Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Way-O-way-O, Way-O-wayyy-O: The Bangles Sample a Nice Range of Vintages at City Winery -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Bangles
City Winery, Chicago
July 28, 2014

1986 was the breakout year for The Bangles, as the 4-woman band from L.A. released their biggest selling album, Different Light, which spawned their first hit single--"Manic Monday," which would hit #2 on the charts--and their first #1, "Walk Like an Egyptian."

Without meaning any slight to the other band members, or wanting to sound too prurient, the video for the latter song convinced me that Susanna Hoffs was the hottest woman in rock.

14 years later, with Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, Debbi Peterson and Michael Steele having recently reunited after disbanding in 1989, I saw the Bangles at Chicago's House of Blues in September 2000.

It was a fun show, with the band sounding good and--all disclaimers reiterated--Hoffs still looking terrific at 41.

14 more years later, the Bangles are back together--minus Steele--and I caught them last night at City Winery with my friend Dave.

We had seen a Hoffs solo show at the same venue in November 2012, so it wasn't all that surprising but nonetheless impressive that Susanna still looks and sounds lovely--even if her voice is a smidgen less sticky-sweet--and she and the Peterson sisters remain an engagingly dynamic force.  

I can't quite say it felt like 1986 all over again, as not only hadn't I ever seen the Bangles in their heyday, but I doubt I would have attended a venue as swankified as City Winery even if one existed.

But it's nice to know that, unlike yours truly, the Bangles are aging gracefully.

Accompanied by a male bassist named Derek Anderson, the band opened Monday's show with Simon & Garfunkel's "Hazy Shade of Winter," a big hit for the Bangles in 1987.

With Hoffs and Vicki Peterson on guitar, and Debbi Peterson remaining a powerful drummer, the three original Bangles traded lead vocals throughout the night and harmonized wonderfully as they delivered all of their biggest hits including "If She Knew What She Wants," "In Your Room" and "Eternal Flame" along with the aforementioned.

But just as impressive, for those of us at City Winery not talking loudly through anything not overtly nostalgic, were renditions of the opening two songs from the Bangles' 2011 album, Sweetheart of the Sun--"Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)" and "Under a Cloud"--as well as a cover of Nazz' "Open My Eyes," which appears on that album. (Dave would want me to note that Nazz was a late-'60s garage band that included Todd Rundgren, who wrote "Under a Cloud.")

Reaching back to 1981 for "Getting Out of Hand," the first song Hoffs and the Peterson sisters wrote after forming the Bangles (initially named The Bangs)--the City Winery bio notes their story started the day after John Lennon's murder--they also played four songs from a self-titled 1982 EP that Vicki noted will soon get its first digital release ("The Real World," "I'm in Line," "Mary Street," "Want You").

Another five, including the terrific "Going Down to Liverpool," "Hero Takes a Fall," "Live" and "James," came from the Bangles' first full album, 1984's All Over the Place.

Having just the night before attended an outstanding John Fogerty concert highlighted by marvelous performances well beyond the biggest hits, I was open to being impressed by songs outside those I knew well, but was nonetheless rather beguiled by the full range of the Bangles' career retrospective.

You can see the full setlist for the Bangles' Monday night gig in Chicago, and others, on Setlist.fm--they also played City Winery on Sunday--but while beforehand I was a bit baffled by how many songs I didn't recognize, the comprehensive and revelatory curation was a definite strength of the show.

I can't say the 85-minute performance was among the most exciting, or emotionally affecting, that I've seen, and though there was nothing awful about the City Winery--other than people near us gabbing loudly during songs, but that happens anywhere--the upscale venue just doesn't feel very "rock and roll" to me.

I surmised the Bangles' may have been better served headlining one of the big Chicago street festivals, allowing the nostalgic ether of the closing "Walk Like an Egyptian" to ebulliently waft in the summertime air, rather than swirl around expensive wine glasses.

Nonetheless it was a fun night, far better and--abetted by cheery chatter among the three Bangles--much warmer than a mercenary rehashing of past glories.

Though there have been long periods of hiatus, the Bangles aptly showcased that their history has stretched--substantively--across nearly 35 years now, not just the 3 that most people know (or at least "most people" of a certain age).

And if we're all still around another 14 years from now...

Here's a clip of "Walk Like an Egyptian" posted on YouTube by Nuno Zomot: 

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