I had never gotten to see perform live before.  The second was another band that I've always wanted to see and finally had the opportunity to do so last night when Culture Club headlined a show at my favorite concert venue.

The Bethel Woods Center For The Arts is the most beautiful place that I've ever seen a concert.  It's on the grounds where the original Woodstock festival was held in 1969.  There are a few different areas where live music performances are held, but the main stage is an amphitheater which has a massive general admission lawn that can accommodate over 10,000 fans.  There's also a very nice museum dedicated to Woodstock which we first visited ten years ago, and they have a lot of special events on the grounds throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

The experience of visiting this place has a special feel to it before you even get there.  The drive from Northeast PA to Bethel takes you through wooded areas and small towns with places to stop for a bite to eat.  There's a very large area between the front gates and the amphitheater.  There are plenty of spaces for food trucks and vendors, but there are also a lot of quiet spaces with rocks, fountains, streams, trees, and other plant life that would make a wonderful place to relax with a good book.

The screens at the main stage had a slideshow with these "Did You Know" facts about Woodstock interspersed with various advertisements for upcoming shows at the venue.  I'm a nerd for fun facts, so here are four of them.

Berlin was the first band to take the stage.  We saw them once before in Philadelphia when they opened for The B-52's just a few months before the start of the pandemic.  They were incredible on that night, and they were every bit as amazing last night in Bethel.

Terri Nunn belted out an eight song setlist with many of my favorite Berlin songs, including Masquerade, No More WordsThe Metro, Take My Breath Away, and Sex.  They also performed an amazing cover of one of my favorite songs by The Cult, the 1985 hit single She Sells Sanctuary.  She sounds exactly the same as she always has.

Howard Jones took the stage next.  We saw him for the first time six years ago in New Jersey on the Retro Futura tourTwo years later, we got to see him in Jim Thorpe on the Transform tour, and again just last summer at the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre where he performed as his own opening act when Midge Ure was unable to perform due to his contracting Covid.

With all due respect to Mr. Jones, who is one of my favorite performers, I enjoyed his set last night the least out of the four times that I've been in attendance for his shows.  He's always been big on audience participation for his shows.  It's a magical feeling when the crowd is so loud and enthusiastic that the entire venue sings out with one voice along with the band.  However, it really is the kind of thing that has to happen organically.  When artists try to force it, or when they overdo the schtick where they hold the microphone out to a crowd that isn't especially loud or enthusiastic, it can begin to feel like we're being cheated.  Unfortunately, that's what happened last night, at least for the beginning of his set.  I'm pretty sure that he didn't sing the entire chorus at any point during his performance of Like To Get To Know You Well, Everlasting Love, or New Song.

If it turns out that he had a sore throat or something and that he was just trying to pace himself, I apologize, but the first three songs were kind of a bummer.  New Song is one of my favorites and getting to hear him sing the word "don't" and then hold the mic out to a crowd whose voices didn't come close to carrying back to our section for the rest of the chorus was disappointing.  Thankfully, he dialed the forced audience participation back a bit by the middle of his set, and he gave an excellent performance of Too Shy with Kajagoogoo bassist Nick Beggs playing and singing background vocals on the hit single that he made famous in 1983.  Mr. Jones also gave a wonderful performance of one of my favorite songs of all time, No One Is To Blame before finishing strong with What Is Love and Things Can Only Get Better, which the crowd did enthusiastically sing along with.

Culture Club was the headliner, and if you're not familiar with their incredible body of work, I suggest that you change that as soon as possible.  Their fusion of pop, rock, reggae, funk, and rhythm & blues was decades ahead of its time.  I still don't think that music has caught up to the genius of Boy George, who has a stronger command of the stage and his audience than anyone who I've ever seen.

The band took the stage with a new song called The Next Thing Will Be Amazing, and it is, in fact, amazing.  Click above to listen to it (credit to @MichaelNJBeatlefest for recording and sharing it).  I don't think it's been included on an album or released as a single yet, but I hope that it's coming soon.

The rest of their set was equally amazing.  I'm far from an expert on Culture Club's catalog, but I recognized most of the songs, and I loved the ones that I heard last night for the first time every bit as much as the ones that I grew up with.  The main setlist included It's A MiracleI'll Tumble 4 YaEverything I OwnDo You Really Want To Hurt Me, a seamless mashup of Church Of The Poison Mind with Wham's 1985 hit single I'm Your Man, Time, and Miss Me Blind.

They came out for a three song encore, and I've never been so thankful that I didn't look at the setlists for a tour ahead of time as I was last night, because the first song of the encore was one of the best surprises I've ever had at a concert.  It felt a little bit like that game show Name That Tune, because after the first few notes of music filled the air, I looked at Angie and said "are they going to do Sympathy For The Devil?!".  Sure enough, they did, and it was freaking PHENOMENAL!  They followed this up by blowing the roof off the venue with Karma Chameleon before closing the night out with a cover of Bang A Gong (Get It On) that sent everybody home happy.  From start to finish, this was one of the most fun sets that I've ever seen!

And that's a wrap.  This is a top ten show for me even with my grouchiness about the beginning of Howard Jones' set.  I kind of feel bad for even mentioning it, but I felt it would be disingenuous if I didn't, but nevermind that.  We had great weather, great seats, and a great show with a great crowd.  There's moments during nights like this where I try to take in everything around me and remind myself of just how damn lucky I am to be able to enjoy a night like this.

Here are the setlists for Berlin, Howard Jones, and Culture Club: