In a recent appearance at City Winery DC, vocalist Gary Daly of UK new wave quartet China Crisis reflected on the band’s early days and how success came quick for the pop upstarts.
After their first album dropped in 1982, the band found themselves touring the United States in the next few years, and Gary and his bandmates were struck by the vastness of the foreign land. The band ultimately captured that sense of wonder in “Arizona Sky,” a song that appeared on their fourth album, What Price Paradise, and that the band played as the second song on their setlist.
China Crisis maintained that sense of wonder on their USA 40th anniversary tour, during which they performed their easily recognizable dance hits alongside some irresistible deep cuts, including their July 3 appearance at City Winery.
Today, China Crisis consists of vocalist Daly and guitarist Eddie Lundon, co-founders of the band, alongside the very talented keyboardist Jack Hymers and the very impressive saxphonist Eric Animan. The gents played songs from across the band’s career from their first album, Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It’s Fun to Entertain, to their latest, 2015’s Autumn in the Afternoon. But their finest songs sprang from the wondferul Flaunt the Imperfection, their third record, dating from 1985.
During the show, Gary recalled how China Crisis deepened its relationship with the United States back in the day when their record company connected them with Walter Becker of Steely Dan to produce their third album. The pairing was brilliant from the outset as China Crisis already were fond of observational lyrical compositions nestled into jazzy overtones — much like Steely Dan. Band and producer worked very well together, and Gary recalled the inquisitiveness and the hospitality of the late Mr. Becker in the band’s interactions with him in their studio and at his home in Hawaii.
China Crisis drew four songs from Flaunt the Imperfection, including their most recognizable hits — “Black Man Ray” and “King in a Catholic Style,” both performed near the end of the show.
Watch China Crisis perform “King in a Catholic Style” and “Strength of Character” for the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1985 via YouTube:
While Gary usually served as frontman for the band, his songwriting cohort also had his moments in the spotlight. Usually rocking out on guitar, Eddie proved to still be an intriguing singer, eliciting smiles all around with his lead on “Wishful Thinking,” a prominent China Crisis single taken from their second album, Working with Fire and Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume Two. Eddie wrote the lyrics to the wistful 1983 tune, and he sang it with true feeling.
Eddie also wrote “Fool” on Autumn in the Afternoon, and China Crisis performed that in the middle of the show. The 2015 album, which was the band’s first new recording in more than 20 years at the time, clicked very nicely with the materail that dated back 40 years.
Watch China Crisis perform “Fool” live at The Borderline in 2016 via YouTube:
As new wave outfit starting when they did and writing songs as teenagers, Gary and Eddie of course were influenced by the sounds of David Bowie. Gary professed to wanted to sing like David Byrne, and he readily acknowledged the band influences also included some of their peers and contemporaries like Depeche Mode. And so it was that China Crisis delivered one of the most moving and intriguing songs of the evening early in the evening with the rarely performed “Some People I Know to Lead Fantastic Lives” from that first 1982 album. The band blended the already catchy and enticing song with Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” in a tribue to the Mode’s late Andrew Fletcher. And it was really thrilling and worked quite well!
With 40 years under their belts, China Crisis remain as absorbing and entertaining as ever. Gary’s anecdotes of the band’s career are as engrossing as the songs themselves; he is a sophisticated speaker who could narrate anything and make it fascinating. And Eddie, always the rocker, is a musician with an amazing ear and a big heart. Together, they make an audience feel very welcome indeed.
Here are some photos of China Crisis performing at City Winery in DC on July 3. All pictures copyright Parklife DC.