MANHATTAN, NY—Boy George was born George Alan O’Dowd in 1961 in Kent, England. Growing up as a teenaged David Bowie fan in the 1970s, he started dressing up. George was part of the English New Romanticism movement which emerged in the late 1970s to the early 1980s. He and his friend Marilyn were regulars at The Blitz, a trendy London nightclub run by Steve Strange of the group Visage. Boy George’s androgynous look caught the attention of Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the Sex Pistols, who arranged for George to perform with the group Bow Wow Wow. George eventually left the group and started Culture Club.
A debut album was released in 1982 and Culture Club became the first group since the Beatles to have three Top 10 hits in the United States from a debut album. By the mid-1980s, however, the group split and George became better known for his drug addiction, his arrests, his criminal sentences and his sexcapades. He continued to record, became a club disc jockey, hosted a radio show, wrote two autobiographies, acted in a stage show based on his life, and opened a clothing line. His newest album is 2013’s This Is What I Do.
Boy George performed a two-hour set at Irving Plaza on April 22, and performed only four Culture Club songs—”Church Of The Poison Mind,” “Karma Chameleon,” “Victims” and “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?”—and saved them for the end of the show. The first 11 songs of the night were all from his most recent album. The set was a mixed bag of music, with a little soul here, a little reggae there and some rock, country and blues. He showed his musical roots by singing covers of songs by Yoko Ono, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Barbara Lynn and Bread. He jokingly thanked the New York audience for its courtesy in listening quietly to these songs rather than talk through them.
George looked well and grounded in reality rather than in the media circus he had to experience for the past few decades. He was engaging when he turned on his warm and low-key charm. The show was refreshing in its simplicity, in that it came with no spectacular lighting or effects. The lengthy set showed George’s praise-worthy commitment to making new music rather than playing off of his past success. Unfortunately, however, George’s singing ability was well below his Culture Club range, and very few songs were made interesting. If this was the best George was able to present, he will remain more of a cultural icon and tabloid filler than a singer.
For more information on Boy George, go to boygeorgeuk.com.