Friday, August 19, 2011

Go-Go's concert review: Los Angeles

Photo: Randall Michelson/courtesy Nederlande
A version of my review originally appeared at

The band plays a sold out show on Aug. 20 at Pechanga Casino in Temecula, Calif.

When Belinda Carlisle sang “what a drag it is getting old” during the Go-Go’s spiky take on the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” at the Greek Theatre on Wednesday night, Jane Wiedlin countered that it really wasn’t so bad.

“Not when you get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a rock in your honor and in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame – oh yeah, we’re still waiting for that one,” the always jovial singer/guitarist said (the pioneering pop/rock band first became eligible for the hall in 2006 and received their star at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and N. Cherokee Ave. last week).

Although the Go-Go’s haven’t put out any new music since 2001’s solid, overlooked album God Bless the Go-Go’s, there has been quite a bit of activity lately. Last year, Carlisle put out her compelling autobiography "Lips Unsealed: A Memoir," a must read for all Go-Go’s fans. 

This past spring, the group marked the 30th anniversary of their classic debut record Beauty and the Beat (Capitol/I.R.S.) with a new remastered CD and digital edition, featuring a previously unreleased 1981 concert from Boston’s Metro. The scrappy club show was especially memorable for an early version of “Vacation” containing a different arrangement and lyrics.  

Unlike many early ‘80s productions, Beauty and the Beat doesn’t sound dated and the latest version (also available on limited edition pink vinyl) is particularly crisp. Split channel harmonies on “Tonite,” beefy drum work throughout “We Got the Beat” and staccato guitars amid “This Town” stand out more than ever now.

Earlier on Wednesday, teenage girl band Little Kids Rock performed a short set at a private ceremony for the Go-Go’s induction into the Greek Theatre’s new Rock Walk area. 

Go-Go's toast Belinda's birthday/Photo: GA Paul
The plaque display (pictured above and below, left) helped commemorate the debut album and ’81 tour which led to three sold out concerts at the venue.

General Manager Rena Wasserman called the Go-Go’s “an indelible part of Greek Theatre history,” because of their multiple live appearances over the years.

Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge presented the musicians with an official proclamation of “Go-Go’s Day” from LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. 

He pointed out guitarist Charlotte Caffey is a Los Feliz resident. Wiedlin said this year was “unbelievable…we are so proud to be associated with this venue” and jokingly invited everyone to Caffey’s house.

A close-up view/GA Paul
Later in the evening, the sold out, 75-minute Go-Go’s homecoming show was a total blast. Fans were definitely in party mode: many danced in the aisles and every song got a wildly enthusiastic response.

The band playfully pranced onstage to Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded.” A bleach blonde (or was that naturally white?) coiffed Wiedlin briefly sang along until they launched the set with an effervescent “Vacation.”

A svelte Carlisle, clad in a black glittery top and black pants, looked resplendent as ever. Kathy Valentine’s shimmering silver bass guitar also gleamed brightly.

Nearly half of the vibrant set was devoted to Beauty material. The jaunty “How Much More” had people bopping right along. Typically, I find it distracting when groups shoehorn their members’ solo hits into a set (see: The Eagles).

Not so with Carlisle’s “Mad About You,” revamped into a raucous Go-Go’s-style arrangement with chugging guitars. Here and on the regal keyboard-heavy drama of “Automatic,” Carlisle’s mature vocal purr was in fine form.

She let the crowd take over various lines on the not-very-vocally-taxing “Lust to Love” as Wiedlin and Caffey handled the soaring harmonies. Some concertgoers in the front seating section were invited up to shimmy alongside the band during their frequent covered of The Capitol’s “Cool Jerk.” At the end, Carlisle, seemingly uncomfortable with personal interaction, semi-sarcastically asked, “can we invite the other half of the audience onstage now?”

Caffey’s sudden icy synth sounds on the giddy “Cool Places,” Wiedlin’s minor 1983 hit with Sparks, were an abrupt change. Wiedlin bounded across the stage as she did lead vocals and Carlisle handled the counterpoint lines.

“We love this town so much! We’re a Hollywood band that has existed in five decades,” enthused Wiedlin, before the haunting “This Town.” Both it and “Our Lips Are Sealed” were played with slower tempos. The latter tune also had an extended intro and outro.

Most of the usual good-natured bantering between the ladies came around encore time. That’s when Schock introduced all the members and told the crowd it was the singer’s birthday (she looks good for 53). Then Carlisle’s teenage son James Mason brought out a small cake and everyone sang to her. Wiedlin reappeared onstage wearing a white dreadlock wig that looked like Perry Farrell circa 1987.

The final stretch of this shorter-than-expected show is where the musicians really strutted their stuff. Caffey and Wiedlin’s surf guitar licks (“Skidmarks on My Heart,” “Beatnik Beach”), Schock’s martial rhythm (“We Got the Beat”) and everyone kicking out the jams on “Head Over Heels” were all powerful and tight. 

Setlist: Go-Go’s, Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, Aug. 17, 2011
Main set: Vacation/Tonite/How Much More/Get Up and Go/Mad About You/Lust to Love/Mother’s Little Helper/Automatic/Fading Fast/Cool Jerk/Cool Places/This Town/Unforgiven/Our Lips Are Sealed/Skidmarks on My Heart/We Got the Beat
Encore: Beatnik Beach/Fun with Ropes/Head Over Heels

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