To those on this side of the pond, the name Midge Ure might not jump off the page, but to European audiences, the singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist is considered musical royalty right alongside Bob Geldof. After all, the pair of ’80s chart-regulars were the co-writers of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the smash single that became the catalyst for the cross-continental Live Aid concert benefiting African famine relief.
Though it was certainly a high point in his creative and personal history, lest we not forget Ure’s pre-Band Aid production days as a member of power pop/punkers Rich Kids, synth poppers Visage, hard rockers Thin Lizzy, the recently reunited electronic rockers Ultravox, and an equally regarded, if not generally underrated solo career (at least as far as the States are concerned). Thankfully though, all that is slowly changing now that the veteran’s back on these shores for a long overdue follow-up to his 2001 solo tour, which marks his first with a full band since 1985.
Across 90 conversational minutes at Mayne Stage Saturday night, Ure and a four piece band of hipsters who were possibly half his age more than made up for lost time by turning in a career-spanning set, tipping off with the vibrant, keyboard-drenched solo rarity “I See Hope In The Morning Light.” It was the ideal way to set the tone for the synth-saturated show, which ranged from Ultravox’s new waver “Love’s Great Adventure,” to the solo powerhouse “Call Of The Wild,” and Visage’s Kraftwerk-like “Fade To Grey.”
Despite complaining cheekily of recently battling the “man flu,” Ure gallantly soldiered on, showcasing crafty songwriting sensibility with the soul searching “Answers To Nothing” and the spiritually provocative “Dear God.” Even though he couldn’t quite nail the sky-high chorus to Ultravox’s “Vienna,” it still served as a chilling crest thanks to its many emotional crescendos, while his own “If I Was” rounded out the initial set with enough guitar-fueled aggression to deflect attention from his ailing pipes.
The band’s “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” was a natural choice for the encore in all its infectious synth pop glory with Ure ably handling the verses and his band taking over the incredibly high choruses. After being coaxed back for a second encore, he confessed his voice was completely shot and said the only way he could perform “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was if the audience sang it. While the acoustic arrangement was anticlimactic compared to the previous club cut, it further demonstrated Ure’s down-to-earth rapport with the crowd and helped compensate for the absence of Band Aid superstars like Bono, Sting, George Michael, or Boy George.
Nonetheless, in re-assessing Ure and particularly Ultravox (as the most significant of his past projects) through the lens of this particular evening, it’s apparent the performer was an important puzzle piece in the early new wave/new romantic scene right alongside Duran Duran, The Human League, Gary Numan, and Howard Jones. Of course, those blueprints continue to pop up in today’s revivalists like The Sounds, Shiny Toy Guns, or Neon Trees, who likely borrowed a few cards (perhaps unknowingly) from his vast playbook. Ure will have the chance to join them as peers soon enough thanks to the promise of a new solo album in the works.
– Andy Argyrakis
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