INXS plays the hits & more at the Ogden Theatre

As I eagerly anticipated INXS’ show at Denver’s Ogden Theatre, I will admit that I didn’t know if I was going to witness an act that was well past its prime and just going through the motions. Though the band, hailing from Sydney, Australia, achieved world-wide acclaim in the mid- 1980’s, the 1997 death of beloved long-time frontman Michael Hutchence put a stall on the band’s career many years ago.  For nearly 20 years, Hutchence was the face of the band, a frontman of upper-echelon status worthy of mention in the same sentence as Bono or Jim Morrison. INXS’s music itself was a conglomeration of New Wave, funk, hard-rock, pop, and has sold over 30 million records world-wide.  In a year that I have been attempting to re-connect with music I enjoyed in my youth, I was interested to hear how the band has adapted since Hutchence’s death. I still consider the 1987 INXS release Kick to be one of the most consistent and wonderfully produced albums of the day. Once hailed by music journalists as one of the “3 biggest bands in the world” alongside U2 and Guns N' Roses, I feel that a lot of the INXS catalog is timeless and does not feel dated, unlike much of the 80’s rock and pop bands that co-existed with INXS. Thus, I was relieved to see that the audience at the Ogden was demographically diverse, with ages ranging from early 20’s to late 40’s.  In addition, I was excited to see this legendary group perform at the Ogden, perhaps one of the smallest and most intimate venues that INXS will visit on their current tour.

Finally touring in the US in support of the late 2010 album, Original Sin, INXS was sure to play a solid offering of their many hits from the 80’s and 90’s, mixed with some selections off the new Original Sin album. The album itself is described as a “re-imaging of notable INXS songs from the past”, and features guest singers on each track, such as Ben Harper, Pat Monahan of Train, Tricky, Rob Thomas, John Mayer, and others. Singer J.D. Fortune, winner of the 2005 TV-show Rockstar: INXS (an American-Idol like singing competition in which the band chose a new lead singer), was re-hired by the band to be the primary frontman for this tour.

The show’s opener was a “Drum Opera”, which featured drummer Jon Farriss, flanked by brothers Tim Farriss and Andrew Farriss standing while banging away of other percussive toys such as roto-toms, cymbals, tambourines, cowbells, and woodblocks. The opening number quickly got into a tribal dance beat before stagehands gradually removed Andrew and Tim’s instruments and replaced them with Tim’s guitar and Andrew relocated to his keyboard. The rest of the band members, guitarist / saxophonist Kirk Pengilly, bassist John Kirk (who was filling in for original bassist Garry Gary Beers, who was absent while his wife was imminently expecting the birth of twins) and frontman J.D. Fortune, then filtered out to the stage while Jon Farriss kept a beat going. The beat sequed into INXS’ 1990 hit “Suicide Blonde”, by way of Andrew Farriss’ distinctive harmonica intro. The song was a high-energy kick-off to a set filled with memorable songs of decades past. Following “Suicide Blonde” was  “Devil Inside”, one of four mega-hits from their 1987 album Kick. After a crowd-pleasing “Devil Inside”, came “The Stairs”, “Listen Like Thieves”, and  “Kiss The Dirt”. “Pretty Vegas”, the first INXS tune penned by new frontman J.D. Fortune in 2005, was next.  “Bitter Tears” and the powerful “Mystify” followed (with the crowd singing along to the catchy chorus of the latter). After “Mystify”, a brief hiatus occurred, allowing the stagehands to prepare the stage for the next part of the show.

The next segment of the show continued with several offerings off of the Original Sin album, with re-worked arrangements of “Don’t Change” (which featured band members Andrew Farriss, Tim Farriss, and Kirk Pengilly all playing acoustic guitars and singing it as a sensitive ballad, with precise vocal harmony), “New Sensation”, and “Beautiful Girl”.  The most drastic arrangement was “New Sensation”, which was transformed into a laid-back country number, led by the beautiful vocals of Argentine singer Deborah de Corral (who also contributed back-up vocals throughout the show). While this unique take on the song was sonically beautiful, and also featured Kirk Pengilly on a melodic slide-guitar, the song was a bit of a disappointment, and the slower tempo and delivery did not seem to mesh well with lyrics about a partying lifestyle. After “Beautiful Girl”, the lights went down once again while the band briefly exited the stage. Suddenly, a pulsing electronic beat could be heard, and the video screen behind the stage came alive, streaming the words to “Mediate”.  After a few minutes, the band returned to the stage, with J.D. Fortune center stage, completing “Mediate”, with Fortune nearly rapping the quick rhyming lyrics to the tune, while multi-colored lights illuminated the back of the stage. The pulsating rhythm of the tune continued, with the bassist John Kirk getting a bit funky before the opening jangly chords of “Need You Tonight” were played. The opening chords of “Need You Tonight” were met with uproarious cheers from the crowd, and suddenly the floor of the Ogden turned into a dance party, with guys twirling their girlfriends, and groups of girls shakin’ their goods, and everybody else getting loose. The band members worked the stage well on this tune, strutting back and forth to both ends of the stage, as well as smiling at each other, all while executing tight pauses in the music towards the end of the song. The set rolled on with tines such as “Not Enough Time”, “Disappear” (another song that was met with great fanfare), “Taste It”, and a powerhouse extended “Original Sin”.

At this point in the show, J.D. Fortune made a somewhat awkward attempt to connect with the Denver audience, commenting on the high altitude and relating the altitude to getting “high” on booze and marijuana. However, the point was made, and by the time the band launched into “What You Need” (likely INXS’ first breakthrough song), it was clear that everyone, band and audience, were feeding off each other. Guitarists Kirk Pengilly and Tim Farriss continued to move around the stage as the crowd beckoned them to each side. Keyboardist Andrew Farriss would also be handed a guitar and walk around the stage and join his band-mates. During this song (as well as several others), a stagehand would hand guitarist Kirk Pengilly his saxophone, and he would deliver a signature sax solo with precise notes and charismatic showmanship, then hand the sax back to the stagehand just as quickly as it appeared.  After this party tune, it was time for “Never Tear Us Apart”, another hit from the 1987 album Kick. Another one of INXS’ most recognizable tunes, it was flawlessly delivered.  During the first musical pause in the song, guitarist Tim Farriss stood on the edge of the stage, soliciting noise from the crowd. Only when he was finally satisfied, Farriss led the band into the powerful four-note, trademark guitar riff to move the song along, with another poignant saxophone solo by Pengilly. Upon the tune’s conclusion, the band members took a bow before the crowd, and exited the stage.

The crowd continued to roar until INXS re-emerged for their three song encore. The first offering was “By My Side”, which was delivered with the majority of the band seated on the drum riser and sung impressively by J.D. Fortune.  After this bouncy ballad, it was time for the band to get the crowd dancing again. The crowd instantly recognized the funky guitar chops of “New Sensation”. I was pleasantly surprised, as this was the second time the tune was played during the show. (The first was the mellow re-interpreted country version played much earlier in the set). This was the original version of the tune, and one of the bands most upbeat tunes. The crowd was electrified, and the audience was ready to sing the first lyrics along with J.D. Fortune: “Live Baby Live! Now that the day is over. I gotta new sensation in perfect moments. Impossible to refuse”. The final tune of the evening was another reprisal of a previous song: “Don’t Change”, the original arrangement from INXS’ 1982 album Shabooh Shoobah.

While this show featured mostly songs that were penned over twenty years ago, it did not feel like a mere nostalgic experience. The members of INXS clearly were still enjoying playing music in front of an audience, and the show had a contemporary feel to it.  That is quite an accomplishment for the band and the songs that vaulted them into the limelight many years ago. The band played like consummate professionals. Frontman J.D. Fortune sounded great, even if a couple times, it seemed he was a bit disconnected from his much older band-mates. I applaud the band for continuing to enjoy playing and touring world-wide, even many years after the loss of their most visible member and spokesperson, Michael Hutchence. I sincerely hope the band continues to tour and experiment with their material, and I will encourage all those familiar with INXS to catch a show on their current US tour.

Check out more photos from the show.

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