When Simple Minds were in their 80s, stadium-filling pomp, they all but disowned their earlier, art-rock material, which had been revered by rock critics but didn’t broaden their appeal far beyond left-field, club-frequenting trendies who studied the music press.
Lately, though, as Manic Street Preachers have emulated the cover art and typography of album Empires and Dance and Ibiza DJs have blasted Simple Minds’s old electronic singles over the dancefloor, tunes such as Love Song have been gradually returning to their live set.
Tonight, such tracks are lovingly retooled: The American is played acoustically and an extended I Travel sounds more juddering than ever. Close your eyes and those songs still sound like the work of edgy, austere futurists pushing at rock’s envelope. Open them and they are fronted by a perma-grinning 55-year-old in a tartan jacket.
It works, though, not least because singer Jim Kerr has slightly toned down the stadium-honed stagecraft – we’re at least seven songs in before the first “Lemme see your hands” – and has bolstered his armoury of impassioned big-rock gestures with some welcome, self-deprecating humour. The Glaswegian declares that new album Big Music, which unites art and stadium Simple Minds, has been “hailed as a modern classic … by me” and gazes at his watch in the epic sing-song during the inevitable Don’t You (Forget About Me).
As seven political leaders debate on UK television, the band’s two separate one-hour-plus sets attempt a coalition of their different eras and warring factions. The second set leans too heavily on the fist-pumping years, and a cover of the Doors’ Riders on the Storm fronted by guest vocalist Sarah Brown makes a baffling curio. However, the four-song dollop from 1982’s zenith New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) is wondrous, Glittering Prize and the rarely-played Hunter and the Hunted sounding heavenly and ethereal. The new Midnight Walking and Honest Town have something of that DNA, and you can almost hear lumps form in throats when Kerr sings: “There’s still something between you and me” directly at the front row.
“This is our home,” he declares, which initially sounds like hammy showbiz nonsense. However, the encores last long into the night and the band’s smiles stretch back to drumming powerhouse Mel Gaynor. Even when the other musicians have gone and the house lights have come up, Kerr remains on that stage, busting out dance moves to the sound of the Kingsmen’s Louie Louie playing over the PA and enjoying every last second of his band’s unexpected Indian summer.
• At the Opera House, Blackpool, 3 April. Box office: 01253 625252.Then touring.
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