(Magic Bag, Ferndale, MI - January 28th, 2020)
Simply put, growing up in the UK, ever since 1983 I have wanted to see China Crisis play live.
Sure they tour all the time in Europe, but having only been to North America once before in nearly 40 years, and with me having lived here nearly 30 years myself, well, my opportunities were dwindling.
But then, out of the blue, a small North American tour was announced and better than that, the band were going to play just ten minutes away from me in a small club in the heart of town!
So, and with a friend in tow, we headed down to the Magic Bag in Ferndale to witness live a duo (formed in 1979) from Liverpool that achieved UK chart success throughout the eighties (inclusive of two albums certified Gold in the UK).
Cometh the hour cometh the band, for in a small, darkened club, on a black stage with a black backdrop, at 9.00pm promptly China Crisis (Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon) quietly took to the stage from behind the black backstage curtain.
Joined by a superb duo for extra sax and keyboard backing, this traveling band of musical minstrels then proceeded to give us a quite wondrous two hour set of music and chat.
Brought forth in much the same vein as the old VH1 Storytellers, from the off it was clear that this was going to be no ordinary play-the-hits-and-run live show!
Beginning the evening with their very first single, 'African and White,' afterward it was Eddie who broke bread with us first. "Howdy, Detroit. Home of the great Motown ... and Devo!" (Note: Devo actually hail from Akron, Ohio, but that's neither here nor there).
The pair chat a bit about Devo, with Gary mulling the possibility that he believed one of Devo's songs had been used in the new Quentin Tarantino movie 'Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.' "Anyway," he adds, breaking from that train of thought, "it's lovely to see you all".
He then puts his hand up to shade his eyes from the spotlights, and taking in the criminally under-attended small venue, the seats left empty, he adds, "Most of you are of a certain age so you couldn't stand up for too long anyway," and laughs.
Gary then reflects back on how the band have been going for nearly 40 years now, how they were originally signed off the back of just three songs, and that keeping their sound alive for so long has made their songs still sound "moist"!
Talking more about their early days alongside other bands from their city of Liverpool, such as OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and Teardrop Explodes, Gary reminisces about China Crisis opening for OMD, but how these days he (sarcastically, of course) felt like they should be opening for them.
Continuing the theme of playing tracks from their albums in release order, 'Red Sails' from Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It's Fun to Entertain is up next. Afterward, Gary reveals that the song only came to because Eddie's mum bought them one of the very first keyboards ever produced, from a catalogue via monthly payments.
With the stage now lit in a beautiful orange haze, 'Temptation’s Big Blue Eyes' is brought forth and showcases Eddie's immaculate work on the acoustic guitar. Gary then talks about their choice of album title, how it was an extension of a Human League album, and how the CC album had purposely drawn a lot of its inspiration from the HL one.
Gary then reveals that when they tour in the UK and Europe they are a seven-piece band, but here touring North America they are a slimmed down four-piece, which actually enables them to do more "electric music" than they normally would live.
As we then get introduced to tracks from the second album (Working with Fire and Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume Two), Gary confesses that the next track was actually a cut that never made it onto it.
Revealing a connection between 'It's Never Too Late' and Mike Oldfield, afterward Gary talks about the different schooling experiences both he and Eddie had, and about how an experience with Shakespeare helped create the next track, 'The Soul Awakening.'
Moving on into their third album, Flaunt the Imperfection, and straight off Gary tells their incredible story of how Warner Bros. Records in the US suggested they work with the late, great Walter Becker (Steely Dan).
Blown away by the fact that Becker (a man Gary adds was the closest they ever got to a "genius") even knew them, let alone had one of their albums in his own collection, they sent him their instrumental workings and he did the rest.
Ergo, the wistful and yearning Danesque 'Bigger the Punch I'm Feeling' is a true highlight of the show and sung as a tribute to Becker couldn't have sounded any better than it did tonight.
Suggesting that "every album has to have a reggae song," next up is the beautiful hipsway of 'Strength of Character.'
After a little Eminem breakdown, Gary admitted that they had been using the same drum machine as Human League at one point, and then flopping one side of his hair forward akin to a Phil Oakey look, he then explains to us their live version of a lucky dip - before dipping back into Difficult Shapes and playing 'Some People I Know to Lead Fantastic Lives.'
Exploring Fire and Steel more, Gary then reminisces about opening up for Simple Minds back in 1984 and that even though they were never at home back then, how their writing was always based within a UK life perspective.
'Here Comes a Raincloud,' a quite beautiful and thoroughly underrated track is next, and after a brief story about how the band are big in Cuba and how Puerto Ricans have their own China Crisis dance, the stage becomes atmospherically smoky for another highlight, the mesmerizing 'It's Everything' (from their fourth album What Price Paradise).
Gary then calls for all backing vocalists in the audience to help them out, sarcastically adding that "if you can't sing, please don't join in,", and with that the stunning 'Arizona Sky' is next up.
Under a deliciously supple mist of light blue, 'Black Man Ray' takes us graciously by the heart into the last lap of the show. In what turns out to be a veritable mini-greatest hits package, that's then seamlessly backed by a delightful 'Wishful Thinking.'
Then, and after Gary recounts a passionate Freddie Mercury Live Aid memory, adding that they would now try and recreate that euphoric feeling via their very own "bonsai moment", one of their joyously poplicious singles, 'King in a Catholic Style' is unveiled.
Gary then informs the audience that after this last song they will break for a minute and then come back for another, before talking about the loss of his two family cats, how he had been staring at the venues logo of a cat all show, and then culminates all that with a few bars of 'Auld Lang Syne.'
That segues rather nicely, believe it or not, into their biggest UK hit, the always pleasing to hear dulcet mellowness of 'Christian,' and then, and without even leaving the stage, Gary not only dedicates the show to all the "Detroitians" gathered tonight, but also pays a generous tribute to the Philippines, and all their Filipino fans.
Bringing the two hour show to a close bang on 11pm with the divine musical brilliance of 'Tragedy and Mystery,' afterward Eddie thanks the audience for coming out to see them, whilst Gary ends with "Thank you, everybody. Thank you, Detroit. We'll see you again soon."
Review by: Russell A. Trunk
Live Photo #2 by: Derek Fowler
Live Photos #3 & #4 by: Eric J. Wertanen
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