Music

Five Thoughts: Simple Minds at the Pearl (October 21)

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Guitarist Charlie Burchill and singer Jim Kerr of Simple Minds perform at The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort on October 21, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Courtesy Photo / Denise Truscello

1. This was Simple Minds’ first time visiting Las Vegas—a somewhat astonishing milestone considering that this is the band’s 40th year. (It’s as much their fault as ours: Simple Minds has toured the US only sporadically since their mid-1980s heyday.) For their effort, they were rewarded with a near-packed Pearl and a crowd that sang, clapped and danced along with every number of a generous 23-song set. For a band that hasn’t charted an album in America since 1991, that’s no mean feat; for a city whose rock radio probably hasn’t played more than two different Simple Minds songs in a decade, it’s a miracle.

2. They earned the love. From the opening notes of “The Signal and the Noise” through a three-song encore drawn entirely from the band’s 1985 LP Once Upon a Time, Simple Minds performed like a band with something to prove. Though their 23-song set was top-loaded with older material—they only played three songs from their latest LP, and only nine songs total recorded after 1990—the Minds played young, ripping through their postpunk dance numbers (“Love Song,” “The American”), new wave classics (“Someone Somewhere in Summertime,” “Promised You a Miracle”) and arena-sized rockers (“Waterfront,” “Alive and Kicking”) with unalloyed fervor. Anyone expecting a low-key, nostalgia-heavy set was doubtlessly surprised by how much of themselves the band put forward ... and how much the audience felt compelled to give back.

3. Older suits them, though. When I first saw the band in 1986, singer Jim Kerr was all over the place; he leaped, kicked and pirouetted more than a Cirque acrobat. He still has some of those moves, but he’s learned to put his energy where it most counts: his singing voice actually got stronger as the night went on. Charlie Burchill, one of the most underrated guitarists of the era, has amassed a toolbox of tricks—from the whammy bar to the slide and beyond—that make him lots of fun to watch; you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get with him. And they’re supported by a crew of crackerjack players—bassist Ged Grimes, additional vocalist Sarah Brown, multi-instrumentalist Gordy Goudie and drummer Cherisse Osei—that meet even the Minds’ most ambitiously large songs with a proportional wall of sound.

4. It was a night of real suprises. Anyone who came to the band trot out “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” had to negotiate a trail of fan favorites and deep cuts, including 1985’s “Up On The Catwalk,” 2015’s “Dolphins” and 1995’s “She’s a River.” Almost-hits like 1991’s “See The Lights” crackled with new electricity, and influential relics like 1981’s “Theme For Great Cities” were effortlessly yanked into the now.

5. And yeah, “Don’t You” sounded fine. I’m kinda indifferent to the Minds’ biggest hit, because I can’t help but see it as a mixed blessing. Simple Minds recorded some amazing music before that 1984 single, and I can’t help but blame the song for changing the band’s course. (The band felt obligated to match “Don’t You’s” chart-topping success, and they chased another hit at the expense of their experimental leanings.) But that’s all water under the bridge. They made some great songs after “Don’t You,” too; they continue to make them. And if that October 21 show proved anything, it’s that Simple Minds are far from done—with Las Vegas, with making music, from playing bigger than their actual size.

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