Talk about one of the 80s most overlooked groups. China Crisis emerged from the same Liverpool scene that brought us the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes (fronted by Julian Cope), Dead or Alive, A Flock of Seagulls, and, of course, OMD.
To celebrate their 40th year in show biz, China Crisis hit the road with a fun and lively show that was filled with great tunes and lots of laughs. Their show in Cincinnati was quite a casual affair, to be sure. About 100 fans filed into the Ludlow Garage, and right at 8:30 p.m., the band quietly took the stage and opened with “The Soul Awakening” from their second album, Working with Fire and Steel. There was no opening act as the band divided the show into two parts with an intermission in between. Lead singer Gary Daly told the crowd the first half would be a history of the band and feature “deep cuts.” After a break, they’d play the “hits.”
“R’oh,” I thought. Not to worry. I own the first five of their seven albums, so I knew all the songs except for the ones from their last LP, 2017’s Autumn in the Neighbourhood. I bought that the next day. They didn’t do any tracks from their 1992 album Warped by Success. Sadly, they didn’t so any from 1989’s very fine Diary of a Hollow Horse either.
Daly’s history of the band was filled with stories and anecdotes and was quite hilarious. “I didn’t know we were going to get a stand-up comedy show too,” my wife said, and she meant that in a good way. We’re a tough room, and Daly was a hoot.
It wasn’t all yuks, though. Daly and his longtime musical partner Eddie Lundon smashed it with help from a talented young keyboardist named Jack Hymers and sax/electronic horn player named Eric Animan.
After laying out the order of the show—deep cuts, break, hits—they launched into a hit, the very brilliant “Arizona Sky” from What Price Paradise. It’s probably one of their better-known songs here and was a catalyst for a tale about a tour they did to support Santana in 1986. From there, it was back to the band’s beginnings and tracks from their debut Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms Some People Think It’s Fun to Entertain. They credited some of their contemporaries as inspirations, including Depeche Mode and fellow Liverpool band OMD.
To that end, they dedicated “Some People I Know to Lead Fantastic” from their first album to the late Andy Fletcher from Depeche Mode. They even mixed in a tiny bit of that band’s song “Just Can’t Enough.” Before “Temptation’s Big Blue Eyes,” they recounted how they got signed to Virgin records. They wound up OMD a bit, imagining the Virgin A&R folks’ reaction to the China Crisis demo cassette: “These guys are way better than OMD!” Daly noted they were just kidding around and that China Crisis and OMD get on and, in fact, are old mates. “Red Sails” was another first-album highlight.
Before playing “The Bigger the Punch I’m Feeling,” from the third album Flaunt the imperfection, they reminisced about working with Walter Becker (of Steely Dan) for the first time. He produced Flaunt, and Daly had nothing but kind words for the late musician.
After two newer tracks, “Because My Heart” and “Fool,” from their last album, there was a short break, after which they came back and, as promised, knocked out the hits. However, they left a few out.
“African and White,” their first single, was followed by “Best Kept Secret.” That was followed by the two actual biggest hits, “Black Man Ray” (UK #16) and “Wishful Thinking” (UK #9), the latter sung by Lundon. A little audience participation on “King in a Catholic Style” was followed by their first charting single, “Christian.” The show wrapped up with the song “My Sweet Delight,” from their last album. That one was dedicated to women everywhere and the hope that the world would become more female. Daly noted men had done a rubbish job of running the world for the last 5,000 years.
Weirdly, they left out the title track from Working with Fire and Steel, which was a big dance hit in the U.S., and one of their most recognizable songs here. Also missing was “Hanna Hanna” and “The Highest High.” But then maybe that was part of a grand plan. Daly made it sound like they were going to keep touring until they dropped, so perhaps these left-out tracks were a tease for next time. Let’s hope so.
As for the uninitiated, someone on Spotify curated a “This is China Crisis” playlist which is quite good. If you’re an album person, start with either Working with Fire & Steel or Flaunt the Imperfection, though you can’t go wrong with any of them. Indeed check out the whole catalog, and check them on tour if you can.
A Los Angeles show has been added for March 2, 2023 at Zebulon. The band are then off on “The 80’s Cruise” around Baja California the next day.
PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.