Recently I got the chance to see the newly remastered (in 4K, no less) INXS: Live Baby Live at one of my not-so-local cinemas. The concert recording – of Australian rockers INXS’ legendary 1991 gig at Wembley Stadium – lasted nearly two hours and consisted of no less than twenty-two tracks. And boy, it rocked.
From the get-go, it was clear this was going to be history in the making. And it was, after all, the band had come all the way from pub gigs in their homeland of Australia to performing in front of nearly 74,000 people, on the other side of the globe. 1991 was when the whole world was enraptured by frontman Michael Hutchence and his phenomenal charisma onstage, matched only by the kicking riffs of guitarist Tim Farriss.
The simple yet powerful drumbeat of percussionist Jon Farriss could only mean one thing. And as Hutchence ran out on stage (now presented in beautiful cinematic 16:9 widescreen – whatever that means), singing the opening lyrics to ‘Guns In the Sky’, from the band’s seminal 1987 record, Kick, I could tell these next two hours were going to fly by.
Before I knew it, the band were already into one of their biggest hits, the unbeatable ‘New Sensation’, which sounded perfect live. The band, often labelled with the genres of new wave, dance rock or alternative rock, looked and felt like a stadium act here, no doubt about it. From Hutchence’s iconic white stars-and-stripes trousers, to the red suits of Tim Farriss and fellow guitarist Kirk Pengilly, they were a spectacle to behold. Another song down and we arrived at the first song off their most recent album, X, which went double platinum in the US and stayed on the charts for eight months. ‘The Stairs’ provided a more emotional break from the rock ‘n roll Aussie madness. ‘The nature of your tragedy, is chained around your neck. Do you lead, or are you lead?’ was a poignant moment to hear from Hutchence himself, who of course did every song proud.
‘Know the Difference’ and ‘Disappear’, both tracks from X – with the latter a hit single – were also incredible live, leading us into a similarly emotional ‘By My Side’. And then ‘Hear That Sound’, their previous album’s closer and one of my personal favourites, blasted from the screen. It was the closest one could get to actually being there – and how awesome that must have been, too! The meticulously-restored footage was intercut with grainy aerial shots, conveying the sheer thousands that gathered that fateful day, on July 13th, to hear their icons in person. Pengilly also got to show off his other instrument, the saxophone, which he yielded like some God atop Mount Olympus itself. Sadly, the mountain here was just the backdrop of the stage, but it sounded and looked flawless nonetheless.
Then came ‘Lately’, the footage of which had apparently only recently been discovered, completing the original setlist, as it was, for the first time. And it sounded incredible. A single, ominous green light illuminated keyboardist and composer Andrew Farriss, before he marched us into one of the band’s most underrated tracks. After a cover of ‘The Loved One’, a 60’s track by fellow Australians, The Loved Ones and a track from Kick, the band returned to a slew of their biggest hits.
‘All veils are misty… streets are blue!’, Hutchence murmurs from the stage, signaling the start of the song that got me into INXS in the first place. ‘Mystify’ was a perfect slice of pop and rock to see performed live, and when ‘Bitter Tears’ followed, I was in heaven. I found myself stomping my feet in the cinema, no longer mindful of those around me, headbanging and mouthing along like I was on the stage myself. And I might as well have been – the chanting from crowds kept reminding us just how titanic the band were at that time.
‘Suicide Blonde’, my personal favourite from the band, was perfect, with booming harmonica from Andrew Farriss and excellent vocals from Hutchence. As he told the tale of a deceptive lover, I found myself grinning and grinning more. I’m so happy cinemas have events like these once in a while, where fans can just come together and share that moment, from all those years ago, once more. Live.
‘What You Need’ and ‘Kick’ sounded great, despite the notable absence of full orchestra on the latter. ‘Kick’ is an awesome track but one that really benefits from multiple trumpets. Still, they recreated it gallantly and gave us ‘Need You Tonight’, a funky power pop hit that remains one of their signatures.
Once that lustful anthem passed, the band hit us with the poignant, social commentary of ‘Mediate’, which, at first, I thought I’d find mediocre live. After all, it’s not exactly the first track you’d think of in forging a setlist fit for Wembley Stadium. But as the song progressed and the keyboard kicked in, I found myself only mesmerized at the impressive memory skills of Hutchence, weaving each and every word that rhymed with ‘mediate’ to his will, faltering not once.
The band said their goodbyes before storming back onstage to deliver us their holy encore. ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, a powerful ballad in the space of three minutes, was truly almighty live, and the deep cut, ‘Who Pays the Price’ was great to hear, too. I always had a special space in my heart for that one.
At last came the band’s final song, a seven-minute tour-de-force of their hit, ‘Devil Inside’. The song, dealing with the dichotomy of man and ‘flesh on the mind’, was the perfect closer for Wembley, and as the chords died down and the cheers went up, I was left awestruck.
The band, each and every one of its members, played amazingly that night. They were on fire, seizing the audience with every riff, every drumbeat, every sax solo. But most of all, I was left ensnared by Hutchence’s stage presence. He truly was a master at work, a composer that, with each lift of his hands or his shirt, commanded an entire stadium. It’s an experience I won’t forget anytime soon, and I, for one, am glad.