When Mick Hucknall joked about his neighbor in the Moody Blues teaching him golf , he encapsulated just how long it's been since he was a Reagan-era twenty-something belting out the blue-eyed soul of "Holding Back The Years."
It's been a quarter-century, somehow, if you're counting. But at the sold-out Simply Red show at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night (March 15), in what he touted as the band's last American show ever, Hucknall got up there in his tailored blue suit and sang the house down as if it was the easiest thing in the world.
The nearly two-hour, 21-song set drew from the breadth of the band's career, cruising through 1989's "It's Only Love" before inciting the first of the night's many singalongs with "A New Flame." 1985's "Holding Back The Years," which Hucknall rightly introduced as "the song that made me famous," was a surprise to hear so early in the set considering the fact that with a No. 1 showing on the Hot 100 in 1986, it still stands as one of the band's biggest stateside hits (despite much more love in the intervening years on the UK charts).
The capacity audience of 6,000 bottom-shaking grown-ups grooved along with 90s goodies like "Thrill Me" and "Stars," but Hucknall was having the best time of all, tossing off growls and high notes to punctuate the trumpet-and-bass dominated jams. The evening only lost momentum when the show veered into the arguably cheesy territory of this Mancunian carrot top effecting a quasi-Jamaican inflection for the reggae stylings of "Night Nurse" (1997); and though the crowd played along for it, no rendition of Phil Everly's "The Air That I Breathe" fully rises above the treacle of the famed 1974 version by the Hollies.
You'd think the night's finale, a cover of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now" - which Simply Red took to No. 1 in the U.S. in 1989 - would have earned the biggest reaction. Instead, that honor was split three ways between the brassy, unlikely "Come To My Aid," which did nothing on the U.S. charts in 1985, the sexual healing of 1987's "The Right Thing," and the 80s recession-themed jam, "Money's Too Tight (To Mention)."
Simply Red's very first single in Reaganomic 1985, "Money's Too Tight" had heads nodding "damn right" to far too current lines like "I've been laid off from work / My rent is due." Full of references to cutbacks and bank troubles, the song, like the band's Radio City show made it feel like even though over two decades had passed, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Here is Simply Red's Radio City set list:
"It's Only Love"
"A New Flame"
"You've Got It"
"For Your Babies"
"Holding Back The Years"
"You Make Me Feel Brand New"
'The Air That I Breathe"
"Come To My Aid"
"The Right Thing"
"Got Me Started"
"Money's Too Tight To Mention"
"If You Don't Know Me By Now"