Concrete Blonde, Girl In a Coma Fitzgerald's October 30, 2011
Aftermath was as bummed as anyone when Concrete Blonde, after a few fits and starts, apparently called it quits back in 2006. We also kicked ourselves repeatedly when we were unable to make any of the dates of last year's 20th anniversary tour for Bloodletting.
Fortunately for fans of the band, that last tour was apparently an enjoyable enough experience for singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano, guitarist Jim Mankey, and drummer Gabriel Ramriez that they've effectively reunited, writing new material and embarking on a series of "mini-tours." Last night's Houston gig was the final date on a three-city Texas swing that proved Concrete Blonde are as capable of merging heartfelt tenderness and straight-on ferocity as if no time has passed since their L.A. alt-rock glory days.
Fittingly clad in costumes for the evening (Johnette as Frida Kahlo, Jim as Mr. Spock...we think, Gabriel as the devil) on a stage drenched in red light and littered with jack o'lanterns, Concrete Blonde offered up a mostly tight set drawing from their 1987 self-titled debut to 2002's Group Therapy (their most recent release, Mojave, got no love). Unsurprisingly, the playlist leaned heavily on Bloodletting, with "Joey" — the band's only top 20 hit — making an early appearance. Aftermath's wife was happy to hear her favorite ("Caroline"), while the most rousing response was reserved for "Bloodlettng (The Vampire Song)."
We said the set was "mostly" tight, with the only glitches being a few minor miscommunications about which song was coming next. Not that it made any difference to the crowd, who looked almost overwhelmingly like the folks who listened to Bloodletting repeatedly by candlelight in the early 1990s. We did, too. No judging here.
And while Napolitano's status as a goth icon is well-established, labeling Concrete Blonde a "goth" band is too limiting for what they do. "That vampire album," as the band has referred to it, is dripping with minor key angst, sure, but each of their releases features the band stretching in different musicals, from tender ballads to balls-out rockers to Latin-tinged tunes to pop and back again.
For example, the show opened with an unreleased acoustic number ("Rosalie") and a much more metal version of Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning," a move that might have alienated a less seasoned audiences, but that's part of the fun of a CB show. In addition to the songs that "make people happy" you're always going to get a few curve balls. Our only regret is we didn't hear "Little Wing," which makes an occasional appearance.
Speaking of guitars, Aftermath has always felt Mankey doesn't get the credit he deserves for shaping Concrete Blonde's sound. They're not Johnette and a couple sidemen, and Mankey's distinctive playing is a huge part of the band's appeal. He didn't disappoint last night, with fierce solos punctuating "Caroline" and "Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man," among others.
But in the end, Napolitano is the heart of the group. And at 54, her voice still effortlessly crosses from plaintive whisper to a wail that simultaneously gives you chills while knocking you on your ass. We hope last night's show was just a taste of things to come from Concrete Blonde.
Personal Bias: A fan since "God Is A Bullet." Hearing that song live was yet another concert bucket list item checked off (see also Rush performing "Subdivisions" last year).
The Crowd: None more (clad in) black, as Nigel Tufnel might have said.
Overheard In The Crowd: "WE LOVE YOU, JOHNETTE!"
Random Notebook Dump: "Man, Jim Mankey looks like George Carlin."
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Beds Are Burning (Midnight Oil cover)
I Don't Need a Hero
Days and Days
Scene of a Perfect Crime
God is a Bullet
When I Was a Fool
100 Games of Solitaire
Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man
Take Me Home
(You're the Only One) Can Make Me Cry
Run Run Run
Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)