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.
"Tonite" was delightful seize-the-moment New Wave, with barbed fretwork from Wiedlin and Caffey, who later dusted "This Town" with flecks of Ennio Morricone. Prodded by Valentine and Shock, Carlisle invested the melancholy minor-key pop of "Lust to Love" and "Fading Fast" with both haunting wisdom and youthful urgency. Valentine's Pete Townshend-like windmills before and during "Skidmarks On My Heart" weren't just whistlin' Dixie.
What started as a laugh when the Go-Go's took the stage to Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" became a self-fulfilling prophecy. One more song from Beauty resonated Saturday, except the Go-Go's didn't even play this one. "Can't stop the world," Valentine wrote on the album's final track. "Why let it stop you?"
The question remains unanswered, because the Go-Go's haven't yet. Hits? What hits?
Personal Bias: God bless the Go-Go's.
The Crowd: More mothers than daughters. Aftermath was hoping for a little more Girls Rock Camp representation, but hopefully they had band practice.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Why is this on?" said a woman in front of Aftermath when House of Blues started showing the Texans game on the drop-down screen in front of the stage after Girl In a Coma finished. It was a valid point; even the men in the audience had to be wondering the same thing since the Texans were up 27-7 in the fourth quarter.
Random Notebook Dump: Note to self: Search Sparks on Spotify.
GO-GO'S SET LIST
Vacation Tonite How Much More Get Up & Go Mad About You Lust to Love Mother's Little Helper (Rolling Stones cover) Automatic Fading Fast Cool Jerk (The Capitols cover) Cool Places (Sparks/Wiedlin co-write) The Whole World Lost Its Head Our Lips are Sealed Skidmarks On My Heart We Got The Beat
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Unforgiven Head Over Heels