By BRUCE DENNILL
Chris De Burgh: Hands Of Man Tour / Teatro, Fourways, Johannesburg
Forty years into a singular career, Chris De Burgh doesn’t need to work harder than simply walking on to a stage and accepting applause. He does so on the wide theatre stage of the Teatro, dressed like a slightly rumpled executive who’s just back from work and has tossed his jacket and tie into a corner.
He doesn’t move much for the remainder of the long, two hour-plus set, standing centre stage gently strumming his electric Guitar Factory 12-string, its narrow neck likely easier to play for a compact man like De Burgh than an enormous acoustic dreadnought. The relative lack of energy – as with similar performers, like Paul Simon – is made up for by the strength of the songs and De Burgh’s famous, fantastic vocals. On that point, though, he can, as he proudly points out, still hit the high notes, but the thrilling power he was able to carry into his upper register is no longer there.
The set starts with a large chunk of De Burgh’s new album The Hands Of Man, with the excellent title track setting the bar high. He initially seems unconcerned about playing the big hits, though every whisper in the pre-show hubbub mentions three fateful words: “Lady In Red”. Eventually, the opening chords of Spanish Train – a dark, sinister ballad from 1975, of all things – get the crowd going, and a mellow version of I’ve been Missing You prompts some gentle singing along. Other highlights, all in Act Two, include the equally ominous Don’t Pay The Ferryman and the rather more poppy High On Emotion. Finally, inevitably, guitarist Neil Taylor begins the little guitar lick that kicks off Lady In Red and he and bassist David Levy and keyboardist Nigel Hopkins harmonise on the “Ooh, ooh ooh” bit that precedes De Burgh’s first line.
In what is obviously an oft-repeated routine, De Burgh brings his microphone with him and wanders into the audience, pausing to invite a number of women to dance with him for a couple of seconds as he directs a line of the lyric at them. Bravely, he ventures across the auditorium, inching along like a punter who’s come in late and is trying not to step on anyone’s toes. Awkwardly but hilariously – and he chuckles as he observes what’s going on – a couple of women vie physically for his attention, while another begins to sob as he arrives, requiring him to spend a moment comforting her before moving on.
There are a number of other tunes after this interlude, but it’s this moment that takes the concert from an enjoyable but relatively conservative affair to an occasion that brings fans to the front of the theatre to dance their way through the last few songs and then to stay on their feet as De Burgh and his comrades take their bows.
The Hands Of Man tour sees an experienced performer, very comfortable in his own skin, standing and delivering what he knows is an admirable songbook without relying on any frills. Concertgoers more accustomed to the spectacle that accompanies many contemporary shows may feel there’s room for improvement (and perhaps there is – the musicians certainly still have something in reserve when the lights dim), but De Burgh has never been the glamorous style-over-content sort, and there’s no convincing reason he should consider adopting that approach now.