Saturday Night: The Go-Go's At House Of Blues

The Go-Go's, Girl In a Coma House of Blues August 27, 2011

See more of these five beauties and their big beat in our slideshow.

With bands like the Go-Go's, it's not about the hits. The hits sell tickets, maybe, but then again, if all you wanted to hear was "We Got the Beat" or "Vacation" Saturday, you could have just cued up your Fast Times at Ridgemont High DVD or dug out that Ultimate '80s Vol. Whatever CD. It's a lot cheaper than a night out at House of Blues.

The hits are going to be there, and they were - "Vacation" opening the night with that bold melody, one of the best of the '80s; "We Got the Beat" closing the main set as a left-side/right-side cheer-off; a chipper "Head Over Heels" sending everyone home happy not long after (and well before midnight). What made the show interesting, and worth going, is what else the Go-Go's chose to play.

Unlike other bands who might be celebrating the 30th anniversary of their debut album, the Go-Go's don't have an especially deep back catalog. The band was practically through (the first time) by the time 1984's Talk Show came out, spinning "Head Over Heels" into a dormant decade of solo careers and sporadic reunions. Pardon the pun.

The two post-Talk Show songs in Saturday's set became intriguing flashes of the road not taken. Bolt the feisty "The Whole World Lost Its Head" to an average track by the Go-Go's godchildren in Hole or Bikini Kill and you've got Girl In a Coma (hand-picked openers by bassist Kathy Valentine), the San Antonio trio that sounded fierce as ever and still itching for a breakout.

Meanwhile, 2001's God Bless the Go-Go's turned out to be more keepsake than comeback, but "Unforgiven" opened the encore as a bracing reminder that more than just girls were listening to this band - co-writer Billie Joe Armstrong and his band, for starters. The Go-Go's pop smarts may have made them rich, but it was their punk hearts that kept them going, especially early on.

The probably shared a few bills at the Whiskey a Go-Go back in the day, but no one is ever going to mistake Go-Go's for X. Still, there was no disguising the sneer in barefoot singer Belinda Carlisle's voice when she sang the first line of the Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper" - "what a drag it is getting old" - nor the snarl in stoic Charlotte Caffey and cutup counterpart Jane Wiedlin's twin guitars.

Kathy Valentine's burly bass and Gina Shock's blunt-force drums beefed up "Our Lips are Sealed" and gave Carlisle's "Mad About You" (Saturday's only song from the group's untogether wilderness years) the rock and roll grit her 1986 hit lacked on the pop charts.

Save a robo-synth semi-cover of Sparks and Wiedlin's co-write "Cool Places" and a goofy return to The Capitols' sock-hop "Cool Jerk" - calling audience members onstage to dance is always amusing, and seldom less than awkward - that left Beauty and the Beat. The Go-Go's 1981 debut took about eight months to become the first album by an all-female band to top the Billboard charts, and made IRS Records more than enough money to release albums by R.E.M., Wall of Voodoo and the Bangles shortly thereafter.

Beauty was also the first album Aftermath played last week after our Spotify subscription finally came through, and we were both surprised and impressed at how little filler there is. None, really. Happily, it turned out the same way Saturday.