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The ’80s hitmaker is back, albeit on his own pared down and more intimate terms.
Back in 1986, Welch singer-songwriter Karl Wallinger left the Waterboys to form World Party, initially gaining notice with an album titled Private Revolution. Then, Wallinger’s revolution wasn’t really exclusive at all. That album spawned the hit “Ship of Fools,” and made him a star. Nearly 30 years later, World Party is back, and the revolution has gone semi-private. No longer signed to a major label, Wallinger won the rights back to his master recordings in 2006, has his own label and is touring the band as a mean and lean three-piece, no drummer required.
At the Troubadour Friday night, Wallinger was mostly preaching to the faithful who fell for his music decades ago, but those who made the trip found it well worth the trouble. Sure, he’s aged and his audience had dwindled, but he proved his talents are still intact.
Backed by his long-time live partners, David Duffy on violin and mandolin and John Turnball on guitar, Wallinger — alternating between acoustic guitar and keyboards — delivered an engaging hour-and-45-minute set that reminded us what a classic songsmith he is.
However, listening to World Party can often be like a game of spot the influences. During one segment in the set, performed with Wallinger on keyboards, this became painstakingly obvious. The white boy soul ballad “Love Street,” which featured Wallinger breaking in and out of a falsetto while Duffy furiously bowed his violin, sounded like a lost Prince track from the Purple Rain era. That was followed by “What Is Love All About?,” a Leon Russell-like rollicking piano jam that had Turnball scatting along with his guitar. Then came “God on My Side,” a confessional that could have come from a lost Lennon tape. A few songs later, he dropped in the Dylan sound-alike “Another World.”
While Walllinger still wears his influences on his sleeve, at least he’s drawing inspiration from the greats and those songs were solid. Occasionally, though, he was able to transcend those influences, most notably on his better known songs. Early in the set, he dropped in “Message in the Box,” a top 10 Modern Rock hit from 1990. Even if Duffy and Turnball contributed some Beatles-eque backing vocals, it was pure World Party.
Throughout the set, Wallinger, who was felled by an aneurysm in 2001 that kept him off the road for five years, proved to be a jovial host. Now sporting short gray hair, a matching trimmed beard, and a few extra pounds, he joked about his age, the content of his songs and the legalization of marijuana. And there was a nice interaction between players, all who seemed happy to be there. Duffy, the younger of the three, interrupted the set at one point for what he called “a World Party commercial” and noted that they had a newly recorded two-CD set on sale in the next room along with badges and posters.
The highlight of the night came late in the set when Wallinger and his mates launched World Party’s first and perhaps best hit, “Ship of Fools,” at first with sparse instrumentation before going into a full-scale attack. At one point, Wallinger dropped back and without any prompting allowed the faithful to sing the chorus before joining back in. It was a magical moment and that would have left the crowd satisfied, but Wallinger and company closed out the set with a few more tunes, including the Stones-like ballad “Sunshine” and the hit “Way Down Now,” before saying goodnight.
Waiting Such a Long Long Time
Put the Message in the Box
Is It Like Today?
When the Rainbow Comes
She’s the One
What Is Love All About?
God on My Side
Call Me Up
In Another World
Sweet Soul Dream
Who Are You?
Ship of Fools
Is It Too Late?
Way Down Now
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