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jaydarcy
5th March 2023

Live review: Belinda Carlisle at Manchester Academy

Belinda Carlisle turned Manchester Academy into Heaven with an electrifying setlist made up of nonstop hits – supported by The Christians
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Live review: Belinda Carlisle at Manchester Academy
Photo: Jay Darcy @ The Mancunion

On my mission to see as many female pop legends, I finally managed to see The Go-Go’s vocalist and ‘Heaven Is a Place On Earth’ hit-maker Belinda Carlisle!

 

The Christians

Belinda opted for a successful 80s band as her opening act: The Christians. This was a genius idea: The Christians took the audience right back to the 80s, in preparation for the arrival of Belinda.

Frontman Garry Christian was very entertaining, even when he was not singing. As soon as the band arrived onstage, he asked the crowd to pose for a photo, without even introducing the band. Usually artists wait until the end of their set to take a crowd photo, once they’ve got us energised and excited, but Garry does not play by the rules; it was very dad-like of him. “This is for the website,” he admitted.

The band’s first song was their last song: ‘The Perfect Moment’. After this, Garry engaged with the crowd, sardonically acknowledging the Manchester-Liverpool rivalry: “Now, listen, you lot, I like to see Man United doing well, and City, ’cause it’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”

He later told the audience to calm down, before going on a bit of a political rant: “Okay, okay, it’s not a Labour conference,” he joked, before telling us to vote Green, criticising Keir Starmer, and admitting that he is a staunch socialist. He said he does his best, gives money to “beggars”, and he believes that if everybody does their best, we can have a great country. Poetic.

The Christians’ music is inherently political. The political speech was followed by ‘Inner City Blues’, which contains a lyric about being unable to pay taxes.

The band’s last song was their cover of The Isley Brothers‘ ‘Harvest for the World’, their second biggest UK chart hit. To my disappointment, they did not perform their only UK no. 1, a collaborative cover of Gerry and the Pacemaker‘s ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ – a charity single released in aid of those affected by the Hillsborough disaster.

Whilst The Christians’ music is not my cup of tea, they were the perfect opener for a huge 80s artist, and Garry is a skilled vocalist and musician (I especially loved his tambourine).

Belinda Carlisle

Belinda arrived onstage in a black, long-sleeved sweater and a sparkly, silver, floor-length skirt. It was a cool contrast between casual and camp; it was the perfect outfit for Belinda. She did not have any costume changes, and she only left the stage for the encore.

It was a pretty lowkey show, but Belinda is a skilled show-woman who kept us gripped throughout. Her voice has aged like fine wine, getting richer over the years, and she, too, has aged wonderfully. Like Garry, she played the tambourine.

The first song of the set was ‘(We Want) The Same Thing’, and if that thing was to have a helluva night, Belinda sure as hell gave it to us.

Belinda’s setlist was made up almost exclusively of hits; it only featured a couple of songs that did not have an impact on the charts. It often irks me when huge artists with countless hits perform little-known songs – for a hit could have taken that place!

‘Do You Feel Like I Feel?’ and ‘In Too Deep’ were followed by two singles from her sophomore album: ‘I Get Weak’ and ‘Circle in the Sand’. She then performed three singles from her third studio album: ‘Vision of You’ (which narrowly missed the UK top 40), ‘La Luna’, and ‘Summer Rain’. Of the latter, she said, “Out of all the songs I’ve ever recorded, this one is my favourite”. It’s probably my favourite song of hers too.

After singing the beautiful but little-known ‘Fool for Love’, she decided to take us back to the very beginning. She performed The Go-Go’s ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’. Belinda was, of course, the lead singer of The Go-Go’s (the most successful all-female rock band of all time). Whilst I was so glad that she sang a song from her time with the band, I’d have preferred it if she’d performed their best-known hit, ‘We Got The Beat’.

Funnily enough, Head Over Heels (a jukebox musical which uses the music of The Go-Go’s, alongside two of Belinda’s hits) is currently having its European premiere in this very city!

Belinda then performed her debut solo single, ‘Mad About You’ (which makes an appearance in Head Over Heels). Whilst ‘Mad About You’ was not a hit in the UK, it was in North America and Australia, and it’s always special seeing an artist sing their debut single live.

Blondie and Queen performed their debut singles on their most recent tours, even though neither were hits. I recently met Shania Twain and asked her if we’d ever get another live performance of her debut single, ‘What Made You Say That’. She indirectly said no (and, in turn, broke my little heart). When artists perform their little-known debut singles, it’s for the true fans.

The penultimate song of the main set was the love-tastic ‘Leave a Light On’, whilst the final song was Belinda’s signature song and only US and UK number one, ‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth’. How incredible it was seeing one of the most famous songs of all time performed live, by its original artist! It’s one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. The audience went wild, Belinda’s vocals were on point, and the multicoloured lighting was superb.

The three-song encore was made up of ‘Runaway Horses’, ‘Big Scary Animal’, and ‘Live Your Life Be Free’ – a feel-good anthem. It might not be one of her biggest hits, but it was the perfect end to the gig. It reminded me of Christina Aguilera ending her recent concerts with the album track ‘Let There Be Love’ – a celebration of individuality, freedom, and her queer fans (of which Belinda also has many).

Funnily enough, before Belinda sang her last song, a woman next to me was telling me that she was there with her gay friends and she believes everybody should be free to be whoever they are. As if by chance, Belinda then exclaimed, ‘Live Your Life Be Free’ – and that’s just what we’ll do!

 

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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