(footage of Gainesville FL show 2015)
The concept is simple, an established artist from a well-known band hits the road for a string of solo acoustic shows. Fairly straightforward. But what to do if the music you are famous for was created and played on keyboards and synthesizers? Such was the quandary for Midge Ure, the lead singer and driving force behind Ultravox, co-creator of Band Aid (and Live Aid) and Visage keyboardist/producer.
I asked Midge how he would do it when I caught up to him on one of his first U.S. Solo acoustic gigs. Ure explains, “At their heart, they are just songs. Take away the production and it’s verse, chorus, verse. Take away the dressing, and it is still salad.”
Still, as I sat amongst the sold out crowd at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santana Monica, CA I remained skeptical that Ure could effectively translate his catalog of electronic tunes. That doubt was happily washed away just two songs into his set where Ure launched into the Ultravox classic “Hymn” turning it into a classic singer/songwriter anthem worthy of James Taylor or Bob Dylan. For the rest of the almost two hour show that followed, I watched the diminutive Scotsman rip though a slew of his best known tunes from both his solo career and time in the bands Ultravox and Visage. Yes, I said Visage. Ure happily took on their biggest hit “Fade To Grey” introducing it by saying. “Here’s a track I didn’t sing on originally. I’m going to fix that tonight.”
I know what you are thinking, “Did he play a lot of Ultravox?” The answer is a resounding “Yes he did!” Besides the before mentioned “Hymn,” he also took on the vocally challenging “Vienna” with the ease of a man half his age. “Vienna” showed Ure as still a vocal powerhouse with no need for auto-tune. “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” easily lent itself to the fast paced acoustic guitar chords, and had the packed house all singing along (some in tune) at the tops of our lungs. Missing from the set was one of Ultravox’s best known songs “Reap The Wild Wind,” but Ure explained to me before the show it was the one song he couldn’t make work in the new format. “I tried,” said Ure “But the original is mostly instrumental and doing it live didn’t make much sense.”
Other highlights included several solo hits including “Dear God,” “Answer To Nothing” and “Cold Cold Heart.” There were of course a few slower spots in the set, which Ure himself referred to as “Tumbleweed Moments” where he played tunes from his latest solo release “Fragile.” The songs, which were created acoustically and recorded as such, were raw and beautiful live. Another high point was a take on the title track of Ultravox’s 2010 reunion disc “Brilliant,” which was, in a word, brilliant. An aspect of the show many of us weren’t expecting was how funny Midge was. His in between songs banter gave a great insight into his history while cracking us all up.
Midge Ure’s tour continues on through early March 2015 with stops in New Haven, CT, New York City, Chicago, Bethesda, MD and Johnny D’s in Sommerville, MA on February 21st. Do yourself a favor and go see Midge Ure live. It will be a chance for you to witness an intimate performance of some of your favorite 80’s tunes in a way you’ve never imagined; all performed by an artist at the height of his powers, enjoying himself while presenting his catalog of well-crafted songs in their purest form.