Monday, July 28, 2014

The Go-Go's concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif. (OC Fair)

photo by Joshua Sudock
A version of my review originally appeared at 

Talk about the perfect band booking for a Friday night at the Orange County Fair. 

The Go-Go’s returned for the second year in a row and packed the Pacific Amphitheatre venue. Exuberant fans bounced beach balls, continually sang along loudly, immediately stood and remained that way throughout the 70-minute concert. 

Lately, the Go-Go’s have been touring across the country with Scandal, the Motels and Naked Eyes. Surprisingly, that lineup wasn’t at Costa Mesa. Would’ve been a great fit.

Although the pioneering female band haven’t put out a new studio effort since 2001’s God Bless the Go-Go’s, it is set to become more visible over the next year. Some testing of the creative waters is planned with producer/songwriter du jour Linda Perry. 

New audiences will be exposed to Go-Go’s music after “Head Over Heels” arrives at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015. Directed by Jeff Whitty (the Tony Award-winning playwright for “Avenue Q”), the offbeat musical is not driven by the musicians’ backstory. Described as “an Elizabethan comedic adventure tale,” actress Gwyneth Paltrow is apparently involved in some capacity. 

In O.C., the pop/rock group took the stage – appropriately enough - to Shirley Bassey’s orchestrated dance version of Pink’s “Get This Party Started.” They played to it, before kicking off with an ebullient “Vacation.” The energy level was palpable; the sound initially came across as muted (likely due to decibel limits), but improved as the evening progressed. 

A barefoot Belinda Carlisle was radiant and rarely still, frequently twirling around and sashaying across the stage. Early on, she explained the band would be performing songs from their “first four albums.” Reminded that was the entire catalog, the lead singer said, “You know those ‘80s. We don’t remember much." 

photo by Joshua Sudock
Chart topping, multiplatinum 1981 debut LP Beauty and the Beat comprised half of the 17-song set. 

Charlotte Caffey’s careening electric guitar riffs and supple harmonies from everyone on “Tonite,” the dark lyrical themes of “This Town” (about their Los Angeles home) and “Skidmarks on My Heart” were all highlights. 

This tour’s Carlisle solo song slot went to “Mad About You” (her first top 10 single in ‘86). With a revamped arrangement that traded gloss for grit, it was pure Go-Go’s and worked well. “Cool Places,” co-guitarist/singer Jane Wiedlin’s 1983 new wave collaboration with fellow L.A. combo Sparks, found Carlisle trading verses with her on the onetime KROQ/106.7 FM staple. While giddy fun, it came across as just average. 

When the Go-Go’s arrived at their joyful cover of the Capitols’ “Cool Jerk,” several fans were invited onstage to dance. Nearly a dozen guys, a woman and little boy happily obliged here. Amid the chaos, Carlisle laid down on a rug adorning the stage. 

Following “Insincere,” Wiedlin quipped, “that’s another one of our patented hate songs. Hell hath no fury like a Go-Go scorned. Here’s another song about a douchebag one of us dated,” as they proceeded into a sharp “Fading Fast.” 

photo by George A. Paul
Drummer Gina Schock relayed that it was “good to be back in Cali. You get our insane humor,” before asking how people fared travelling amid the three-hour I-5 shutdown due to a potential suicidal man on an overpass. Then the band did a captivating “Lust to Love.” 

Elsewhere, an extended “Our Lips Are Sealed” was pure bliss. Some staccato Caffey guitar work and Schock’s military rhythm propelled main set closer “We Got the Beat” in fine fashion. 

The quartet (touring bassist Abby Travis replaced original member Kathy Valentine two years ago) returned to encore with the brawny tribal excursion “Get Up and Go.” Wiedlin noted, “people still can’t get their head around the fact we were once a punk band. We used to do this in the ‘70s” and the gals pile drived through “Johnny, Are You Queer?,” a minor 1981 novelty hit from Josie Cotton.

Finally, an extended sprightly “Head Over Heels” left everyone wanting more.

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