A version of my review originally appeared in the Orange County Register, which can be viewed here: ocregister.com/sections/entertainment/music/
“Twilight” saga fanatics will get their vampire fixes from the “Eclipse” movie. But alt-rock enthusiasts got a musical dose of dark, gothic imagery on Monday night as Concrete Blonde made its first Los Angeles area live appearance in more than five years.
Performing to a full Music Box (formerly Henry Fonda Theatre), the LA trio - which formed in 1982 and spent the latter part of the last two decades apart - recently reunited to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Bloodletting.
Among the band’s best and most popular efforts, the lyrics touched upon such heavy subject matter as AIDS, alcoholism and death. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Andy Prieboy (Wall of Voodoo) and Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie) all made guest appearances.
Concrete Blonde finally hit big when the single “Joey” reached the top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The album has sold nearly a million copies to date. A great deluxe remastered edition, bolstered by half a dozen rarities, comes out on Shout! Factory Records next month.
Although Bloodletting wasn’t performed as a whole in Hollywood, it did get a proper airing and front-loaded the strong 100-minute set. Red roses were strewn across the stage as on that album’s cover. Shrouded in smoke, the musicians entered to the appropriately creepy strains of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lagosi’s Dead.”
Singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano – still looking resplendent in long black hair, silvery top and black dress - slowly plucked the moody, opening notes of Anne Rice inspired “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song),” sang with fervor and cackled.
Surprisingly, “Joey” was dispatched early and the dense mix initially engulfed Napolitano’s lower register, but she overcame that during the dramatic chorus. Band co-founder Jim Mankey did a brilliant, tasteful solo.
Despite being the end of an American tour, Napolitano didn’t have any vocal problems mentioned on her personal MySpace blog a few days ago. From singing the sustained notes on “I Don’t Need a Hero” and “Heal it Up,” getting ferocious amid hard rocking “Days and Days” and humorous “Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man” to the more subdued “Caroline” (some scintillating arpeggios from Mankey), she and her bandmates continually impressed.
The Music Box crowd was boisterous, often shouting their approval. Napolitano, in turn, was feisty as ever. She danced around a bit, joked about having a similar sounding name as the U.S. head of homeland security and told her stepmother watching an intense Concrete Blonde gig for the first time that “I tried to warn you.”
Before launching into the searing “Run Run Run” from 1989’s equally solid album Free, the singer recounted a low period – also told in her new book - in the early ‘80s: she scored drugs from a guy at the Formosa Café on Santa Monica Blvd. Napolitano spit out the lyrics, while drummer Gabriel Ramirez-Quezada, a more recent recruit from LA rock en espanol group Maria Fatal, got a mini solo spotlight.
Another tune referencing illicit behavior, longtime Concrete Blonde concert staple “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen, was riveting. Mankey’s played short, surf guitar-styled licks as Napolitano whisper/sang with authority and tweaked the lyric (“everybody knows BP lied”).
On a day when the U.S. Supreme Court extended rights of gun owners, 1989’s blazing “God is a Bullet,” describing assassinations and drive-by shootings, couldn’t have been more topical. Mankey's displayed his razor sharp riffage and Napolitano added Harvey Milk to the list of slain people in the lyrics.
The acoustic encore section, including countryish gem “True” off the 1986 self-titled debut disc, a gorgeous, bilingual “Mexican Moon, endearing “Happy Birthday” (about LA tenement slums) and harrowing Prieboy number “Tomorrow Wendy,” where Napolitano kneeled and fans sang along loudly, were all highlights.
A Perfect Circle/Ashes Divide guitarist Billy Howerdel guested on backing vocals during the final encore of a rousing “Still in Hollywood.”
Concrete Blonde, The Music Box, Hollywood, June 28, 2010
Main set: Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)/Joey/I Don’t Need a Hero/Days and Days/ Lullabye/Scene of a Perfect Crime/Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man/Someday/Everybody Knows (Leonard Cohen cover)/Caroline/When I Was a Fool/God is a Bullet/Run Run Run/Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix cover)/Heal it Up/Your Haunted Head
First encore: Mexican Moon/Happy Birthday/True/Tomorrow Wendy (Andy Prieboy cover)
Second encore: Still in Hollywood
Photo by Amber Boggs, courtesy Girlie Action PR.