Last Night: Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo at Stafford Centre

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Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo
Stafford Centre
April 17, 2013

If you grew up during a particular window of the early 1980s, there were certain things you couldn't escape: economic malaise, the San Francisco 49ers, and MTV. If you were an early enough adopter of Music Television, you were more than familiar with the likes of Triumph, April Wine, and .38 Special.

But you were probably even more aware of Patricia Andrzejewski, known colloquially as Pat Benatar. Everybody knows the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the first video aired on MTV, but not as many realize the second was Benatar's "You Better Run," or that Benatar's husband of 31 years (and collaborator for even more), Neil Giraldo, was the first guitarist featured on the network as well.

It helps explain why he's now sharing a bill with his much more recognizable wife, and the pair's Sonny and Cher vibe helped guide what Benatar described as an "unstructured evening" of songs.

She (they) opened with "All Fired Up," Benatar's last charting single, from 1988's Wide Awake In Dreamland, kicking off a somewhat perfunctory 13-song set, all but two of which a recognizable '80s classic. The Stafford Centre crowd came somewhat to its feet for the first time for the second song, "Invincible" (we're getting old, people). Must have been a lot of Legend of Billie Jean fans in attendance.

The Stafford Centre may seem like an odd joint for an artist who just in the last year has shared amphitheater gigs with the likes of Loverboy and Journey, but the intimate setting and relatively remote (for Inner Loopers) location served her well. Benatar was able to connect with most of us on the floor (I was fairly certain "Sex as a Weapon" was directed at me, and with good reason) while Giraldo was able to flip guitar picks Rick Nielsen-style to anyone interested.

And really, who hasn't always wanted a Neil Giraldo pick?

"We Belong," from 1984's Tropico, was introduced with "I can pretty much guarantee you've sung this song in karaoke." Well no, Pat, I have testicles, but I will admit to giving the next cut ("Hell Is for Children") a run or two.

The double-bill had its drawbacks. The vocal mix on the first few songs really deemphasized Benatar's mike, which should be a capital crime. Nothing against Giraldo's workmanlike backup singing, but his voice shouldn't even be in the same decibel zip code as hers.

But the "bantering couple" thing had an easy familiarity. The two recounted the story of their first record (In the Heat of the Night) and first tour in 1979 (Giraldo's math was a little off, saying 35 years had passed since), and the affection between the two never seemed forced.

The rest of the band — Mick Mahan on bass and Chris Ralles on drums — didn't particularly stand out, but that was to be expected. I actually felt sort of sorry for Mahan when Benatar told a fond story about Roger Capps, but that's the music biz.

Now 60(!) years old, her stage wardrobe is a little more modest. Gone are the spaghetti strap/size zero tank tops, and the tights are now topped with an oversized blouse, but those cheekbones, and That Voice. It's dropped a bit in register, but she can still wail, as she proved on our personal fave, "Promises in the Dark."

All too soon, the show was over. And with several surprising omissions, including "Fire and Ice" (really wanted to hear this one), and perhaps most glaringly, "Shadows of the Night." Maybe they couldn't secure that Bill Paxton cameo. Nothing against Gravity's Rainbow, but "Everybody Lay Down" is not "Treat Me Right."

You have to respect these older artists who still drag themselves onstage to give those of us lurching towards decrepitude one last fleeting glimpse of our glorious youth, while at the same time displaying enough onstage dignity to keep from tarnishing their own legacy. What are the odds the Rolling Stones will learn that lesson before their upcoming tour?

Personal Bias: I spearheaded a phone-in campaign for my local radio station to ensure Benatar won the "Sexiest Rock Chick" contest over Sheena Easton. It remains my proudest musical accomplishment.

The Crowd: We were on the younger end of the audience bell curve, which ran from late thirties to sixties. There were quite a few people who didn't/couldn't stand up for the more rousing parts.

Overheard in the Crowd: This was actually a conversation between myself and my guest (who's in her mid-thirties): Her: "I'm not seeing anyone younger than me." Me: "What about those two? Guy in the hat and the girl?" Her: "Oh yeah, late twenties. Looks like their mom with them." Me: "Maybe she wants them to hear the music they were conceived to in the back of Dad's Camaro."

Random Notebook Dump: "Giraldo looks like the love child of Leslie Nielsen and Roger Sterling from Mad Men."

All Fired Up
So Sincere
Sex as a Weapon
Promises in the Dark
We Belong
Hell Is For Children
You Better Run
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Love Is a Battlefield

Everybody Lay Down
Let's Stay Together
Heartbreaker/Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash)/Heartbreaker (Led Zeppelin)/theme from The Godfather

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