Saturday Night: Concrete Blonde at the Regency Ballroom
June 26, 2010
@The Regency Ballroom
Better than: Twilight... as good as True Blood.
Concrete Blonde first hit the rock scene way back in 1986, debuting on MTV's 120 Minutes with the raucous single, "Still in Hollywood." More punk than metal, the L.A. power trio didn't look or sound like anyone else in pop music at the time. Singer-songwriter and bassist Johnette Napolitano was inked and pierced long before it was fashionable, and guitarist Jim Mankey channeled Jimi Hendrix, not Eddie Van Halen. A raven-haired Italian with a bruised heart and a tough attitude, Napolitano wrote tunes rich with tenderness and defiance. Tracks like "True," "Beware of Darkness," and "Song for Kim" were open wounds -- personal, deeply felt, haunting -- and a stiff middle-finger to the shallow arena anthems du jour. Consequently, Concrete Blonde didn't blow up big until their third album, Bloodletting, which featured the hits "Joey" and "Caroline." A few years and a couple CDs later, the band would break up, then resurface every once in a while for a random recording or tour that never quite recaptured the fire of previous days. But Saturday night was different.
To celebrate the recently issued twentieth-anniversary edition of Bloodletting, Napolitano and Mankey (and Gabriel Ramirez, a new drummer half their age) are performing together for the first time in four years on "The Vampires Rise 2010 Tour." It's a trendy moniker for sure -- intended to capitalize on the popularity of the Twilight series, which long ago eclipsed Anne Rice's bloodsucker novels as the undead voice of a generation. Goofy marketing shtick aside, Concrete Blonde connected with their audience as if two decades were only a heartbeat away. Yes, the singer and guitarist looked old--we're talking junkie (un)chic and grandpa gray hair, respectively -- but they sounded as powerful as anytime in their youth.
The set list drew liberally from band's discography, including half the tunes off the best-selling Bloodletting. From the first, creeping bass line of the album's title track and then the full-throated wail of the chorus, the emotional bond between Napolitano and the audience was palpable. Folks you'd think couldn't be farther apart in musical tastes or lifestyle choices -- from Goth girls to middle-aged computer programmers -- were enraptured one and all by the presence of this soulful, husky-toned singer (who, by the way, predates PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, etc.). It's hard to say what drew us in more, the shadows that enveloped her, or the way she crashed through them with a voice like a wrecking ball. Of course, none of that mattered. We were in Napolitano's orbit for a couple of hours and we would revel in our true-blood union. Rapt concertgoers shouted out, "We fucking love you!" Others sang along -- not to the simple catchy numbers like "Days and Days," but to the requiem: "Tomorrow Wendy's going to die..."
It seems Concrete Blonde appeals to anyone who's ever lost someone in their lives -- i.e., everyone. Reveling in collective grief, perhaps, was what this concert was really about. And the end result was an uplift in spirit that -- dare we say -- could raise the dead.
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